Can learning be combined with accountability?

Not automatically. There is often a conflict between monitoring and evaluation for the purposes of learning and adaptation (reflexive monitoring) and monitoring and evaluation for accountability purposes. Aspects in which this is reflected include:

Flexibility versus fixed targets and results. Accountability brings pressure to adhere to rigid, predefined results and to maintain control over a project or programme. This can limit the scope for making changes in the project. In that sense there is a contradiction between the learning and adaptation objectives of reflexive monitoring and the objective of accountability.

Transparency versus 'only the good news'. The learning objective of reflexive monitoring calls for transparency about ‘failures' and unexpected results. For the purposes of accountability one may focus solely on the successes.

Details versus the big picture. The learning objective also often calls for detailed information about the approach taken and the progress of the project or programme. For accountability purposes, it is usually better to provide general information about how the budget is spent, the planning and the results. With a limited budget, this can also create tension.

Accordingly, and also because of the different questions that arise in relation to the different objectives, it is not always easy to combine the learning objective with accountability.

Need for consultation

The programme owner and the client should therefore consult on the objectives of the monitoring and evaluation and indicators of progress. It is sometimes possible to formulate sets of questions and indicators that can serve both the objective of learning and adaptation and the objective of accountability. If not, a good strategy is to start with monitoring and evaluation that provides a clear impression of the progress and results of the programme, in other words for learning purposes. On the basis of that information you can start additional monitoring and evaluation for accountability purposes.