Increasingly, cities are taking control of assessing local risks associated with climate change and implementing adaptation activities to build the resilience of their residents, economy, and infrastructure. However, many cities face challenges in establishing adaptation monitoring and evaluation (M&E) systems that measure and assess the effectiveness of adaptation activities.
Cagayan de Oro in the Philippines represents a typical secondary city working to increase its capacity to manage, monitor, and evaluate climate change adaptation activities. Cagayan de Oro also faces challenges that are commonplace in cities: city officials are struggling to meet national-level adaptation planning requirements and deliver basic services to residents, activity monitoring is limited to financial and physical progress, and there is limited budget for additional staff and training to implement a results-based M&E system.
In response to the need for guidance and support, the USAID-funded Adaptation Thought Leadership and Assessment (ATLAS) project conducted a literature review of M&E best practices for climate change adaptation. The project also developed a reference guide for city officials looking to establish an M&E plan for adaptation activities. ATLAS has been working with Cagayan de Oro to assess its M&E and climate change adaptation capacity, develop an M&E system tailored to the city’s Local Climate Change Action Plan, and provide recommendations to strengthen the city’s overall approach to M&E. From our work, three lessons have emerged to help cities design and implement effective climate change adaptation M&E:
1. Cities cannot develop a climate change adaptation M&E system without existing M&E systems and processes. Too often, M&E plans are developed in isolation for a specific action plan, without regard to underlying M&E capacity and systems. As the assessment in Cagayan de Oro illustrated, a climate change adaptation M&E system that includes output and outcome indicators will not function on its own. Instead, it needs support from proper field monitoring and forms, capacity for collection, analysis, and dissemination of this information, and some form of data management. A genuine demand to include evaluation results in decision making is also critical.
2. Climate change adaptation M&E plans are only as good as the adaptation plans they are built on, and the evidence that underlies the plans. In the Philippines, the quality of local adaptation plans varies. Some are based on climate vulnerability assessments carried out by climate experts, others rely on the city’s interpretation of locally available climate data, and some simply fill in the template provided by the national government without first assessing current or future risk. Providing additional support to conduct a robust climate vulnerability assessment or reprioritize adaptation actions to address the greatest risks will support improved evaluation and understanding of the results from the city’s climate change adaptation plan activities.
3. Do not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Cities are on the frontlines of climate change, and many are already living with impacts. While the inclination is to ensure a city’s adaptation and M&E plans meet international best standards, some cities struggle to operationalize a “great on paper” plan. Donors, national governments, and other supporting organizations need to take a pragmatic approach to designing M&E that works with existing constraints—this could mean developing a system that takes a phased approach (e.g., beginning with output indicators) that builds as capacity increases; or identifying relevant indicators within the city’s existing M&E framework for adaptation activities. Incremental steps can help build a culture of evidence-based decision making, and can provide the time needed for other changes a city may have to make (e.g., hiring new staff or training existing staff, realigning organizational structures) in order to implement a results-based M&E system.
Cagayan de Oro is not unique in its struggle to implement and monitor climate change adaptation activities. We hope these lessons and resources can serve as a starting point for cities to develop effective systems to monitor adaptation activities, ultimately resulting in increased resilience and decreased vulnerability for their residents.
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Owen Scott is the Senior Practice Specialist on the Water, Energy, and Sustainable Cities Practice with Chemonics International Inc.