Public policies are rarely carried out as they were designed, but we do not always know why or what changes we specifically achieve. Understanding how public policies function and what results they have requires a monitoring and evaluation system for programs and policies within public administration. These systems provide feedback on the policy design process, improve the levels of transparency and responsibility of public officials, and achieve greater effectiveness and accountability of State actions.
During the last years, the evaluation of public policies has gained prominence within the public administrations of different countries. However, in many cases it is carried out in a fragmented manner in response to punctual and isolated requests. On the contrary, speaking of a “system” in terms of monitoring and evaluation (M&E) implies stable institutional arrangements that contemplate the distribution of functions between those involved in these processes, as well as other definitions oriented to rely on quality evaluative information on a regular and sustained basis about the characteristics of interventions, implemented conditions, results and possible impacts.
Public policy managers should consider four critical dimensions when designing a M&E system: i) the organizational framework (institutional dependency and distribution of functions); ii) the evaluative practice (approach to the system, evaluability and scope levels); iii) the sustainability of the system (financing, human resources, and quality); and iv) the use of the monitoring and evaluation results (generation of demand and possible uses).
The experiences of Canada, Spain, Mexico, Brazil at a national level and Catalonia, Jalisco, Pernambuco, and Buenos Aires at a sub-national levels show that there is no single pattern of the institutionalization of M&E functions. Each of these dimensions raise a series of questions and design alternatives that have been resolved in different ways by different governments according to the institutional legacy of public administration, the particular social and political context and its budgetary restrictions.
However, there are two criteria that should be taken into account irrespective of the institutional arrangement chosen. The first of these is internal coherence, that is, the elements chosen to form part of a M&E system should keep an adequate relationship with each other and contribute to the purpose for which it was intended. The second of the criteria is intergovernmental and intersectoral coherence, and alludes to the necessary balance between the autonomous decisions of the sectoral ministries and sub-national governments in federal countries, without neglecting the integrality of the system as a whole.