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Making Adaptation Count

WRI’s new report, Making Adaptation Count, proposes a framework for monitoring and evaluating adaptation. What does this mean?

Countries around the world are bracing themselves for the impacts of climate change, and already learning to manage changing rainfall patterns, droughts, floods, and sea level rise. Adapting to these conditions will require countries to implement a range of new projects and innovations. The World Bank estimates that these kinds of efforts – including reinforcing critical infrastructure and dramatically improving agricultural productivity - could cost developing countries US$75-$100 billion annually. In many ways these countries are navigating uncharted territory, and they need to know if adaptation initiatives are creating benefits. That’s why finding ways to keep track of these efforts and their effectiveness is crucial. For development interventions, monitoring and evaluation (M&E) is a way to see whether actions are actually meeting intended goals. Monitoring involves keeping track of who’s doing what to implement and tracking the results of these efforts. Evaluation can be conducted prior to, during, or after implementation to examine the reasons behind and likelihood of achieving desired outcomes.

This paper describes two primary ways to use monitoring and evaluation for both climate change adaptation interventions and development interventions with adaptation components: first, to learn what works in adaptation. Second, to use it as a tool for results-based management. The proposed framework addresses the particular needs and uses of M&E for adaptation in the context of development, and proposes a six-step process to design an adaptation relevant M&E system:

  1. Describe the adaptation context.
  2. Identify the contribution to adaptation.
  3. Form an adaptation hypothesis.
  4. Create an adaptation theory of change.
  5. Choose indicators and set a baseline.
  6. Use the adaptation M&E system.

Our goal is to help capture early lessons in adaptation that can propel successful efforts in the future.

Why do adaptation projects need a unique approach to monitoring and evaluation?

For adaptation, the same concepts apply as those used for M&E for development, but several important things are likely to be very different.

First, the inputs are different. Designing adaptation interventions and appropriate M&E systems requires an understanding of climate vulnerability and climate risks and their associated uncertainties – who and what is vulnerable or at risk, over what periods of time, and in what ways. Vulnerability and risk assessments that reflect a diversity of early inputs -- from stakeholders and scientists -- form the basis for designing effective adaptation interventions that manage for these uncertainties.

Second, adaptation needs are highly localized because the impacts of climate change may vary dramatically within countries and regions. What may be considered adaptation in one context might not be relevant to the adaptation needs in another. For example, shifting rainfall patterns mean that by mid-century, crop species suited to drier conditions, such as sorghum and millet, will become more appropriate to East Africa, while a mixed crop-livestock system is likely to be more beneficial in Southern Africa, where climate models project reduced growing periods and increased rainfall. Without an understanding of context and how that context will change over time due to climate impacts, interventions run the risk of using indicators that do not illustrate long term benefits in a specific context, and information generated from inappropriate indicators have the potential to lead to decisions that increase vulnerability. Each M&E system needs to be tailored to address a specific context, and no ‘one size’ will fit all.

Finally, monitoring and evaluation for adaptation must consider the uncertain nature of climate change. For example, between now and 2050, varying climate projections suggest that yearly rainfall in Ghana could plummet to 60% less than it is today or increase by as much as 49%. M&E can be used to manage this uncertainty by keeping track of information and assumptions that form the basis of decisions.

Who will use your new guide?

This paper will help three primary audiences in different ways.

  • Development practitioners new to adaptation and/or M&E can use this guide as an overview of how to think through the design of an M&E system that is relevant to adaptation.
  • M&E specialists can use this guide to consider how best to apply M&E tools to adaptation interventions.
  • Funders of adaptation and development programs can consider more closely how to address common challenges and pitfalls in applying M&E tools to adaptation interventions, such as designing for learning and flexibility. Also, in terms of high-level objectives, how funders define successful adaptation has implications for what kind of effectiveness criteria is relevant to adaptation. Making Adaptation Count suggests three ‘adaptation dimensions’ – adaptive capacity, adaptation actions, and sustained development in a changing climate – to resolve this question.

Is monitoring and evaluation for adaptation interventions happening now?

Yes. The guide has extensive examples of existing adaptation M&E interventions and practices. For instance, Climate Change Adaptation in Africa, from the International Development Research Centre and the UK's Department for International Development, is a 5-year program designed to address the lack of capacity to deal with unavoidable climate change in Africa. The program coordinators have used various monitoring and evaluation methodologies, including outcome mapping, to understand and assess their progress and make necessary adjustments throughout implementation.

Still, as these are the early days of adaptation implementation, most interventions are development projects with an adaptation component, or, in other words, a development intervention that integrates climate risks and/or vulnerability into its design and objectives.

What are the next steps?

This guide proposes several ways to continue “learning by doing” M&E for adaptation. Critical questions to answer include:

  • How can we best structure M&E for policies, programs and other larger-scale, longer-term adaptation efforts (as opposed to project-level M&E)?
  • How can M&E support innovation and experimentation in adaptation?
  • How can M&E best help a wide range of adaptation stakeholders to take part in design and implementation of adaptation initiatives?
  • Are there ways to link M&E systems established by different governments, funders and project implementers, so that they buttress each other and avoid redundancy?
  • Given the complexity of adaptation, and competing players’ different needs for information, how can practitioners make sure the functions of an M&E system are transparent and its findings used appropriately?

The next step for our framework on M&E for adaptation is to test this approach in the field. We are planning to develop materials to train practitioners on using this framework for their respective interventions, and are also seeking out partnerships for piloting this work on the ground in developing countries. In close collaboration with these partners, we hope to learn how and in what ways our M&E framework enables better understanding of what qualifies as effective adaptation for these intervention contexts.

This post was written with Margaret Spearman, co-author of the report.

Development practitioners interested in applying the Making Adaptation Count M&E framework for their adaptation activities in the field can contact WRI’s Vulnerability and Adaptation Team via

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