A feminist approach to monitoring and evaluation

Irene Muñoz Gender, General, Methodology

Irene Muñoz introduces our discussion paper on how to apply feminist principles to program monitoring, evaluation, accountability and learning.

Some time ago Oxfam’s staff, partners and external experts came together to reflect about the relevance for women’s rights of being able to capture, measure and perceive transformational change. They came up with a declaration about the feminist principles that should guide all Oxfam monitoring, evaluation, accountability and learning (MEAL) processes, which we have now developed into a discussion paper.

So, what does a feminist approach to monitoring and evaluation look like? For a start, it involves ensuring genuine participation, using participatory techniques and co-ownership (achieved by co-design and co-management). It involves addressing the self-awareness and potential biases of the professionals and institutions involved; looking at the importance of trust, time and resources to develop both the MEAL processes and the capacities required to undertake them, and last but not least, accountability and continuous learning.

Within these principles Oxfam acknowledges the complexity of social transformation, specifically the transformation of unequal gender power relations which involves changes which may not be linear, and are not easily measurable. The practices of evaluation and monitoring are not “objective” practices without a political meaning. Many of the decisions taken will affect how the MEAL process is owned (or not owned), perceived and used by participants.

Oxfam’s new paper: Applying feminist principles to program monitoring, evaluation, accountability and learning, is the result of a deeper reflection on the topic based on real programme experiences.

This paper is not a list of instructions on how to apply feminist methodologies to monitoring and evaluation, but rather an effort to document experiences where Oxfam colleagues tried to put good practice, informed by a feminist perspective, into reality, and the reflections that emerged from those attempts. It is intended to help practitioners in countries, regions and at a global level to reflect on the thinking required to put in place MEAL systems guided by feminist principles.

The paper includes three different program examples of how MEAL systems were articulated, and specific tools were developed. From measuring change in women’s leadership, to assessing organizations’ capacities to be gender just, to measuring the strength of storytelling.

We recognise that hiring an evaluator with the appropriate skills, knowledge and experience of feminist approaches in evaluation is important. So we have included suggested criteria to use when selecting evaluators.

The paper also highlights the importance of understanding what complex change means from a feminist perspective in order to be really transformative. Monitoring, evaluation, accountability and learning systems need to be put in place with an awareness of gender power dynamics. In addition to the ‘usual’ work, MEAL practice needs to be particularly careful to “help capture negative impacts, resistance, reaction, holding grounds and unexpected outcomes”, as well as being flexible and adaptable to the context.


Sophie Mack Smith