1.3. Principles of planning, monitoring and evaluating for development results

This section addresses some of the principles that readers should have in mind throughout the entire process of planning, monitoring and evaluation.


Ownership is fundamental in formulating and implementing programmes and projects to achieve development results. There are two major aspects of ownership to be considered:

  • The depth, or level, of ownership of plans and processes
  • The breadth of ownership

Depth of ownership: Many times, units or organizations go through the planning process to fulfil requirements of their governing or supervisory bodies, such as a Board of Directors or Headquarters. When this is the case, plans, programmes or projects tend to be neatly prepared for submission, but agencies and individuals return to business as usual once the requirements are met. When these plans are formulated to meet a requirement and are not used to guide ongoing management actions, organizations have greater risk of not achieving the objectives set out in the plans. Ownership is also critical for effectively carrying out planned monitoring and evaluation activities and linking the information generated from monitoring and evaluation to future programme improvements and learning.

In later sections, this Handbook will address techniques to promote ownership. The process is not about compliance and meeting requirements. In some ways it is similar to the difference between having RBM systems and having a culture of results-orientation: while it is important to have the systems, it is more important that people understand and appreciate why they are doing the things they are doing and adopt a results-oriented approach in their general behaviour and work.

Breadth of ownership: There are two questions to address with respect to breadth of ownership: Who does the development programme or project benefit or impact, and do a sufficient number of these agencies and persons feel ownership of the programme or project?

Programme countries are ultimately responsible for achieving development results, which is why all development plans, programmes and projects should be owned by national stakeholders.  Ownership by programme countries does not mean that UNDP is not accountable for the results. UNDP accountability generally applies to the contributions UNDP makes to country results and the use of financial resources (details are outlined in the Accountability Framework and Standard Basic Agreement.)8 The goals and objectives relating to the changes in development conditions that programmes and projects aim to achieve, however, should be owned by the national stakeholders and beneficiaries. 

A key aim of managing for results is to ensure that ownership goes beyond a few select persons to include as many stakeholders as possible. For this reason, monitoring and evaluation activities and the findings, recommendations and lessons from ongoing and periodic monitoring and evaluation should be fully owned by those responsible for results and those who can make use of them.

Engagement of stakeholders

Throughout all stages of planning, monitoring, evaluating, learning and improving, it is vital to engage stakeholders, promote buy-in and commitment, and motivate action.

A strong results management process aims to engage stakeholders in thinking as openly and creatively as possible about what they want to achieve and encourage them to organize themselves to achieve what

they have agreed on, including putting in place a process to monitor and evaluate progress and use the information to improve performance. 

Focus on results

Planning, monitoring and evaluation processes should be geared towards ensuring that results are achieve—not towards ensuring that all activities and outputs get produced as planned.

It is not often clear what development partners such as UNDP are accountable for and what they should therefore focus on. It is sometimes suggested that since development agencies’ initiatives are generally small, have limited impact, and are not accountable for development changes or high-level results, they should focus on outputs.

This Handbook argues that what really matters are the development changes that occur in countries and lead to improvements in people’s lives. This means that while individual agency outputs and activities are very important, they must always be seen as being in support of national development efforts. Agency outputs should, wherever possible, derive from national planning documents and be coordinated with and remain centred on supporting national objectives.

This argument is in line with the global approach to development being encouraged through international agreements such as the Paris Declaration and the Accra Agenda for Action. These agreements urge planners to think in terms of how they should work together to support national partners in achieving national priorities, rather than maintaining the traditional emphasis on agency initiatives or the requirements of their corporate Headquarters.

Since national outcomes (which require the collective efforts of two or more stakeholders) are most important, planning, monitoring and evaluation processes should focus more on the partnerships, joint programmes, joint monitoring and evaluation, and collaborative efforts needed to achieve these higher level results, than on UNDP or agency outputs. This is the approach that is promoted throughout this Handbook.

Focus on development effectiveness

Results management also means focusing on achieving development effectiveness. Meaningful and sustainable development results require more than just a generic plan of outcomes, outputs and activities. How we do development is often equally if not more important than what we do in development work. For this reason, many development agencies attempt to incorporate various themes into their planning, monitoring and evaluation processes to improve the overall effectiveness of their efforts. For example, planning, monitoring and evaluation must focus on sustainability. This conclusion was reached after years of experience with projects and programmes that had short-term impact but failed to alter the development conditions of countries or communities in any meaningful manner.

Similarly, there is now a focus on gender in planning, monitoring and evaluation. Many projects and programmes often failed to achieve their objectives because there was little or no analysis of, and attention to, the differences between the roles and needs of men and women in society. Inequalities, discriminatory practices and unjust power relations between groups in society are at the heart of development problems.

The same applies to the concept of national or community ownership of development programmes. There is greater pride and satisfaction, greater willingness to protect and maintain assets, and greater involvement in social and community affairs when people have a vested interest in something, that is, when they feel ‘ownership’.

Applying these principles to planning, monitoring and evaluating in a concrete manner means that these processes should be designed in such a way that they do the following:

  • Ensure or promote national ownership—Ensure that, as appropriate, processes are led or co-led by the government and/or other national or community partners and that all plans, programmes, projects, and monitoring and evaluation efforts are aimed primarily at supporting national efforts, rather than agency objectives. Important questions to ask in MfDR include: “Are the people for whom the plan, programme or project is being developed involved in the planning, monitoring and evaluation process?”; “Do they feel that they are a part of the process?”; and “Do they feel ownership of the processes and the plan or programme?”
  • Promote national capacity development—Ask throughout the processes: “Will this be sustainable?”; “Can national systems and processes be used or augmented?”; “What are the existing national capacity assets in this area?”; “Are we looking at the enabling environment, the organization or institution as well as the individual capacities?”; and “Can we engage in monitoring and evaluation activities so that we help to strengthen M&E systems in the process? "
  • Promote inclusiveness, gender mainstreaming and women’s empowerment—Ensure that men, women and traditionally marginalized groups are involved in the planning, monitoring and evaluation processes. For example, ask questions such as: “Does this problem or result as we have stated it reflect the interests, rights and concerns of men, women and marginalized groups?”; “Have we analysed this from the point of view of men, women and marginalized groups in terms of their roles, rights, needs and concerns?”; and “Do we have sufficiently disaggregated data for monitoring and evaluation?”

POPP9should be consulted for more information about the UNDP approach to these principles and how they should be applied in the various stages of programme and project design and implementation. Additionally, there are many tools that can be used for capacity diagnostics and gender analysis. These can also be found in the additional resources sections of the POPP and other guides.

Throughout this Handbook, reference will be made to the principles, with examples of the types of questions that could be asked or addressed at the different stages of the planning, monitoring and evaluation processes.

Box 3. Planning, monitoring and evaluation in crisis settings

Crisis settings (both relating to conflicts and disasters) are ‘not normal’. This has ramifications on all aspects of programming including planning, monitoring and evaluation. In general, ‘normal’ planning, monitoring and evaluation methods and mechanisms presented in this Handbook are transferable to crisis settings, with several important caveats: § Crisis situations are dynamic and UNDP programming should quickly respond to radical changes that often take place in such circumstances. Therefore, the situation should continually be analysed and monitored to ensure that programming remains relevant. Changes should be documented so that monitoring and evaluating of the relevance and appropriateness of development initiatives takes into consideration the fluid situations in which they were conceived and implemented. This will involve continuous situational and conflict analysis. § At the same time, crisis situations are characteristically ones of raised (or potentially raised) tension between different parties. Thus crisis and conflict-sensitivity should be exercised in all aspects of programming—including planning, monitoring and evaluation—to ensure that both the substance and process of programming is conducted in a way to reduce, or at the least not heighten, tensions between different parties. Security of programme staff, beneficiaries, and M&E staff can be a constant concern, and risk analysis for all those involved should be constantly monitored and factored into M&E activities. § It is important to keep a ‘big picture’ perspective: the connectivity of projects and programmes to the wider peace process is critical, particularly for conflict prevention and peace-building programming. Planning, monitoring and evaluation should always include this aspect to avoid a situation where a project is ‘successful’ in terms of meeting the desired results but either doesn’t have an impact on the wider peace or negatively impacts it. Additional guidance on how to apply methods and mechanism in crisis settings is presented throughout the Handbook, when relevant. The "Compendium #1 on Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation in crisis prevention and recovery settings" provides further guidance."