How Can People-centred Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning Support Locally-led Development?

Zoe Dean

A Shifting Paradigm in International Development

International development projects have drastically changed over the past few decades as the knowledge of sustainable development has matured. Focus is now being directed towards addressing the root causes of crises and ensuring development objectives guarantee progress in the long term. Attention is also being given to how to readdress the imbalance in decision making and funding power towards the local level.

Imbalanced power dynamics are defined by the unequal distribution of influence between partners and actors. This can swing decision-making and funding to favour the assessment and worldview of one partner over the other. Changing this dynamic means that local organisations, communities, and governments should take a more prominent role in the development process, from decision making to implementation.

A Global Effort Towards Locally-led Development

This is part of a global effort to decolonise, a process that involves shifting away from historically informed hierarchical structures. Increasing the prominence of local actors shifts development away from these hierarchies and is also key for ensuring the sustainability of development projects. This is because local people, organisations, and communities are a resource of experts, fluent in their own culture, history, and societal nuances. Essentially, local people, organisations, and communities are often more able to develop appropriate actions, gain trust, and therefore less likely to encounter resistance.

Restructuring international development to better facilitate locally-led development has already been acted upon over the last decade. For example, in 2016 the five biggest donors made a deal as part of the preparations for the World Humanitarian Summit. This agreement, otherwise known as ‘The Grand Bargain’ is a commitment to get more ‘means into the hands of people in need’ (IASC, 2021). The deal has now expanded to include 51 international actors and organisations making up 84% of all humanitarian donor contributions in 2019 (IASC, 2021). Aside from funding, emphasis is also given to enhancing local institutions and utilising locally created solutions. eg

Locally Led Development Starts at Monitoring and Evaluation

A key aspect of development is the process of monitoring, evaluation ad learning (MEL). MEL is used to assess the performance of projects to improve current or future processes. Essentially, monitoring gathers detailed information on a project’s performance. This is then evaluated to discern how best to improve.

However, research suggests that the traditional MEL risks perpetuating unhelpful power dynamics. This is because MEL has often been a top-down process that can prioritise international perspectives subsequently locking out local interpretations. Not only can this lead to a restricted analysis of a project’s impact it also inadvertently take power away from local actors to define their solutions.

Changing the Power dynamic to Reflect Local Needs and Logic

Locally-led MEL means involving local people at every stage. As such monitoring could look like supporting civil society to promote access to ICT and platforms such as social media for harder-to-reach populations. Essentially, aligning monitoring goals with local needs not only increases access to technology but expands the amount of monitoring data. Secondly, evaluation could look like more subjective assessments that integrate local people’s perspectives and assess results according to their logic. This means expanding the current evaluation tool kit to include methods that connect with local perspectives and values. An example would be mapping local subjective experiences of climate change over time to provide data on how best to support resilience.  Finally, locally-led learning could look like implementing more knowledge exchange platforms that facilitated cross-scale learning. This means directly sharing local level learning with international organisations through supporting research at national level universities and institutions.

Prioritizing the role of local actors starts from utilising local knowledge and local logic at the very start of the development. Doing so can put local communities at the active heart of development rather than merely in the role of recipients.


Tye,S and Coger, T,. (7th July 2021) 50 Organizations Committed to Locally Led Adaptation. Now What?

IASC,. (2021) About the Grand Bargain,

Cornish, L. (30th April 2021) What’s stopping localization in the humanitarian sector?


Devex, (16th July 2021) Localized development and the future of aid

Peace Direct,. (2017)