Before the onset of Syrian civil war and humanitarian crisis, there were few local civil society organizations (CSOs) in the country, and almost no international NGOs (INGOs). When the crisis began to unfold, INGOs did not have pre-existing relationships with local actors or any infrastructure for delivering humanitarian aid.
The Syrian crisis has been marked by a fluctuating political environment with various groups competing for rule on the ground, creating a high-risk operating environment. As such, aid delivery has become increasingly dependent on emerging Syrian organizations, who can more easily access besieged and restricted areas. International organizations, because they receive the bulk of the funding for the humanitarian response, are partnering or sub-contracting work to these local groups.
However, given lack of access, communication, and information, INGOs are concerned their funds may fall into the wrong hands, and have relied on monitoring mechanisms to confirm that aid is delivered. Monitoring, however, does not show INGOs the impact or efficiency of aid. Those studies, known as Evaluation, have largely been ignored in this context.
Monitoring initiatives often become the responsibility of local Syrian organizations that are already stretched to their limits in time, capacity, and budgeting. It is not uncommon for Syrian CSOs to be managing funds from eight or more donors, and each donor has different monitoring requirements. In addition to delivering life-saving assistance, these organizations have to provide monitoring reports on a weekly, monthly, and/or quarterly basis. As one CSO put it, “Donors are all over the place…it gets tiring. They all want different things.”
In 2017, Building Markets partnered with Orange Door Research to study the challenges and identify opportunities for remote monitoring and evaluation (M&E) practices in the Syrian humanitarian aid response. The resulting report, “What is the Point… If Nothing Changes?” bases its findings on 57 interviews with bilateral and multilateral donors, INGOs, contractors, and CSOs involved in the response.
The report emphasizes the need for greater investment in local CSOs. According to Building Markets’ assessment of Syrian-led organizations, despite receiving less than 1% of funds, local Syrian organizations are implementing roughly 75% of the aid in the country. These funds are often the result of a sub-contract partnership, which significantly limits organizations’ ability to innovate and plan for the future. If we are truly interested in substantive improvements in remote M&E processes, funding for projects to develop and scale-up technological innovations needs to be implemented.
Another key challenge identified is the need to overcome the information “firewall” between cross-border and Syrian-based operations. In an effort to facilitate this information exchange, we recommend the establishment of a Syria-focused data portal and standard protocol so that the humanitarian aid community can share and learn from each other without fear of compromising their security.
In the end, the most important aspect of remote M&E is developing a plan for how to act on the results. Currently, initiatives are much more focused on making sure that aid is delivered than measuring the effectiveness of that aid. As one interviewee put it, “What is the point… if nothing changes?”
Interested in learning more? Watch this video for the full presentation of our findings and recommendations to improve remote M&E practices in Syria from Dr. Nicholai Lidow of Orange Door Research.