Five learnings from our work on the Women's Integrated Sexual Health (WISH) programme.
Donors often engage a third party monitor (TPM) to provide ongoing verification of implementers’ results and, in some cases, to support implementers to identify ways to adapt and achieve greater impact. While donors’ delivery requirements are usually explicit, expectations for how the TPM should engage with the implementer(s) is typically left up to the suppliers. Yet successful delivery of third party monitoring is dependent on a strong relationship between the TPM and the implementers.
Here we share five best practices for how TPMs and implementers can establish and maintain good relationships that we identified in our work on the Women’s Integrated Sexual Health (WISH) programme. These lessons should be considered in both the design of new programmes that involve a TPM, and throughout delivery.
About WISH and the WISH TPM
We are the third party monitor for the Women’s Integrated Sexual Health (WISH) programme, an FCDO programme promoting equitable access to family planning and the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and girls in 27 countries across sub-Saharan Africa and Asia.
Along with Itad, our partner on the programme, we’re responsible for fulfilling three objectives: verification of results, generation of additional evidence, and supporting learning. As such, the WISH TPM has both an ‘auditing’ function and a ‘technical advisory function.
- Jointly establish the “rules of the game”. While a donor may specify at the tender stage that implementers will have to work with a TPM, the expectation for how the relationship between the implementer(s) and the TPM should work may not be clear. Therefore, it is important for all parties—donors, implementers and the TPM—to take the time from the outset to ensure the implementers understand what the TPM will deliver and, most critically, to agree on how best to meet those deliverables. A “ways of working” agreement, developed amongst the donor, the implementer(s) and the TPM can set out the principles and processes for how the implementers and the TPM will work cohesively to deliver the TPM agenda. Such an agreement can, for instance, lay out approaches to communication and dispute resolution, specify how sensitive data and information will be handled, and set out turnaround times for reviewing documents or responding to emails.
- Be transparent with TPM work planning. It’s important that implementers are apprised of key dates, such as for site visits or report reviews so that the implementers can ensure they are available to provide necessary input and facilitate the TPM’s access to implementation activities. However, a TPM will usually need to work around the implementers’ schedules and donors’ requests, so the TPM’s workplan is also likely to be dynamic. This can make it tricky to keep implementers informed. Some approaches we’ve taken on WISH to mitigate this include sending monthly newsletters that highlight what we’re currently working on, what’s coming up and what information is needed from the implementers—and by when; and putting our live workplan on Sharepoint, so that implementers can see workplan changes in real time and plan accordingly.
- Set up regular communication channels. Alongside being transparent in work planning, it is also useful to establish fora for implementers to regularly meet with the TPM. These are spaces where the TPM can provide updates on their work, learn about any changes to implementers’ workplans that may affect their work, and answer implementers’ questions. In the first year, it may be worth meeting more frequently and tapering down as relationships are established and the programme gets more fully underway.
- Put mechanisms in place to hold each other to account. Because a TPM’s success is dependent on implementers’ engagement with them, implementers should also have “skin in the game” to ensure they prioritise TPM activities. Including the results of routine engagement surveys as a logframe indicator, or having joint deliverables such as study reports, with clear roles and responsibilities outlined for each party, are two such accountability mechanisms that have worked well on WISH.
- Continually take the “pulse” of the relationship and find joint solutions to things that aren’t working. For the relationship to work smoothly and productively, it’s important that the TPM listen to implementers to understand their pressure points and concerns, and work with them to resolve issues. While having regular check-ins is one way to do this, online engagement surveys can be a way to obtain more neutral, anonymized feedback from implementers—and it can be useful to not only get feedback from the implementers, but to provide feedback to the implementers so that they, too, can help streamline the work and make it go more smoothly. Providing feedback alone is not enough; it’s critical that the feedback is understood used to make improvements.
In fast-paced programmes with relatively short time frames, it can be tempting for donors to focus on workplan delivery, with less attention given to the relationships that are needed to optimise delivery. Yet for programmes with a third party monitor, strong relationships between the TPM and the implementers must be developed for the TPM to be successful and, in turn, provide donors with the quality information they need to make strategic programmatic and funding decisions. Investing in relationships with partners does not happen overnight, and these relationships must be continually nurtured to remain positive and productive. We hope these best practices we’ve identified through our work on WISH will help donors to consider how they can help foster constructive relationships between TPMs and implementers, enabling effective monitoring and supporting overall programme implementation.
About the author:
Meghan Bishop is the Team Leader for the WISH Third Party Monitoring contract. An expert in global health, with a focus on sexual and reproductive health and rights, Meghan has over 20 years of experience helping governments and mission-driven organisations improve the quality of health systems and services through the use of evaluation techniques, monitoring and learning uptake methodologies.