1.2. The roles and benefits of MRE of adaptation at national level

The purposes and applications of MRE

M&E plays a central role in identifying how best to reduce vulnerability and build resilience to climate change (Bours et al., 2014c)

A number of common purposes and applications can be identified that appear to have catalysed efforts to improve MRE of adaptation at a range of scales. The most significant of these purposes are examined below. These illustrate the value of MRE in improving adaptation performance and emphasise the critical role it can play in improving adaptation policy and practice. It is important to note that there can be tensions between these purposes. In particular, learning can conflict with accountability as standards or protocols driven by accountability may not be conducive to generating a learning environment or allow for mistakes to inform the learning process. In chapter 2.1, we explore the purposes and objectives specifically for national level MRE of adaptation in European countries in greater detail.

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A critical assessment of what we want to learn and why is required before we can consider ‘how?’ (Fisher et al. 2015)

Learning: There is a growing emphasis on ensuring that learning is placed at the heart of MRE. Climate adaptation is still a relatively new field and while many European countries have undertaken some form of adaptation planning, only a modest number have begun implementation (EEA 2014). Consequently, knowledge and experience of how best to adapt to future climate change, how vulnerability can be most effectively reduced and resilience enhanced, and what the characteristics of a well-adapting society might be, is still under-developed. Learning what works well (or not), in which circumstances and for what reasons, is critical (Pringle 2011).  Countries need to make full use of the knowledge that can be gained through MRE, especially given the scale of likely impacts, the limitations to effectively control global greenhouse gas emissions and, consequently, the level of adaptation investments required. MRE has the potential to be a key means of enhancing our learning and informing more effective adaptation policy and practice.

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Accountability: Adaptation is often undertaken in the context of European, national and sub-national policies and with the support of European or national government funding. The means there is a close relationship between national level MRE and accountability, be that to funders, governments or the tax-paying public. This can lead to a particular focus on ensuring that policy commitments, expectations, expenditure targets and standards are met (Spearman and McGray 2011). To support this objective, formal monitoring and reporting requirements are often put in place.  Accountability may also overlap with effectiveness and efficiency considerations, for example when considering value for money of an investment.

  • minnen (Jelle Van Minnen) 06 Oct 2015 16:07:16

    -          Pg 15: Accountability: This can also be done to evaluate the output of policies & measures. “Did we do what we agreed on to do”. To my opinion is an additional dimension of accountability.

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Transparency: Linked closely to accountability is the objective of transparency. MRE can help to ensure transparency regarding the allocation, use and results (OECD 2015) achieved through adaptation policies.

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Effectiveness and efficiency: MRE can play an important role in helping to understand whether a policy or set of interventions has been effective in achieving its objectives (e.g. avoiding loss of life or increasing resilience) and whether they have be implemented efficiently (e.g. was the most appropriate means of achieving that objective chosen and how could it be improved in the future?). The latter may include weighing up the costs and benefits (including value for money), the risks involved and the timeliness of actions.

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Outcomes: Assessing outcomes is a common objective of MRE in most policy areas, but can be difficult in the context of climate change. Outcomes refer to results that contribute to positive improvement(s) that a policy or programme is accountable for achieving. For example, an outcome could be a reduction in the number of homes affected by flood events which, in turn, could be considered an aspect of reduced vulnerability. Long timescales, uncertainty and establishing the counterfactual (including measuring avoided adverse outcomes) are all methodological challenges for MRE in the context of adaptation. Nevertheless, MRE systems are expected to at least determine progress made towards outcomes such as increased resilience and reduced vulnerability to climate change.

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Equity: The impacts of climate change on people will be unevenly distributed, both spatially and temporally, and will impact on different communities in different ways often due to differences in vulnerability. As a result, equity and justice are important factors can be important considerations (Pringle 2011) and raise questions such as ‘whose voice should be heard?’ during the adaptation planning process and ‘how are the needs of socially vulnerable groups being addressed?’

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Role of MRE in the adaptation policy cycle

The complex and long-term nature of climate change places a strong emphasis on embedding monitoring and evaluation as a continuous and flexible process (UNFCCC, 2010)

The policy cycle and versions thereof, remain a critical way of conceptualizing, and then managing policies and associated projects and programmes. If implemented effectively, learning is a central concept whereby adjustments can be made during the cycle in response to events and taking account of past experience to inform future planning (Biggs and Smith, 2003). Monitoring and evaluation plays a key role in providing the evidence for this cyclical learning process and is therefore familiar to policymakers and project managers the world over. Yet the realities of implementation have led to numerous criticisms of the project cycle in relation to MRE, with examples of expensive and seemingly comprehensive systems failing to capture lessons or not being used for effectively for future management or planning. Given the complexity of climate change, the challenge for those working in adaptation is even greater.

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The process of adaptation has also been conceptualised as a cycle. The adaptation risk, uncertainty and decision-making framework (Willows and Connell, 2003) was a one of the first publications to characterise adaptation and a cyclical, iterative process.  Within this cycle, “Monitor, evaluate and review” is identified a critical step, enabling new information and lessons to shape future decisions.  The concept of the adaptation cycle has been adapted into a range of support tools and frameworks now applied in a number of European countries (UK – see UKCIP 2005; Slovenia – see Cegnar, 2011; Germany – see the German Adaptation Support Tool[1]) and beyond. Most notably, this approach informed the development of the European Adaptation Support Tool (See figure 1.1) and the European Commission’s Guidance for National Adaptation Strategies (European Commission, 2013).

[1] http://www.umweltbundesamt.de/themen/klima-energie/klimafolgen-anpassung/werkzeuge-der-anpassung/klimalotse

  • minnen (Jelle Van Minnen) 06 Oct 2015 16:07:55

    Pg 16, last paragraph. I don’t know whether you look for more examples of using the policy/adaptation cycle. In the Netherlands this also occurs in such a way (see also PBL, 2015: Ontwerp voor een Nationale Adaptatiemonitor: Een monitoring- en evaluatieraamwerk voor de Nationale Adaptatie Strategie, Beleidsstudie, Bilthoven, 54 blz; http://www.pbl.nl/publicaties/ontwerp-voor-een-monitoring-en-evaluatiesysteem-voor-de-nationale-adaptatiestrategie )

  • pringpat (Patrick Pringle) 08 Oct 2015 17:04:00

    Addressed - Comment taken into account and text adjusted 

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Figure 1.1: The European Adaptation Support Tool

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While these cyclical adaptation frameworks clearly acknowledge the role of MRE, until relatively recently few considered the challenges associated with MRE of adaptation, and even fewer provided guidance on this subject.  This partly stems from the positioning of MRE as a later step within both the adaptation and policy cycle; efforts tended to focus on planning, risk and vulnerability assessment and identifying options. This meant that adaptation plans and frameworks ‘expected’ iterative learning to occur while taking few or no steps to support this. As countries and projects now reach implementation so their appetite for considering the challenges and methods associated with MRE has increased. In turn, so has a realisation that conventional MRE practice will not automatically provide the insights and understanding we require.

  • biesbrob (Robbert Biesbroek) 06 Oct 2015 16:20:31

    How you perceive the process is determined by the objective of MRE - if the objective is mostly continuous learning, then MRE takes place across all phases. If the focus is on policy impact, it makes sense to focus on the final stages of the cycle

  • pringpat (Patrick Pringle) 08 Oct 2015 17:06:18


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