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Establish principles and criteria

Spearman and McGray (2011) distinguish between three types of adaptation efforts: community-based adaptation, programme- and project-based adaptation, and national policy initiatives. Each type has evolved to meet specific needs, and each requires an M&E system that is tailored to meet those needs.

It is important to remember that adaptation activities occur within a broader context, so in many cases, rather than create separate M&E frameworks, the task will be to integrate climate change vulnerability and adaptation into existing frameworks. For example, rather than create a new system to monitor climate-related health issues, one might add adaptation indicators to public health surveys that are already in use. In addition, adaptation-specific M&E frameworks can be strengthened by capturing longitudinal data from monitoring structures in various government agencies and across sectors.

AP interactive decision tree - click any node to select it

There is a clear need to be getting different perspectives on "success" in an adaptation evaluation. Funders may see the project as suiting their needs, but the intended "beneficiaries" might see no positive change. This requires methods that can effectively bring in different perspectives. A number of resources are available that address this.

Developing countries

For use in a developing country context, WRI (Spearman and McGray, 2011) presents a comprehensive six-step process to develop adaptation-relevant M&E systems. Each step raises design and implementation questions for practitioners to address and are organized around three key dimensions of adaptation: adaptive capacity, adaptation actions, and sustained development in a changing climate. Example indicators for each dimension are suggested to help practitioners identify criteria for defining a given project's contribution to adaptation.

Step 1 Describe the Adaptation Context
Since the nature and quality of adaptation depends heavily on context, it is essential for practitioners to understand the climate and non-climate factors and populations that will affect and be affected by the interventions they plan. Conducting a climate vulnerability and/or climate risk assessment early in the intervention design process helps practitioners and their partners, for example, to identify and reflect stakeholder-driven priorities.

Step 2 Identify the Contribution to Adaptation
Adaptation is many things to many actors and stakeholders, and attribution of any given set of activities to a known outcome is impossible. Here, a three-part framework is proposed, constructed around possible contributions to the adaptation process: adaptive capacity, adaptation actions, and sustained development in a changing climate. Funders and their partners can use this framework to, among other things, define high-level goals or outcomes. Practitioners can use it to characterize types of lessons learned from the M&E systems of various adaptation interventions.

Step 3 Form an Adaptation Hypothesis
To test the validity of a location-specific approach to adaptation, practitioners can formulate an adaptation hypothesis for each major expected outcome. For example, crop diversification might be a strategy for a farming village to manage increasing climate variability. The hypothesis might be that the use of a particular seed blend will reduce crop sensitivity to extreme temperatures and drought, thereby improving average yield and overall average food security. The intervention results would show whether the tested approach yielded the quality or degree of intended behavioural or environmental changes.

Step 4 Create an Adaptation Theory of Change
In light of the many uncertainties surrounding adaptation interventions, a theory of change is a helpful tool for practitioners to illustrate the relationship between an intervention's components, expected results, and assumptions about factors that can enable or inhibit the likelihood of achieving success. Practitioners can use a theory of change to identify and correct false assumptions, integrate new information into a strategy, or pinpoint the reasons for achievements or failures.

Step 5 Choose Indicators and Set a Baseline
Choosing appropriate indicators for adaptation requires rooting an intervention's goals within its specific climate change and development context. Practitioners can use the three adaptation dimensions (adaptive capacity, adaptation actions and sustained development) to characterize indicators by type of outcome, and devise a baseline to measure progress within each. This step illustrates two sets of example indicators within each adaptation dimension. 'Assets' and 'institutional functions' are proposed as two types of indicators that are particularly useful in describing adaptive capacity. Under adaptation actions we highlight activities and decisions that address particular 'climate hazards,' or work to reduce 'vulnerability drivers.' And propose 'ecosystem services' and 'livelihoods' as two useful types of indicators for demonstrating the long-term and systematic needs of sustaining development in a changing climate.

Step 6 Use the Adaptation M&E System
This step guides practitioners through how to implement the M&E system developed through the previous five steps. Adaptation-relevant M&E systems can be used by practitioners to demonstrate the relative contribution of interventions to the adaptation process and answer evaluation questions related to, for example, performance, efficiency and effectiveness. The differences between activity and outcome monitoring are highlighted, and the importance of results-based management, flexibility, and learning, including through regular feedback loops and engagement with partners.

Developed countries

At the project or programme level UKCIP's AdaptME toolkit (Pringle, 2011) offers ways to think through some of the factors that can make an evaluation of adaptation activities inherently challenging, and assist in designing a robust evaluation. Specifically, the toolkit offers help on:

  • Refining the evaluation purpose and objectives
  • Reflecting on what is being evaluated and the logic behind this
  • Understanding how specific traits of climate adaptation can make evaluation challenging and how to overcome these challenges
  • Drawing out, understanding and re-evaluating assumptions
  • Considering how progress and performance might be best measured and evaluated
  • Identifying examples, good practice and techniques which may help to ensure an evaluation is robust in the context of climate change
  • Prioritising evaluation activities, recognising that evaluations need to be proportionate to the investment and are resource limited.

This section is based on the UNEP PROVIA guidance document

Criteria checklist

1. You want to monitor and evaluate implemented adaptation actions.
2. The purpose of the evaluation is clear.
3. The underlying principles and evaluation criteria have not been established.