Reshaping Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning for Locally Led Adaptation


Executive Summary


  • Locally led adaptation (LLA) is an emerging priority among international climate and development donors and community-based organizations alike. Supporters of locally led adaptation can leverage the monitoring, evaluation, and learning (MEL) process to promote local agency and effective, equitable adaptation.
  • Monitoring, evaluation, and learning (MEL) is an important process for managing the complexity, uncertainty, and context-specificity of any adaptation intervention, including those that are locally led.
  • Different MEL approaches and methods are required that balance power, promote mutual accountability, value local knowledge and priorities, and create value for local actors.
  • This paper recommends a systemic shift toward MEL that is locally led, context-aware, and itself adaptive. It provides operational steps throughout the MEL cycle that funders, intermediary organizations, and other institutions seeking to support locally led adaptation can take.

List of Abbreviations

  • APC adaptation planning committee
  • BRACED Building Resilience and Adaptation to Climate Extremes and Disasters
  • CARIAA Collaborative Adaptation Research Initiative in Africa and Asia
  • CREATE Climate Resilience Evaluation for Adaptation through Empowerment
  • CSA climate-smart agriculture
  • CSV climate-smart villages
  • DCF Devolved Climate Finance (mechanism)
  • EAG environmental advisory group
  • FPIC free, prior, and informed consent
  • GIS geographic information system
  • ICT information and communications technologies
  • IIED International Institute for Environment and Development
  • KYC Know Your City (program)
  • LDC least developed country
  • LLA locally led adaptation
  • MEL monitoring, evaluation, and learning
  • MSC Most Significant Change (technique)
  • NGO nongovernmental organization
  • PEA political economy analysis
  • PRIME Pastoralist Areas Resilience Improvement through Market Expansion
  • SDI Slum/Shack Dwellers International
  • TAMD Tracking Adaptation and Measuring Development
  • UNFCCC UN Framework Convention on Climate Change


In its 2019 flagship report, the Global Commission on Adaptation called for an increase in decentralization of adaptation finance to the local level. In 2020, partners of the Global Commission on Adaptation developed principles for locally led adaptation. These principles serve as foundational guidance for supporting and enabling locally led adaptation, and call for actions such as devolution of decision-making, patient and predictable financing, flexible programming, and redressing of social inequalities. This paper is intended to support implementation of these principles by exploring the role of MEL in supporting or discouraging locally led adaptation and to discuss MEL practices and approaches that align with these principles of locally led adaptation.

A growing body of research and practice is grappling with the opportunities and challenges of MEL for adaptation. Emerging evidence and practice centers on the MEL’s role in building social capital and equalizing the power dynamics that underpin the use and governance of knowledge generated through MEL. Grounded in the principles of locally led adaptation, this paper builds on these fields of research and practice to discuss how MEL can support local agency and reflect local priorities and expertise in the interest of more effective and equitable locally led adaptation interventions.

About This Working Paper

This paper presents a review of opportunities and challenges in MEL for locally led adaptation. It is based on a review of MEL approaches, practices, and literature, as well as consultations with a range of actors involved in locally led adaptation MEL.

The paper proposes key considerations relevant throughout the MEL cycle that align with the principles for locally led adaptation:

  • Recognition of and response to structural inequalities
  • Promotion of local agency in decision-making
  • Understanding climatic and contextual uncertainty and complexity
  • Prioritizing learning processes
  • Generating value for local stakeholders

To operationalize these considerations, the paper discusses approaches, methods, and tools specific to each phase of the MEL cycle.

Conclusions and Recommendations

MEL of locally led adaptation requires a long-term systemic shift from traditional MEL to MEL that is locally led, balancing asymmetries in power and accountability. A range of MEL practices and tools are available in the short term to funders, intermediary organizations, and MEL practitioners to support locally led adaptation. However, limitations and practical constraints come with recommended changes to MEL practice, including changes in resources, time, and standard processes. Practical steps throughout the MEL cycle help navigate trade-offs and strengthen locally led adaptation interventions.

To support locally led adaptation through MEL, funders, intermediary organizations, and MEL practitioners should do the following:

  • Understand and respond to structural inequalities, including how power dynamics affect the MEL process and whose objectives it serves, and whether different worldviews and definitions of resilience are equally valued. This is critical to ensure that MEL reflects the realities and priorities at the local level and that results are not inaccurate or biased, and to encourage the systemic change required for locally led adaptation.
  • Embrace design of MEL systems that give equal or greater priority to downward accountability and learning compared with upward accountability. Distinct processes for accountability and learning can address tension between these objectives.
  • Ask how MEL processes and outputs create value for local actors.
  • Take a local demand–driven approach to building capacity for self-directed MEL. If MEL intends to support locally led adaptation, local actors themselves should determine what capacity, external expertise, and access to information they need.
  • Enlist appropriate approaches and methods to navigate and better understand complexity and uncertainty.
  • Create locally appropriate and context-specific indicator frameworks and adaptation metrics. Adaptive capacity is particularly useful as a starting point in defining a set of indicators that apply across scales and contexts.
  • Adopt MEL technologies and process innovations as appropriate to increase local ownership.
  • Develop MEL systems to support adaptive management, experimentation, and learning from failure.
  • Collaborate with knowledge brokers who can translate terminology and concepts between external and local actors to enable ownership and contribution of local partners.
  • Ensure that learning is applied, documented, and shared horizontally at the local level and vertically to national and international levels as appropriate, while prioritizing the knowledge needs and gaps of local actors as a primary audience group.

As locally led adaptation progresses, so should theory, practice, and learning about MEL for locally led adaptation. This paper provides a high-level and preliminary analysis of MEL for locally led adaptation, and encourages continued learning from local practice and local expertise in adaptation MEL.

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