Dispatch from the UN Development Programme in Cambodia: Misha Goforth’s first blog from the virtual field

Photo credit: Bryon Lippincott/flickr

By Misha Goforth

For the past month, I’ve been working remotely with the results-based management unit of UNDP Cambodia and already it’s been an experience like no other. I’ve had my sights set on working for the UN Development Programme since I first started engaging with the international development world, first in my undergraduate studies and later in my first professional posting in Mongolia, and so you could say that this opportunity is a dream come true. However, in the context of a global pandemic, that dream is playing out just a bit differently than I’d imagined. Rather than focus on the challenges of working remotely for an office in a completely different time zone though, I’m going to take this chance to reflect on the amazing work of UNDP Cambodia that I’m getting the chance to contribute to and my attempts to make the most of this opportunity from my bedroom office in Canada.

The UNDP in Cambodia works to respond to development challenges in the country by implementing partnership-based programming that promotes prosperity, peace and planet/sustainability. An important piece of this programming is the monitoring and evaluation (M&E) of program resource use and program impact – basically, ‘how are program resources being used?’ and ‘is the program having the impact that we expected?’ The M&E process helps a program stay on track with what it has promised to program donors and what it has promised to program beneficiaries, making it critical for meaningful accountability and transparency.

From my previous experience working with different international development projects in Mongolia, I know that capturing and measuring program impacts can be extremely challenging, especially if an M&E framework is too rigid and can’t adapt in response to the reality of the program on the ground. In that case, the M&E framework starts to feel more like a box that the program has to fit into and can act to limit the potential of the program to have a big impact. Unfortunately, this is too common. That’s why it’s really exciting to see innovations in M&E at UNDP Cambodia in the way of results-based management and dynamic monitoring frameworks. Both of these tools allow the program to be focused on its contribution to a bigger impact, rather than just focusing on the implementation of activities, and to be adaptive to the realities of program implementation on the ground so that unexpected impacts can be measured and new opportunities can be seized. A robust and responsive M&E framework enables program implementers to do amazing work on the ground, and I’m happy to be a part of that work!

In my first month with UNDP Cambodia, I’ve focused on learning the organizational systems and getting up to speed with the 20+ programs being implemented by the organization – a big jump from my experience working on a single project at a time! I’m looking forward to getting deeper into my role and being able to contribute more to the unit.

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