What is remote field monitoring?
Remote field monitoring is a technique that can be employed in inaccessible, insecure areas to conduct monitoring, verification, and evaluation of projects through use of local monitors.
Application in Iraq
In 2011, the United States withdrew troops from Iraq, necessitating replacement of oversight functions previously performed by Provincial Reconstruction Teams. Due to security challenges, USAID/Iraq and The QED Group (QED) have employed the use of local monitors to assess progress, determine when projects are underperforming, and make recommendations for corrective action. USAID/Iraq and QED have employed the use of Iraqi Field Monitors (IFMs) to provide oversight for Mission activities and to ensure effective use of US Government funds. IFMs utilize information and communication technologies for remote data collection and upload data to a cloud database for daily Mission review.
Choosing an appropriate technology
One of the key considerations when implementing remote field monitoring is choosing an appropriate ICT technology for data collection. USAID/Iraq and QED performed a study on the best ICT technologies in Iraq’s specific environment. Security concerns limited use of tablets and iOS-based devices, which would catch the attention of community members and could jeopardize the security of local monitors. Lack of internet connectivity necessitated the use of devices that could track GPS data in absence of an internet connection; therefore, Global Systems for Mobile Communications (GSM) devices were chosen. Lastly, the project utilized Visual Input Forms that were wiped clear once data was uploaded to the cloud database to protect the security of the data and the individual IFMs.
The use of IFMs in Iraq allowed USAID/Iraq to continue project monitoring, even when all expatriate staff had been evacuated due to the incursion of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) between June 2014 and February 2015. Other advantages of using IFMs include independent review of USAID projects, reporting based on first-hand observation, and increased number of field visits and geographic reach.
Data use for better decision-making
Remote field monitoring has the potential to greatly improve data use for decision-making by USAID Missions and implementing partners (IPs). Technical Offices can use data within the local monitor database to prepare reports showing quantitative information, such as number of visits made, as well as qualitative data gathered through first-hand observation and interviews. USAID managers can review data to increase oversight of IP activities, results, and objectives by linking IP quarterly reports to local monitor reports. Linking these two data sources facilitates an enhanced level of tracking progress toward achieving Mission-wide Development Objectives.
Use of local monitoring is being replicated by other USAID Missions and has potential to strengthen implementation and monitoring of programs in inaccessible, insecure areas. This project resulted in a number of lessons learned that should guide replication and scale up of local monitoring by other Missions and IPs, including:
- Local monitors should identify emerging implementation issues and prioritize issues for timely correction by the Mission
- Selecting local monitor candidates with previous USAID or IP experience reduces the need for extensive, broad skills training in project management and oversight
- Training focus for local monitors should be on M&E skills, including reporting and interviewing, and professional development
- Immediate feedback is needed to avert repetitive mistakes during site visits by local monitors
- Missions should build local monitoring and evaluation capacity and should proactively plan for potential brain drain of local monitors
- Roll-out of a local monitor program should include orientation and buy-in from Technical Offices