City-level M&E – practitioners’ perspectives

After a year of intensive preparations, the 5th Open European Day (OED) in Bonn brought together more than 150 representatives of local governments, regional, European and international organisations, policy officers, practitioners, researchers and students from 30 countries in Europe and beyond to discuss urban resilience. Responding to cities’ emerging interests and needs, the 2018 OED concentrated on hands-on and practical themes, and among a range of interesting topics, initiated a discussion on monitoring and evaluation for urban adaptation for the first time in the history of the event.

At the national-level, the processes of monitoring and evaluation (M&E) have attracted a lot of attention, with several countries having already developed frameworks to track implementation and evaluate the effectiveness of policies and measures, improve learning, and increase accountability. However, less progress has been observed at the city-level, with the development and implementation of M&E systems and adaptation indicators remaining among the main knowledge gaps (pdf, 170 KB).

The importance of climate change for local governments and the increasing need to monitor the performance of related initiatives was the subject of the session on “Monitoring and evaluation for urban adaptation” which gave three panellists the opportunity to share their experience and knowledge of the processes.

Matt Ellis, Climate resilience officer from the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (UK), described how English municipalities are not required to report on their adaptation efforts to the national government. Greater Manchester, however, already has a monitoring and evaluation programme in place which focuses on a wide range of issues, including citizens’ health and well-being, and any issue related to adaptation needs to be considered through this lens. He highlighted that the achievements of many of the wider objectives demands the reduction of climate change risks and related disasters, and underlined how efforts to develop city-level adaptation indicators uncovered several knowledge and technical gaps.

Marie Gantois, Adaptation officer from Paris (FR), continued the presentations with a brief overview of the progress that the city has made in climate change adaptation policy. Paris has had an adaptation plan in place since 2015. In addition, it has established an independent steering committee to assess the implementation of the different adaptation measures included, based on periodic feedback from a range of sources and using a set of indicators developed specifically for this purpose. When presenting the challenges of this approach, Marie highlighted that it is a time-intensive task and requires close collaboration among the numerous stakeholders involved in this process.

Finally, Aphroditi Bouikidis, Urban and social innovation consultant, and Georgios Dimarelos, Deputy Mayor for urban resilience and development programmes, presented their views on M&E, drawing from their experience with the recently adopted Resilience Strategy of the City of Thessaloniki (GR). They commented that ‘resilience’ remains a new concept for the majority of citizens, decision-makers and urban planners, and highlighted that within the city there is still some political opposition to efforts made to increase its resilience to climate change. This challenge has made clear the importance of having in place a relevant and targeted M&E programme, which could provide evidence to demonstrate the effectiveness of the strategies. Such evidence may identify actions and measures that are critical for the city and its citizens and, as a result, justify the decisions that underpin their selection and implementation. Finally, the City of Thessaloniki intends to link its M&E programme with the Sustainable Development Goals, as a way to increase the coherence of municipality’s policies and actions with international frameworks.

Panellist presentations were followed by an intensive discussion with the audience, who shared their experiences and views on key challenges, lessons learned and concerns about the way the M&E activities are shaping in different cities.

The consensus was that monitoring and evaluation of the performance of adaptation policies and measures are very challenging tasks, especially when compared to those involving mitigation, which have a more easily quantifiable aim – the reduction of CO2 emissions. City representatives agreed that that it is important that M&E are fully integrated in the city-level adaptation policy processes. Nevertheless, they acknowledged that so far examples of M&E at the city-level are rather scarce and dependent on the specific characteristics and objectives of the individual cities.

Another point raised by many cities was the importance of the availability of data that is suitable for M&E of adaptation programmes. With reference to the importance of ensuring free access to such data, several city representatives discussed the issue of ‘data ownership’, mentioning that while in many cases suitable data exists and is public, the lack of a central data provider constrains easy and prompt access to it. For privately held data, the situation is more complex, as data-sharing remains an uncommon practice within the private sector unless its benefits are clearly communicated. In order to break the existing silos and change this mentality, it is important to explain what an adaptation or resilience strategy is about, by telling a story that is engaging and meaningful to many different stakeholders, and to build networks and collaborations amongst all interested stakeholders.

The limited resources, capacity and know-how of municipality staff who are usually involved in these activities, the lack of political support, the issues of uncertainty, and baseline data were identified as important barriers to M&E for urban adaptation. These barriers are also an issue for national level M&E, suggesting that are lessons to be shared across different governance levels. Finally, the need to maintain a balance between the physical, environmental and social aspects emerged as an area that should not be neglected when designing M&E frameworks for urban adaptation.