Remote Field Monitoring in Conflict Areas: Using Iraqi Field Monitors and ICTs to Monitor USG Activities

What Does Remote Field Monitoring Entail?
Remote field monitoring is an approach used in hard-to-reach and insecure regions to oversee projects by employing local monitors to manage monitoring, verification, and evaluation processes.

Application in Iraq
In 2011, as the United States withdrew its troops from Iraq, new oversight mechanisms were required to replace the roles previously undertaken by Provincial Reconstruction Teams. In response to security challenges, USAID/Iraq implemented the utilization of local monitors to assess project progress, identify underperforming projects, and offer recommendations for corrective measures. These efforts, undertaken by USAID/Iraq in collaboration with partner organizations, involved the engagement of Iraqi Field Monitors (IFMs) to oversee Mission activities and ensure the efficient utilization of US Government funds. IFMs harnessed information and communication technologies (ICT) for remote data collection and transferred the collected data to a cloud database for daily Mission review.

Selecting the Appropriate Technology
A pivotal consideration when implementing remote field monitoring is the selection of suitable ICT tools for data collection. In light of the security concerns, the adoption of tablets and iOS-based devices was limited due to their conspicuousness, potentially jeopardizing the safety of local monitors by attracting community attention. Given the absence of consistent internet connectivity, the chosen devices needed to capture GPS data even without an internet connection. Consequently, Global Systems for Mobile Communications (GSM) devices were chosen. Additionally, Visual Input Forms were employed, with data being wiped upon upload to the cloud database to ensure the security of both the data and the identity of IFMs.

Employing IFMs in Iraq enabled USAID/Iraq to sustain project monitoring, even during the period when all expatriate staff had to be evacuated due to the presence of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) between June 2014 and February 2015. Beyond this, the use of IFMs offered benefits such as independent evaluations of USAID projects, reporting based on firsthand observations, and an increased frequency of field visits covering a wider geographic area.

Enhancing Decision-Making with Data
Remote field monitoring has the potential to significantly enhance data utilization for decision-making by both USAID Missions and implementing partners (IPs). The data housed in the local monitor database can be leveraged by Technical Offices to generate reports containing quantitative data like visit counts, as well as qualitative insights obtained from direct observations and interviews. USAID managers can employ this data to augment oversight of IP activities, outcomes, and goals by linking IP quarterly reports with local monitor reports. This integration of data sources facilitates a heightened ability to track progress toward accomplishing Mission-wide Development Objectives.

Key Lessons Learned
The adoption of local monitoring techniques has garnered interest from other USAID Missions and holds promise for bolstering program implementation and monitoring in challenging, inaccessible regions. This initiative yielded several valuable lessons that should inform the replication and expansion of local monitoring by other Missions and IPs:

  • Local monitors should promptly identify emerging implementation challenges and prioritize them for timely rectification by the Mission.
  • Preferring local monitor candidates with prior USAID or IP experience can reduce the need for extensive, broad-spectrum training in project management and oversight.
  • The training focus for local monitors should center around Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) skills, encompassing reporting and interviewing, alongside professional development.
  • Rapid feedback is essential to prevent the recurrence of mistakes during site visits conducted by local monitors.
  • Missions should establish local monitoring and evaluation capabilities and proactively plan for any potential attrition of local monitors.
  • The rollout of a local monitoring program should encompass orientation and garner support from Technical Offices.