The Use of Third-Party Monitoring in Insecure Contexts

Third Party Monitoring Original

Background

Third-Party Monitoring (TPM) describes the practice of contracting third parties to collect and verify monitoring data. In insecure contexts, aid actors primarily use TPM to monitor the activities of partner organizations in places where their own staff faces access restrictions.

This paper summarizes the main findings and recommendations of the SAVE research program on TPM, based on interviews with commissioning agencies, TPM providers and donors as well as a review of literature.

Main Findings

Strengths of TPM
  • Provides independent ‘eyes and ears’ on the ground where own staff cannot go
  • Allows the validation of monitoring data from implementing partners where confidence in partner reporting is lacking
  • Can in some cases allow more cost-efficient field monitoring and thus more frequent missions
  • Is most useful for verifying quantitative and physical outputs of aid projects
Risks of TPM
  • Time and resources required to make TPM work are often underestimated by commissioning agencies
  • Quality of reporting is frequently seen as subpar by TPM users
  • Reputational risks from field monitors' actions need to be mitigated
  • There is significant risk transfer to field monitors, especially where TPM providers lack adequate security systems
  • TPM can negatively affect context understanding and acceptance where aid agencies use it as a substitute for regular internal monitoring

Conclusion

By strengthening compliance in places where access is limited, TPM can meaningfully contribute to the broader monitoring and evaluation toolbox, with benefits for both donors and aid agencies. For donors, TPM offers an option to verify monitoring information from partners. Ideally, this should complement rather than entirely substitute for monitoring conducted by an agency’s own staff.

For aid agencies, TPM can provide a source of primary field data to inform programming and help verify partner reporting. However, as with donors, agencies should aim to do as much of their own monitoring as possible. TPM is most useful as a last resort measure or as a complement to internal monitoring and verification approaches by the recipient agencies. With this in mind, aid agencies should limit their primary reliance on monitoring by third parties to exceptional areas with constrained access. The practice of TPM is far from fully established, too: it needs to be regularly reassessed, and options for internalizing monitoring should be regularly re-evaluated. To facilitate as much of their own monitoring as possible, Third-Party Monitoring should always be supported by acceptance-building measures and community feedback systems, as well as transparent communication with communities (beneficiaries and non-beneficiaries) overall.

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The full paper is available for download.

The summary is also available for download in Arabic, English, and French.

SAVE was a three-year research program that explored how to provide effective and accountable humanitarian aid in insecure contexts.