In the early 2000s, members of local farming communities in Cajamarca, Peru raised a red flag over the nearby Yanacocha Gold Mine. The complainants alleged that as a result of the gold mine, the community’s health and livelihoods had been greatly affected due to water contamination. They had even been subject to a mercury spill from a truck associated with the mine on the nearby highway, stretching 40km. The International Finance Corporation (IFC) had been involved in funding the project since its inception in 1993, providing various loans for mine pit expansion as well as holding a 5% stake in the mine’s shares.
Several community member complaints regarding water quality and the mercury spill were received by the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO), the accountability mechanism of the IFC. Community members held a general distrust of the project and a disbelief in the promises that the company had made, and had serious concerns for their health and safety.  To address the community’s concerns, the CAO initiated a dialogue between the Yanacocha Gold Mine and the local communities, creating the Mesa de Dialogo y Consenso with stakeholders from the community, the mining company, CSOs, government, and others. One of the key results of this dialogue was to institute a participatory monitoring program of water quality and quantity, intending to rebuild trust and engage the community in a meaningful way.
What is participatory monitoring and evaluation?
Where traditional monitoring and evaluation efforts are conducted by the company or entity that is financing or implementing a project, participatory monitoring is a collaborative effort between the company and other stakeholders. As with any monitoring effort, participatory monitoring and evaluation also involves data collection and analysis of a high-impact development project and communication of that project’s results. It can involve stakeholders from across affected communities, civil society, government, international financial institutions, opposition groups, and implementing entity representatives. By involving such a wide range of stakeholders, a multitude of perspectives will be considered throughout the process. This is a departure from traditional methods that take a top-down informative approach, and which are often used to simply affirm a limited view of the project from the company perspective.
However, traditional monitoring and evaluation practices have been used for many years – why should participatory monitoring be used instead? The answer is simple: people and communities want to participate and have a say in projects that will impact them. Development projects can stimulate economic growth and create positive change in a community, but they are not without their social and environmental risks. When the affected persons are not involved in the process, community expectations of benefits and drawbacks may not be informed or accurate. When these expectations are not met, it can generate conflict and distrust of the project and its authorities, potentially reducing the project’s benefit and damaging the reputation of the implementing and funding entities. By involving a range of stakeholders and their perspectives, a project can generate more host community buy-in, as well as better inform communities and manage their expectations of project benefits and results.
Participatory monitoring activities should meet ten principles as defined by the Compliance Advisory Ombudsman (CAO), the accountability mechanism of the IFC. These include, among others, (1) demonstration of commitment by project authorities, (2) respect of different ways of information gathering and knowledge demonstrated by community members, (3) transparency of the monitoring program and project activities, and (4) accountability in project and implementing entity responses to community concerns.  Project implementing entities can meet these goals through a number of different participatory monitoring activities. Community members can be trained in data collection and observation in order to increase their awareness of a project’s potential impacts, or they can serve as accompanying observers of the implementing entity. Alternatively or additionally, a committee made up of different stakeholders can be formed to produce joint fact finding and capitalize on the range of different perspectives, backgrounds, and technical capacities to ensure thorough monitoring that is viewed as sufficient and successful by all project parties.
While participatory monitoring can be used to prevent conflict by being used in the design and implementation phases from project inception, it can also be used as a means to resolve conflict. In the case of the Yanacocha Gold Mine, conflict was created when the communities felt that they were being unfairly affected by the project. They chose to utilize their right to recourse for the issue and filed a complaint through the CAO. By facilitating dialogue that resulted in the institution of participatory monitoring, the CAO is taking steps to rebuild the relationship between the IFC, the implementing company, and the communities, hopefully engendering trust and ensuring that project benefits are fairly distributed in the future and that social and environmental impacts are adequately addressed.
However, while it is never too late to introduce participatory monitoring into a project’s activities, it is also never too early. The CAO recommends that participatory monitoring be introduced as early in the project cycle as possible and that it be carried on throughout, from the project concept phase to closure. Having involved and well-informed local communities from the beginning of the project cycle will reduce the chances of conflict later.
Challenges in participatory monitoring
While participatory monitoring is an effective way of reducing conflict and creating trust, it has its own unique challenges that can complicate the process, especially when compared with traditional monitoring efforts.
While having multiple stakeholder perspectives is a strength, it can also be a weakness when those perspectives conflict with one another without making steps to resolution. Disagreement on benchmarks, baselines, methods, and definitions of success are all possible, differing from the clear-cut objectives of traditional monitoring and evaluation. For this reason, regular professional facilitation between parties can help make participatory monitoring more meaningful and less problematic.
Another complicating factor is the technical capacity of the community participants. While some may have local knowledge that informs their understanding of the environmental and social impacts of a project, others may not have the necessary training and education to fully contribute and engage in a meaningful way. This lack of background knowledge introduces limitations to the level of monitoring that can be conducted by community members without providing additional guidance. To address this, training could be provided by the implementing entity, but this also presents its own host of technical and financial challenges.
Participatory monitoring and the GCF
Despite the myriad of challenges that participatory monitoring can face, the benefits to implementing this kind of practice from the start of a project cycle and using it as a means to redress are amply clear. While participatory monitoring has been considered best practice in extractive industries for many years, it can be used within any high-impact development project.
For the IRM and the GCF at large, participatory monitoring holds great promise in the kinds of results it can help achieve. As of June 2021, most complaints received by the IRM related to the lack of meaningful consultation and Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC).  As with the CAO and the Yanacocha Gold Mine, participatory monitoring is a useful tool for redress mechanisms and funding institutions to adopt, as a means to redress for affected communities who were not adequately consulted. This can help ensure that communities have a say in the rest of the project process throughout implementation and monitoring phases.
Given that participatory monitoring is mentioned in several GCF policy documents, the GCF and its Accredited Entities (AE) may wish to explore participatory monitoring from the earliest moments of project approval, potentially even from the concept note stage. Not only might this follow the guidance of the CAO, but it also might have the potential to help GCF-funded projects better meet the GCF’s own Environmental and Social Safeguards. By allowing community input, these Performance Standards are less likely to be violated, and local knowledge can be capitalized upon in the design and implementation of the project.
In fact, the GCF’s Monitoring and Accountability Framework for Accredited Entities recommends that “the AE should include participatory monitoring…at all stages of the project/programme cycle from the beginning.” Additionally, the National Designated Authority for each project is “encouraged to organize an annual participatory review for local stakeholders.” However, these practices are simply recommendations and not requirements, and the GCF relies on a model of self-reporting to understand impacts of a project following implementation. Even within the GCF’s Environment and Social Policy, while it is stated that all AEs are required to “undertake all necessary measures to ensure participatory monitoring,” more specific or further guidance would be helpful to all concerned. Given the challenges in designing and implementing participatory monitoring activities, specific guidance from the GCF, might encourage AEs to use participatory monitoring. In turn, this might help reduce complaints to the IRM about the lack of meaningful consultation and participation in GCF projects.
As shown by the CAO and the Yanacocha Gold Mine’s success, participatory monitoring is increasingly being used as an effective means to redress and is often being implemented well before a complaint is ever made. Learning from this example, the IRM will explore the usefulness of participatory monitoring as appropriate, as it seeks to resolve complaints. Participatory monitoring can be a useful tool to mitigate harm from development projects.
Article prepared by Amanda Bierschenk