Why decolonisation matters in M&E – introducing our new power-critical toolkit

Allgemein, Monitoring & Evaluation, Our Organisation

“Here at Arqaam, we have created a survey and initiated conversations with colleagues worldwide to gather insights on challenges in M&E stemming from power imbalances rooted in colonial legacies. This article will delve into the reasons behind our pursuit of a power-critical resource and outline our approach to achieving this vision.”

Decision making, resource allocation, and knowledge productionthis is the list of areas in the development sector where remnants of the colonial legacy perpetuate the concentration of power. The voices of local communities and stakeholders are often unheard in decision-making. Meanwhile, international entities continue to control development funding and resources. Western epistemologies and research from the Global North are often perceived as more authoritative, overshadowing local expertise and marginalise local knowledge systems. 

We want to talk about power!

Not just within the Arqaam team, but across the entire development sector, a chorus of voices echoes with countless examples of how colonial patterns are replicated. Even though this is not new, it remains no less important to talk about it. We aim to have this conversation, capturing perspectives and experiences to make them heard and to harness their value in enhancing development practices.

Here at Arqaam, we have created a survey and initiated conversations with colleagues worldwide to gather insights on challenges in M&E stemming from power imbalances rooted in colonial legacies. This article will delve into the reasons behind our pursuit of a power-critical resource and outline our approach to achieving this vision.

Intellectual violence and unequal power relations in knowledge production

The concept of epistemic injustice helps to expose how knowledge produced by diverse epistemologies and worldviews, often from the Global South, is unjustly deemed “inferior” in comparison to the “superior” knowledge generated from the Global North. This disparagement of alternative knowledge systems leads to their suppression, silencing, annihilation, and devaluation. It perpetuates a phenomenon known as epistemicide.

The roots of epistemicides stretch back centuries to the era of European colonisation. In the 15th century, European nations aimed to extend their power and wealth by oppressing indigenous cultures. During the final conquest of Muslim political authority in the Iberian Peninsula, the burning of the Granada library in the early 16th century resulted in the destruction of over half a million books – more than in any other intellectual centre in Europe at that time. This powerful historical example, highlighted by Puerto Rican sociologist Grosvoguel (2013), stands as one among countless instances of the impact of knowledge destruction. It becomes clear that colonialisation goes beyond physical violence: it also encompasses intellectual violence.

Addressing the unequal power relations in the field of knowledge production involves more than simply acknowledging the intellectual contributions of non-white cultures. It also involves creating room for the emergence of new knowledge systems – This is already taking place with heightened intensity within the context of numerous decolonisation initiatives within the development sector.

The decolonisation movement has gained significant momentum across diverse fields. This surge has given rise to a multitude of remarkable projects. In our “Decolonise This!” series we contribute to this global debate on the legacies of European colonialism, imperialism, racial slavery and genocide by bringing to life theories from the Radical South as well as the Radical North. At Arqaam, we understand decolonisation as a complex and ongoing process that involves recognising that colonialism was not a single historical event, but a process that continues to shape societies, power relations, knowledge production, and cultural practices. Decolonisation is a fight against all oppressive systems such as patriarchy, racism and capitalism.

The role of participation and agency in transforming development and aid practices

In the humanitarian and development sector, we can refer to a process of transforming power dynamics and dismantling the legacies of colonialism that continue to shape development and aid practices. It involves identifying and addressing the historical and ongoing power imbalances between the Global North and Global South. While there are certainly other factors to consider, much of the success and control of a project relies on monitoring and evaluation (M&E).

These practices must be executed with an understanding that decolonisation in M&E is not merely a theoretical construct, but a crucial step towards more equitable, culturally sensitive, and effective development practices. It recognises the agency and dignity of those directly impacted by development projects and aims to create a more just and sustainable working atmosphere where development and humanitarian work do not perpetuate colonial and hierarchical relations, but rather mitigate them.

Five reasons why breaking power inequalities in M&E is crucial for transforming development practices

1) Power imbalance

Traditional M&E approaches are often dominated by external actors from the Global North. This leads to power imbalances between those conducting evaluations and the communities being assessed in the Global South. A decolonial approach aims to rectify these disparities and empower local stakeholders to have a more significant say in the evaluation process.

2) Cultural relevance:

Breaking power imbalances will incorporate local knowledge, values, and cultural contexts, recognising that development projects must align with the unique needs and aspirations of the communities they aim to serve. This approach helps avoid imposing external models that may not be culturally relevant or sustainable.

3) Representation and empowerment

Challenging dominant dynamics in M&E empowers marginalised groups and individuals by providing them with a platform to voice their opinions, concerns, and perspectives on the development initiatives affecting them. This ensures the process accurately reflects their realities and they become more invested in the project’s success, fostering a sense of ownership and empowerment.

4) Equitable partnerships

By fostering equitable North-South relationships, we promote partnerships between international actors and local communities that recognise and leverage the knowledge and expertise of both sides. This collaboration enhances evaluation quality and relevance.

 5) Challenging assumptions

Promoting a transformative M&E approach encourages critical reflection on the assumptions and biases embedded in evaluation practices. It prompts evaluators to question dominant narratives and Western-centric models to achieve more inclusive and accurate assessments.

Inclusive M&E practices through participatory empowerment

Pradeep Narayanan, from the Indian School of Development Studies, vividly illustrates how attempts to challenge unequal power dynamics in the development sector often operate 

It would be depicted as a feeding tube that the Global North has inserted into the body of the Global South. The Global North supplies knowledge that is often ‘created’ in their own region, sometimes even repackaging contributions from individuals in the Global South. Along with funds, the Global North transmits ideology, values, and ethics through this feeding tube. Now, what does the decolonisation ‘movement’ in the Global North aim to do? It often focuses on changing the content of the food that goes through the feeding tube.” 

Pradeep Narayanan’s compelling analogy of the development sector as a feeding tube reveals a stark truth in the vast landscape of available resources and materials, a crucial void remains – the absence of truly marginalised voices. As we embark on our mission to challenge M&E practices, we recognise the pressing need to amplify these voices and close the gaps in understanding. Many how-to guides and existing toolkits, for example, focus on utilising Indigenous research methods, yet they overlook the authentic origins of these methods. Cultural sensitivity is often lacking, leaving significant gaps in understanding. 

Knowing that we cannot fully free ourselves from these shackles, we want to try our best to truly open our minds to diverse knowledge and perspectives, transcending the status quo. Our mission goes beyond merely injecting new content into the feeding tube; we are driven to co-create a transformative toolkit for M&E practices. To make this vision a reality, we’re collaborating with organisations and professionals worldwide, seeking their invaluable perspectives through our survey and other forms of dialogue. Their valuable insights serve as the driving force behind the tool we are creating. 

 A glimpse into the power-critical toolkit 

Our objective is to craft accessible tools that foster equitable power dynamics within the sector. Within our toolkit, we want the reader to explore through examples and easy reading fragments the origins of entrenched power dynamics. In doing so, we seize the opportunity to not only shift the narrative but also to present innovative M&E strategies and practices that directly address these dynamics. This distinct approach sets our toolkit apart. 

Central to our approach is the integration of intersectional considerations in M&E, highlighting the relevance and importance of adopting intersectional lenses throughout the evaluation process. By doing so, we not only address the multidimensional complexities of development work, but also foster a more inclusive and equitable approach to M&E. 

At the heart of our toolkit will be hands-on tools such as “how-to-guides,” templates and checklists for the different project phases, highlighting essential tasks in each phase. As our toolkit’s design is rooted in a participatory approach, we aim to uncover the elements necessary for organisations and development professionals in the process. By doing so, we tailor the content of the toolkit to address the specific challenges and gaps identified through our participatory approach. 

Criticism of Western tools such as the logframe to measure “progress” isn’t new, and while we don’t aim to reinvent the wheel, we ask ourselves: what does progress truly mean? And what other paths exist to measure the “success” of projects? 

Depending on the needs identified in the survey and our dialogues, the toolkit aims to explore various key aspects, such as effectively managing power dynamics within evaluation processes, fostering meaningful and participatory engagement of stakeholders, ensuring the adoption of ethical data collection practices, and exploring alternative evaluation methods. Using selective case studies that showcase positive examples of applying power-critical M&E in practice, along with potential risks and mitigation strategies, we strive to empower practitioners with comprehensive and actionable resources. 

Breaking barriers – our commitment to inclusive knowledge sharing 

We are fully aware of the potential accessibility limitations that our toolkit may pose. Recognising that our approach might not encompass everyone, we understand the importance of taking small yet meaningful steps in terms of transforming M&E practices. We recognise the relevance of sharing and circulating knowledge primarily with the local partners of international projects, primarily situated in the Global South. Consequently, we are actively striving to address accessibility challenges and simplify language to make our work more inclusive and widely available across various regions and languages. By prioritising accessible language, we seek to bridge the gap between theory and practice, empowering practitioners to implement power-critical and inclusive M&E approaches effectively.  

We firmly believe that language should not be a barrier to accessing essential knowledge and tools for transformative change in the humanitarian and development sector. Inclusivity remains at the core of our mission, and we strive to create a toolkit that embraces diverse perspectives, even in the face of challenges. That is why our toolkit will be available in multiple languages. 


In conclusion, the power-critical Toolkit will aim to highlight the crucial importance of challenging unequal power relations in various aspects of society, from acknowledging historical injustices to reshaping knowledge systems and development practices. Decolonisation is not merely an academic exercise; it is a transformative movement aimed at dismantling oppressive systems and power imbalances.

By breaking down decolonial concepts and focusing on power imbalances, our toolkit aims to contribute to more ethical and equitable practices. The commitment to inclusive knowledge sharing and collaboration across borders further reinforces the global significance of this movement. As we continue to strive for a future free from the shackles of colonialism, transforming M&E practices becomes a critical step in fostering an inclusive global community.

Collaborate with us and be a part of our transformative M&E Toolkit 

With this motivation we are developing our new power-critical M&E Toolkit and we are excited to invite you to collaborate with us. Join us in this initiative and contribute to the decolonial movement in M&E by participating in our online survey or contacting us for other ways of collaboration (possible in different languages) – Reach out to us at: decolonise@arqaam.io.

Even if you are not directly involved in monitoring and evaluation, your input is greatly valued.

Let us join hands in this transformative journey towards, embracing diversity, and co-creating a more just and equitable humanitarian and development sector! 


Grosfoguel, Ramón. “Epistemic Racism/Sexism, Westernized Universities and the Four Genocides/Epistemicides of the long Sixteenth Century“. In Palgrave Macmillan UK eBooks, 23–46, 2015. doi:10.1057/9781137292896_2. 

Koch, Susanne. “The local consultant will not be credible: How Epistemic Injustice is experienced and practised in Development Aid“. Social Epistemology 34, Nr. 5 (16. March 2020): 478–89. doi:10.1080/02691728.2020.1737749. 

Narayanan, Pradeep. “How ethical is the colonisation of current decolonisation debates in Academia?” Durham University. 27 June 2023. https://www.durham.ac.uk/research/institutes-and-centres/social-justice-community-action/about/news/how-ethical-is-the-colonisation-of-current-decolonisation-debates-in-academia/.