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Tools for project planning in community development

Online Course Module 7 of 9

Monitoring & Evaluation

This is Module 7 of our free online course, 'Tools for Project Planning in Community Development'. To visit the course homepage, click here.

The terminology Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) describes a group of activities and indicators to measure a project’s ongoing success in relation to clearly defined outputs. 

Incorporating them into your design from the beginning allows you to assess progress and achievements in line with your objectives. 

M&E offers a tangible way to ensure that your project is accountable, transparent, minimizes collateral damage and actively identifies wasteful processes and poor performance. A good M&E strategy is thus ultimately an assessment of your effectiveness, and as such should be considered an essential facet of your design process.

We will release a full, in-depth course devoted to the topic of M&E shortly which will explore in detail the different methods available to help keep track of your development project. In this module though, we aim to provide an overview of what M&E is, and more specifically, how it can be incorporated into the project design phase.

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This course is part of our free online learning centre for community development professionals.

Monitoring & Evaluation

describes the collection and assessment of measurable outputs from project activities to gauge success and analyse impact.

Why should you incorporate M&E in the planning stage? 

Most planning strategies include setting of targets and deliverables, so it is important to understand how your team will keep track of this information. These are not only targets to assess your success at the end of your project, but also to keep track of your progress whilst you are implementing your project. These real-time assessment targets will help guide any changes you make to your project during implementation, helping to improve the way your deliver your services. Thus, by incorporate M&E into your planning, you are actively preparing for and supporting the implementation process. 

Having a robust concept of M&E in place will also contribute to transparency and accountability in your reporting. Not only does this facilitate a culture of learning for the organisation and the wider sector, but it also improves relations with potential donors and supporters. 

Creating your M&E plan in 5 easy steps

Whilst there are many more important processes to effective Monitoring and Evaluation, these five key steps are most important during the planning phase. They will be essential to designing your Logical Framework in the next module that will be the centrepiece of your project. You should have an idea of your Monitoring and Evaluation indicators from your Theory of Change Framework in the previous module.

Before moving on, you should ensure that you have set clear and realistic goals and objectives for your project. Through your Theory of Change Analysis in the previous module, you should have chosen specific interventions to achieve these goals. You can also look at Module 3 for Goal Setting and Module 5 for Solution Analysis to help you identify clear objectives.

Indicators are used to assess the success of your project. They are normally accompanied by a measurable target - often a percentage - to help quantify success. 

There are different types of indicators you can use:

 

Objectively Verifiable Indicators = quantifiable targets that usually assess quantity, quality or time (the best way to assess the success of your project)

  • Targets should be specific, usable, measurable and sensitive.

Example: Provide 90% of pregnant women living in the Ecuadorian village of Canoa an antenatal care service at 10weeks, 20weeks and 30weeks gestation between 01/01/18 and 01/07/18

Example: Measuring the happiness of a work force is difficult. An indirect indicator of workplace happiness might be tracking the number of sick days taken by staff members.

Indirect Indicators  = assess the achievement of a target in an indirect way 

  • These are indicators you can use if the outcome cannot be measured directly

Example: 50% of families reported feeling less stressed about their finances.

Qualitative Indicators  = an important indicator when seeking to understand how the ‘process’ of your project is being received by the community.

  • Give insight into how satisfied beneficiaries are with your project, whether the project has led to sustainable behavioural changes 

  • Can be hard to analyse → you can still use Objectively Verifiable Indicators (usually a percentage) even if your indicators are qualitative. 

The SMARTER AND SPICED acronyms can be useful when trying to identify all of the possible indicators our project can use. These work for both quantitative and qualitative indicators.
SMARTER = Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time bound, Enjoyable, Rewarding
SPICED = Subjective, Participatory, Indirect, Cross-checked, Empowering, Diverse)

Helpful Hint

Next, you need to identify methods of verification to measure your indicators and assess your performance. Then you define a timeline that sets concrete time periods for when you will conduct data collection for your assessment.

There are different types of indicators you can use:

  • Use methods of verification that are cost-effective and readily available 

Example: Instead of visiting each beneficiary of your project individually to conduct a survey, better do the survey at a workshop with a group of beneficiaries at once or hand out survey papers that can be completed and returned at the next meeting. 

Example: Instead of visiting each beneficiary of your project individually to conduct a survey, better do the survey at a workshop with a group of beneficiaries at once or hand out survey papers that can be completed and returned at the next meeting. 

This will help you track the success of your project, see which interventions had the best (or worst) effect and make changes to your project during the intervention period.

This means collecting data before your intervention starts (at the very beginning of your timeline!). This is important because without it, the data you capture throughout the project will not bear as much relevance, as you will not see the process you are making. 

  • Use methods of verification that are already available in your community 

  • Collect data at multiple times throughout your project

  • Incorporate baseline measurements into your work (depending on what you are evaluating)

your activities upon one element of the over-arching problem, likely achieving more noticeable change towards your long-term goal.

Helpful Hint

If your organisation intends to run more than one activity, which we anticipate most would, try to choose short-term interventions that are either from the same outcome pathway or are directly complimentary to one another. This way, you’ll be able to focus

To ensure that your M&E strategy progresses smoothly, it is important to assign specific responsibilities to specific members of your team. 

When assigning responsibilities, make sure that:

You are as specific as possible

  • Use names, dates, times and places where data collection will take place.

You cross check data through more than one person

  • Mistakes must be identified and verified quickly and unexpected consequences must be acted upon immediately.

You choose an appropriately skilled team member to collect the data

  • Holding a workshop requires some experience and 1on1 interviews can be daunting for newer team members.

Now it’s time to put all this information together into a succinct Monitoring and Evaluation Plan. This should be done for each specific objective separately. An example can be seen below:

Example: Monitoring and Evaluation Plan

You can download a template for this tool here: Resource 16 - Monitoring & Evaluation Plan Framework'. Use this resource as a guide when you are planning your own community development project.

Download Resource

Finishing Up

With the guide above, you should have a clearer idea about how you can plan to track and assess the efficacy of your project. In the next module, Module 8, we’ll put all this information together into a logical framework to guide your entire project in the intervention process

Helpful Hint

Often you will need more than one method of monitoring. Not all parents might take their children to the doctor. So, while the monitoring strategy outlined above is 100% accurate because a doctor has diagnosed cholera, it might not capture 100% of children who are suffering cholera. As such, a complimentary monitoring strategy could be to count the number of children sick from school to help get a broader picture of the total impact of your project. 
Or download the full project planning handbook here.

Download Module

Download this module as a pdf to print and use as a guide when planning local community development projects.

Move on to:

Synthesising your Project into a Logical Framework

Learn how to use a Logical Framework Approach (LFA)  create a single ‘master framework’ for your project. 

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