Monitoring and Evaluation Strategies
Monitoring and Evaluation, or M&E for short, has become an emerging discipline, akin to procurement, that has evolved from being merely a function, to a complete course of study. Development and funding agencies place such great importance on M&E, that it is now an essential capacity to be considered when forming partnerships or granting funds. Contemporary donors and partners almost always consider; ‘Is there a capacity for M&E? Is there an M&E system in place?’ .
Aside from serving as a checklist for external stakeholders, one should remember that the data drawn from M&E exercises benefits the project and organization itself, facilitating reflection upon the services it provides to its beneficiaries. Finally, in improving the quality of service provided to clients, M&E also exists for the benefit of the primary stakeholders – the local people.
So what is M&E?
In a broad sense, ‘monitoring’ is the routine collection of data, whilst ‘evaluation’ is a periodic assessment of a program or project. M&E is made up of a wide array of activities that include data collection, data analysis, reporting and supervision, its outcomes being used to inform policy decisions and program planning. These activities are guided by an M&E plan that informs the stakeholders involved in M&E of the conduct of said activities.
And what is an M&E system?
In order to have an M&E system, there are only 2 main elements. Firstly, there must be people who have been trained to carry out M&E activities, or are doing M&E related activities. Secondly, there are structures or processes in place that support M&E activities, like data collection and data management tools, data quality checks, and capacity building opportunities for M&E, to name a few.
What is an M&E Framework?
M&E frameworks are diagrams that identify and illustrate the relationships between program Inputs, Processes (or Activities), Output, Outcome and Impact. The M&E framework serves to provide a linear interpretation of resources and desired ends. Inputs include resources that are the building blocks of the project (money, people, infrastructure). Processes are sets of activities carried out to deliver services (training, building community networks). Outputs are results obtained at the implementation level (number of people trained, number of community networks established). Outcomes are results obtained at the population level due to activities and outputs. Impact is derived from outcomes that lead to long term changes.
The diagram below best illustrates the flow of an M&E framework and some examples:
Who are involved in M&E activities?
Local women, children and men are the primary stakeholders as their needs are the focus of a project. Local people should be treated as partners in project initiatives rather than passive beneficiaries. Including the people in assessment exercises provides that insight that may be otherwise neglected but can have a tremendous impact in project implementation.
Let us take a classic example from health care projects where the goal is to decrease mortality and morbidity of a certain disease. Most of the things needed for people to access and get treated have been provided for – drugs, transport allowances, trained medical staff, a refurbished clinic, you name it. But still there are people who do not go for treatment or “drop-out” during the treatment phase. The M&E officer goes in a supervisory visit and sees that all the systems are working well, drugs are stored the way they should, all items and funds accounted for, all the staff have been trained, but when asked why the locality still experience a growing number of cases, the simple answer from the service providers is that they just do not see that many people seeking medical attention. It might seem a mystery, but upon conducting interviews with the local people, the M&E officer found out that they did not want to go for treatment because when they go to the clinic, they feel that they are being berated by the clinic staff, that they do not feel being taken care of and instead there were some instances were some people were being lectured sternly.
Grassroots organisations are essential partners for conducting M& activities. They play a crucial role of facilitating a participatory process in the implementation phase of the project. Why? Because they are a part of the community, and that they know the local culture better than the project management team. Take the simple example of a communication barrier such as a local dialect. It would be great if a development worker speaks it, but this is not the case all the time. A grassroots organization can help elicit meaningful and effective discussions without the participants being embarrassed of speaking out of their native tongue.
The project management team and the implementers are key players in M&E systems. They establish and operate the reflection and learning process. They have to be creative to make the donor requirements (if any) easy to understand by the local people and grassroots organisations. In consultation with the grassroots organisations, they need to come up with ways on how to implement the project and measure its progress, keeping in mind reporting requirements. By doing so, the project team ensures that essential data is transmitted from the peripheries on time and will meet the donor’s preference or a global standard.
Practicing M&E encourages two essential things, one is evidence-based decision making or planning, and the other one is accountability. You can find an article on accountability here: (https://www.projecteudaimonia.org/accountability-for-development)
Evidence based decision making and planning is essential both at the implementation level and at the management level. In the implementation level, data that is collected and analyzed should serve as a gauge on how a project is progressing and to know whether adjustments are necessary in the next period or cycle of implementation. In the same manner, it should show what opportunities are available to improve implementation. Ultimately the results from M&E should form part of decisions on how to further improve services to the community or clients. On the other hand, on the side of management i.e., donors or a program team, data collected and analyzed (and reported) communicates how well the program they are supporting is giving back value for its support. It also gives a sense of whether the project is creating the impact it was planned for. It provides confidence to further support the organization whom funds have been entrusted to.
It is very easy to get lost in numbers when doing M&E. It’s all about the numbers. However, one must not forget that people are more than just numbers. Life cannot be encapsulated in numbers flying across spreadsheets and documents. As an M&E practitioner, the challenge is to play the bridge between the beneficiaries and to who data reports go to. One must be creative but fair. Creative to paint a picture of life through numbers and fair to represent the interest of all stakeholders.
About the Author
'Paul is a Development Practitioner currently working in the Philippines as a project management consultant for International NGOs. He has also worked with Pacific Island Countries and Territories. His areas of expertise include community mobilisation, grant management, and monitoring and evaluation. He has previously worked with organisations that implement projects funded by the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and funded by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT). He is passionate about promoting the power of participatory development in International development'
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