Why Monitoring and Evaluation Matters – Who Are We Doing This For?
When I started my career in the field of international development, one of the challenges I was facing very often was how to explain the meaningfulness of my profession to others. This unusual task occurred when people who are not working in this area wanted to learn more about the nature of my job. In fact, besides asking what I am actually doing, they were very curious why my organization conducts some activities, implements certain projects and how do we know that we do our job successfully.
These questions opened Pandora’s box and encouraged me to put myself in the stakeholders’ shoes. I imagined the beneficiary, donor, partner and project supervisor asking, “How will this learning activity help me in my everyday work? Will the proposed project have some tangible results? Where are the overlaps between your and our scope of work? What can we do to improve our efficiency?” Then I realized the importance and power of two inevitable and yet mystified activities: monitoring and evaluation (M&E).
Private companies have many indicators for analyzing performance. At least a couple of them are familiar to everyone, regardless their profession. Let’s use profit as an example: this variable can be calculated, it is comparable and depictures company’s success. Shareholders can take into account profit as valuable information when analyzing company’s position. Similarly, development organizations have established their own systems to increase transparency and accountability of work, track progress and demonstrate the impact of the undertaken activities.
M&E tools used in international development aim to support decision-making processes and provide all relevant parties with the necessary information, allowing them to assess performance. During the monitoring process the organization collects data, both quantitative and qualitative, that indicate progress in reaching out previously selected objectives. These data are regularly collected and ensure a basis for evaluation and learning. Evaluation provides assessment of ongoing and completed activities, determines if the objectives have been fulfilled and under which assumptions, circumstances and conditions, and enables lessons that can be implemented in the future work.
Although M&E has been conducted for many years, in the recent period there have been increased efforts to put this framework into practice and connect it with organizations’ core activities. Some of the reasons are rising need to demonstrate the effective use of funds and implementation of the adaptive management approach. A KPMG study* showed that the motivation for monitoring a project is driven by the intention to improve development impact, ensure that lessons are learned from the existing programs and to be accountable toward funders. This research also indicated that although there exist various available evaluation techniques, there are top three techniques that are most commonly used: logical frameworks, performance indicators and focus groups.
As a regional knowledge hub and a leading learning institution in South East Europe that promotes capacity development of public sector officials, the CEF is investing significant efforts into the M&E of its activities. We are carefully measuring the results and sharing them through different channels in order to properly evaluate work and articulate created value. Data that are supporting M&E are both qualitative and qualitative, collected throughout surveys, reflections and value creation stories. The approach that we are developing to gather these data and connect it to our objectives is the logical results framework.
In this mission we are challenged with the complexity of our activities and various dimensions of our work. We are taking into account the significance of the learning initiative for our participants as well as the learning approach used to deliver this initiative. We are selecting the projects that we want to conduct in accordance with our institutional mission and in manner to ensure that time-limited activities and objectives are in line with long-term priorities. We are a bridge between donors, partners and beneficiaries, and when conducting our work we are taking into consideration their needs and goals. Last but not least, we are working in a complex and uncertain field, and are aware of the importance that the M&E system recognize and address changes in such environment.
It is inevitable that all these factors have, as a consequence, many requirements, limitations and data that have to be carefully processed and included in the M&E procedure, which on the other hand requires that we invest serious resources. So, it is time for a new question (and for the first time I will try to provide the answer too): Why are we doing this and who else can benefit from it? The development of the described process, regardless of how complicated it looks, supports our intention that our M&E approach should not simply exist for our own needs, but also with the purpose to be understood and used by all relevant stakeholders. We are directly and indirectly creating value for a countless number of institutions and individuals, and these results belong to all of them.
Where do you see the power and potential of M&E?
*Monitoring and Evaluation in the Development Sector, KPMG International, 2014