Demystifying Monitoring and Evaluation

Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E), observing and recording the activities associated a programme then evaluating its effectivenss, is inteigal part of what we as NPOs do. We need M&E to report back (and hopefully brag) to donors, stakeholders and clients. Why then do we dread it so? The September “Get Resourceful” session attempted make M&E a little less intimidating.

Demystifying Monitoring and Evaluation

About 60 attendees from the Cape Town NPO community packed into the Inyathelo board room for a lively panel discussion with Inyathelo's in house experts, Alex O’Donoghue, Gillian Mitchell, and Gaby Ritchie. Perhaps lively isn’t the first word one might use to describe M&E. In fact, a collective nodding of agreement arose from the audience when Alex suggested that most of us dread this part of our work, finding it tedious and daunting. She argued however, that the problem is not the process itself, but the way we think about it.

The panelists advocated for curiosity and creativity in our approach to M&E. Asking the right questions of the numbers can lead to more interesting evaluations. Granted, M&E is often times formulaic, especially since the exercise is donor driven. Now don’t blame the donors for this, after all they need specific information when reporting to their own stakeholders and looking at their own bottom lines.  But perfunctory doesn’t have to mean dull. It’s ok, even preferable, to add your insights into the numbers. 

The discussion then looked at proxy indicators (indirect outcomes) as a means of teasing out more dynamic results. For example, an NPO working in the education sector would surely develop projects that aimed to increase educations levels of its clients. But would a before and after comparison of academic credentials really tell the whole story? Surely increased education and training would improve employability and, hopefully, an overall quality of life. So, a proxy indicator of success might be the number high-ticket consumer items found in the home (TVs, laptops, high speed internet). Quantifying impacts are a necessary part of the process, but good storytelling (aka marketing your organisation’s work) involves creatively telling how those numbers change lives.

M&E can be expensive, especially when outside evaluators are brought in. But Gaby was quick to point out that if the donors want detailed reporting, then it is reasonable to ask that they foot the bill for it. It is after all, in the mutual best interest of organisation and donor alike. Building M&E into a proposal is part of grant writing and needs to be thoroughly planned for at the start of the process, not hastily tacked on at the end.

Several of the participants inquired about free, and freely available M&E tools and resources. Alex was kind enough to oblige with a list ofInternet resources and a helpful mini-glossary of M&E terminology. Enjoy!