Figuring out how and when to design a Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) plan could be quite tricky, we agree! But with the right approach, and some helpful tips and tricks from the experts, you could have a lot of fun and success in planning and implementing M&E into your projects.
So, if you are someone working in the non-profit sector, including NGOs, INGOs, Foundations or Social Enterprises, our top ten tips from the in-house experts could be beneficial. Learn about a favourable time to incorporate M&E into your project, how to choose the right M&E tools and methodologies, the crucial role of indicators and more!
1. Know your project inside and out
Before you begin to map out your M&E plan, it is essential to acquire a thorough understanding of your project. Here are some good questions to ask – What are your project goals and objectives? What problem is the project trying to solve? What steps will be taken to solve those problems? Has your target audience been defined? What is your available budget and resources? What is the intended time-frame of your project? And how do you plan on measuring your interventions? Answering these questions could help you build the groundwork of M&E.
2. Start planning M&E during project design phase
As you plan your project objectives, logistics and resources, it is best to start designing and incorporating your M&E simultaneously with input and feedback from all stakeholders and team members involved in the project. It is important to link your M&E plan to the project’s strategic plan in an integral manner. This ensures effective allocation of resources, establishment of roles and responsibilities, an understanding of the political and administrative structures of the community where the project will take place etc. Likewise, planning M&E early on also helps to identify your baseline values to measure the success and failure of the interventions during project implementation and your impact at completion.
3. Make M&E an ongoing process
In the traditional development realm, M&E was implemented only during the final stage of the project cycle – this is an ineffective and archaic practice. M&E is a fundamental part of a project and it must be incorporated in parallel to your project interventions. This allows you to see a full picture of your project’s history, its scope and complexities to uncover anomalies, respond to issues as they arise, predict likely scenarios, improve internal coordination, optimise resource allocation, prescribe beneficial potential actions and make informed decisions.
4. Explore different M&E tools and methodologies
M&E has many tools, methodologies and approaches for different stages and activities of a project. The key to successful M&E is to choose and triangulate the ones that best fit the scope of your project. Asking these questions might help to determine your relevant options – what type of project is to be monitored and evaluated, and at what stage? Where and how do you intend to use the tools and methods? Is qualitative method more suited than quantitative for your interventions? (Quantitative methods track changes in ‘quantifiables’, while qualitative methods reveal perspectives, perceptions or behaviours.) Can you logically and strategically articulate the reasoning behind your choice? And what capacity, resources and expertise are available to utilise the particular tool or method?
5. Set up relevant indicators
Indicators are called the backbone of M&E for all the right reasons. Indicators are specific and concrete pieces of information that enable you to collect the right set of data to track the changes you are trying to achieve through your project, program or strategies. Every level of your project, whether be it an output, outcome or impact should have its own set of indicators to measure your performance and interventions. But it’s important to make sure that the indicators you choose are specific, relevant, timely, achievable, have a baseline, a unit of measure, a target and are easily disaggregable. The rule is always quality vs. quantity. The tendency to define too many indicators, or those without accessible data sources could make the system costly, impractical, and likely to be underutilized.
6. Collect data from multiple sources
A combination of accurate data and relevant indicators provide credible evidence of changes associated with your project interventions and thus, enable you to make informed decisions. Whether using existing data or collecting your own through data collection forms or digital data collection tools; gathering clear, useful and relevant data from multiple sources helps to gauge progress at various levels of the project in a more expansive manner, while diversifying the impact of M&E and making it more comprehensive and efficient. But just like indicators, the trick here is also choosing quality over quantity, collecting and using only what you need – irrelevant data can cost you time, resources and unnecessary headache.
7. Employ a participatory and inclusive approach
A participatory and inclusive approach to M&E increases the sense of ownership and motivation amongst all stakeholders, donors and parties associated with the project. This ensures that every member involved has an opportunity to voice their opinions and provide input on assessing the situation, shaping project design/plans and identifying the desired results. It also helps members to support every activity and intervention, diagnose and understand underlying problems, predict likely scenarios and participate in decision-making around the direction of the project.
8. Disseminate periodic results to a broad audience
In traditional M&E, reporting is usually done annually or toward the closing of the project, but this is no longer a recommended practice. As much as it’s important to involve stakeholders, donors and involved parties in the planning of the project, it is equally important to provide them with comprehensive and regular information on the status of the project. This helps the involved parties to get a clear picture of the successes and failures as they come, to suggest necessary improvements and adjustments. This also helps the organisation to ensure full transparency and accountability on their part. In this case, an online M&E platform with dashboards and portfolio features could be of great help to ensure real-time reporting.
9. Make data informed decisions
Data is one of the most powerful elements in M&E. Both qualitative and quantitative data articulates the behaviors and circumstances behind those numerical and categorical data. When compared against the project indicators, data provide clear evidence of the real performance of the project, thus allowing the project team to make decisions grounded in reality and facts over assumptions.
10. Consider using technology to enhance your M&E
As demands for greater transparency, real-time data collection, instant feedback, quantifiable results and remote monitoring have increased, the role of ‘Information and Communications Technologies (ICT)’ has gained momentum in M&E. With so many cutting edge technological tools and software available in the market for each and every component of M&E, you can easily save time, resources and unnecessary frustrations. Moreover, you can improve your efficiency, avoid human errors and increase the value and impact of your project.
Explore intuitive tools to collect real-time data with ease from multiple online or offline sources, reach a larger audience through digital reporting tools, compare your actuals vs. targets with indicator management tools and more. The technological possibilities for M&E are simply limitless.
We really hope these tips were helpful. Please let us know if you have anything to add to the list. We look forward to keeping this conversation going!