Monitoring, Evaluating and Learning: What, why and how?

An introduction to the process and importance of ME&L

Let’s face it. You see the words ‘measuring’ and ‘evaluating’ and instantly feel like the fun police have rocked up to your project party. Horror flashbacks from first year stats class start to brew at the back of your mind and you are ready to scroll past this blog post.

BUT: buckle up, friends— I promise you, monitoring and evaluation (M&E) is really not that bad. In 5 minutes when you have finished reading this post, you will know some jazzy technical words and handy tools for making decisions, designing projects, and communicating to donors and investors.

First up. Development Impact and M&E— what are they and why should you care? Many institutions or individuals are out in the world trying to make it a better place. Development Impact is the additional socio-economic/societal value that can be attributed to an organisation’s activities. M&E is a broad term for the tools that help you estimate whether you have generated a development impact, and indeed, made the world a better place.

M&E is critical to project design because it forces us to ask:

  • – Are we achieving what we intended to achieve?
  • – Are we contributing to our partners and stakeholders’ goals?
  • – If we didn’t exist would things be any different?

In this sense it is an essential part of strategy and performance measurement. Good strategy asks: “where do we want to be in 5 years, and what do I need to do each year to get there?” Meanwhile, a good M&E framework tells us if we are on the right track—or if we need to pivot our ideas and activities.

The ‘Theory of Change’ underpins an institution’s M&E framework. It defines what ‘development’ looks like in terms of its inputs and outputs, as well as the outcomes and impacts expected from these. To this end, it will establish a conceptual link between the ‘what’, ‘why’, and ‘how’ of our operations. Integrated within the M&E framework, it will:

  • Establish what should be measured and reported;
  • Communicate to stakeholders (and donors) the rationale for chosen activities and how these activities lead to development outcomes;
  • Prevent unrealistic expectations of impact directly attributable to an organisation.

Theory of Change

When an institution’s theory of change is understood internally it creates alignment towards results; when it is communicated externally it demonstrates the value and purpose of our projects.

The next step: once an institution has determined its theory of change for any given project this can be translated into a logical framework (a logframe). This is used to describe what an intervention is expected to achieve at progressive levels. It summarizes not only what should be measured (by defining key indicators), but how, and by whom and how often – sometimes referred to as a Results Framework.

A logframe helps guide project workers to collect meaningful data over the course of a project, which will contribute to an evaluation of the project’s effectiveness. This in turn helps key stakeholders make decisions; it allows them to gauge where input resources are yielding more significant outcomes and long-run impacts. It also allows institutions to adopt a continuous learning mentality – refining ideas to design projects which yield a positive impact.

So… monitoring and evaluating: these words may have low sex appeal, but the concepts behind them are the keys to the success of any organisation. Wield them correctly, and you’ll unlock buckets of potential impact and progress.

By Jenni Henderson ME&L Director 2018/19

Jenni is an MPhil candidate in Public Policy at Sidney Sussex College.

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