What’s M&E got to do with it?

The short answer is everything!

If you asked your colleagues what Monitoring and Evaluation is you’re likely going to get different answers from each of them. My field has not done a great job of selling ourselves to others, so I’m writing this post as a first attempt to advocate for the necessity of M&E in everything we do as civil society organizations and non-profits.

M&E is often silo-ed off from day-to-day program implementation and strategy. “Data people” are hired to crunch numbers and produce reports with fancy charts that end up collecting dust and don’t result in meaningful changes in the program. This is a superficial form of M&E that is focused on accountability to others and not what I consider to be our role.

So what is M&E?

M&E is central to organizational effectiveness and delivery of our mission. It’s not separate from programs, but in service to programs. The most effective M&E is done when us “data people” are embedded within programs and in conversation with program staff, leadership, and program participants from day 1.

M&E has 3 key functions within an organization:

  1. Execute strategy: M&E helps us answer the question - what do we need to know in order to understand the effectiveness of our strategy? Are we on track? Is our approach working? Answering these questions is critical in order to know if what we’re doing is making a difference.
  2. Improve programming: When integrated with programs, M&E can provide an accurate picture to program staff of how the work is going and help to identify areas where we can improve. Rather than relying solely on anecdotes and gut feelings, M&E can provide actionable information to help program staff make decisions.
  3. Reporting: In my experience most people see M&E as primarily a reporting function, that our sole purpose is to compile numbers to stick into reports to donors and our board. I intentionally list this as the third and final function of M&E because I see this as the least important part of our role. Accountability to others is necessary, but not sufficient if we want to learn and improve our work. Accountability to ourselves and those we serve (#s 1 & 2) is critical if we really want to make a difference.


What is the role of M&E to you?



Nice! I love the cartoon, and now I’ve got a catchy song stuck in my head. I’ll never think of M&E the same again! :heart_eyes:


it’s really nice and appealing


Agreed! Great to see you here on Forum Friday, Daniel! Welcome and hope you had a great week!

I am really glad Mia has shared this topic. It’s so important to keep M&E in our heads, though for many of us it is hard to make time at the beginning of projects for it. It makes such a difference though that we need to force ourselves to do it!

My team, @namati_network, tries to start every project with a kickoff document and a meeting with as many people as possible who are connected to the project. The document doesn’t try to be a todo list but rather sums up in one place the shared consensus of what success looks like, the people involved and a rough timeline with some milestones. Once the kickoff meeting has taken place and the project is underway, the document is referred back to and updated throughout the project until it is concluded.

Mia is reminding me that we should do better to include M&E in this document. Thanks! :rocket:

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That’s exactly what I was going for! :laughing:


You’re not alone, in my experience, most programs don’t think to include M&E at the beginning because they either don’t think it’s necessary or don’t think they have enough time. But it will actually save time in the long run if a well thought out M&E plan is established at the beginning.

With a plan in place from the start, you’ll be better positioned to focus your attention on what you actually need to know, have data systems set up to regularly inform your decisions throughout the program, and only collect the data you need. My next post will go into more detail about what to include in an M&E plan, so stay tuned!


I think M&E is also intimidating, maybe because it seems to be so formalized and rigid, with spreadsheets and numbers etc that are not always easy for us ordinary mortals to follow. :bar_chart:

It would be great to have some example bullet points of things to include that are not intimidating, just to get going with M&E, and then build up from there as we get more confident with it and see how helpful it is. If we can share our experience here it will also motivate others.


This is really great. M&E needs to be baked right into the planning (and pre-planning work with communities). Ideally, M&E should be participatory (with communities and diverse members of an organization’s staff or a coalition’s actors). In the conservation field, a lot of work has been done recently on this using the Open Standards for the Practice of Conservation, which focuses on a full circle project cycle, though people are still trying to figure it out. At the heart of the OS are what we refer to as “results chains” and theories of change. I’d encourage you to check these out: https://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol18/iss3/art22/ ; http://www.conservationmeasures.org/initiatives/measures-summits/ ; and https://www.gov.uk/government/news/dfid-research-review-of-the-use-of-theory-of-change-in-international-development


@miaschmid First of all thank you for such a brilliant post! M&E does run the risk of being an alienated function within a project cycle. Like you said, its not just a number game to monitor but to inform our own practice and augment it, however a constant challenge for people in M&E is to ensure that their work rather then being intimidating should look resourceful for the other aspects of the project. I’ll be looking forward to more of your such insightful posts! :slight_smile:


Hi @miaschmid!

Thanks for this post and I can’t wait for the next you have asked us to look out for.

Truly, in as much as people tend to alienate M&E they always come back to it unknowingly. You hear them ask in corridors, “how far have we come? Why didn’t we attain that?”. To me that is M&E, they only missing link is that it wasn’t planned for in an appropriate and participatory way so some program staff think it is just about numbers and left for the M&E gurus.


@davidarach I am hoping to get another post up on Friday!

I completely agree with your point – most people in programs are doing some form of M&E, in an informal way, without knowing it. Asking questions, being curious and open to reflecting on how a program is doing are all fundamental to understanding our impact and learning from our work. As “M&E gurus” we can help to encourage that this happens on a more regular basis, and not only in the corridors :grinning:.


Thanks @VidyaViswanathan! I agree that a constant challenge is to demonstrate to our colleagues why M&E is useful and valuable and how they can integrate into their work. I would also like to dispel the belief that M&E is an “add-on” or option. In my opinion, a good program has integrated M&E into everything they do and is a core part of how the program functions. I hope you will continue to share your insights on discourse as well! :smiley:


Hi all. Thanks @miaschmid for clarifying these MEL functions - this is really helpful.

I work at HURIDOCS, an organisation that provides tech and data support to human rights organizations who are documenting violations. It’s a little different from the paralegal support this community provides to their partners, but I wonder if some MEL strategies and tactics may be similar…(and I’m desperate to join any community talking about this!)

At HURIDOCS, we have identified an idea for how to understand the success of our work. The framework acronym is SMAIL, which measures:

  • satisfaction of the partner (the “S”), but also
  • mastery of new skills (the “M”),
  • increased autonomy to design new solutions (the “A”),
  • impact on the wider human rights situation (the “I”) and
  • learning to capture the wider lessons that can be derived from a given project (the “L”).

…now I just need to figure out how to actually put this into practice…any advice? :slight_smile: