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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.