Monitoring and evaluation (often abbreviated M&E) are separate, but related, tools for evaluating and understanding program implementation and impact. While evaluation professionals often have graduate degrees or other advanced education in evaluation, data collection, statistics, or qualitative research methods, there are many things your nonprofit can do to increase your ability to plan and implement good monitoring and evaluation practices.
In this article, we will discuss the similarities and differences between monitoring and evaluation, their importance in program effectiveness, and the basic steps your organization can take to increase its capacity to develop monitoring and evaluation systems. There are also many excellent resources from donors such as the World Bank and the United Nations, as well as textbooks. Check out the list at the end of this article for good sources of further reading.
What are monitoring and evaluation?
Monitoring and evaluation are critical to building an evidence base around the needs your programs address and to assessing the often diverse interventions that are put in place to address the problem globally. They are tools for identifying and documenting successful programs and approaches and tracking progress toward common indicators in related projects. Monitoring and evaluation form the basis for understanding the underlying factors and response effectiveness at the service provider, community, national and international levels. [United Nations. 2012]
Monitoring is a systematic and long-term process that collects information on the progress of an implemented project. Evaluation is time-specific and is done to judge whether a project has achieved its objectives and delivered what was expected according to its original plan. [FundsforNGOs. 2013]
Both monitoring and evaluation use social research methods to undertake systematic investigations, helping to answer a common set of questions. Despite these shared goals, their roles are different. The focus of monitoring is to track the implementation and progress of the program, including program activities and processes, outputs, and initial results. Monitoring focuses both on what is being done in a program and how it is done to support management decisions and accountability. [Markiewicz & Patrick. 2016]
Evaluation is based on monitoring and follow-up to make judgments about the performance of the program. Analysis performed as part of an evaluation is generally based on the synthesis of a variety of data, including that obtained through monitoring. Assessment is concerned with creating a deeper understanding of change. [Markiewicz & Patrick. 2016]
Why is monitoring and evaluation important?
Monitoring and evaluation are important management tools. Non-profit organizations (and for-profit companies) use them to track progress and enable informed decision making. While some donors require some form of monitoring and evaluation, the people your organization works with can be the biggest consumers of an evaluation. By examining your work thoroughly and honestly, your nonprofit can develop programs and activities that are effective, efficient, and a powerful source of change for the community.
The need for monitoring and evaluation is also shown in the contemporary political context where management strategies such as RBM (Results Based Management) have influenced the expectations placed on organizations. Monitoring and evaluation have become a vital part of making informed decisions about the future of a program. This is especially important when a program is committed to learning what works for its intended beneficiaries and adjusting its programs based on the findings. [Markiewicz & Patrick. 2016]
Monitoring and evaluation should be part of the planning and management process of a program; not just an essential component for a grant application. An evaluation plan is something that should be incorporated into the design stage of a project because it lays the foundation for accurately measuring results, engaging the appropriate stakeholders, and identifying the changes that need to be made to allocate the appropriate resources needed to increase performance. Social impact. In addition, proper M&E provides funders with accurate data that is often used to assess the need for ongoing support.
What does your nonprofit need to get started?
Developing a monitoring and evaluation system is not, of course, a one-size-fits-all effort. The steps required depend on the program you are planning and the needs of your particular organization. When asked, “If the nonprofits you work with could do one thing to get you ready to work with an evaluation consultant, what would it be?”
Be open-minded and ready for change. The responsibility of an assessment consultant is to assess the needs of the target population within the service environment and to come up with a workable plan to address that need. Of course, managing this plan is all about collecting data and reporting findings, but if your current project is not meeting the needs of your target population, what result is your project actually producing? Sometimes you need a change. Although this is not always the case, it is important to be prepared for constructive criticism and to be open to change if necessary.
There are also some general steps that apply to the development of most monitoring and evaluation systems. Below is an adapted outline from the World Bank that you can use to ensure that monitoring and evaluation are included in your program planning.
1. Identify stakeholders in each part of program design, implementation, and reporting. Confirm that their input is incorporated into the monitoring and evaluation plans, as well as the program design.
2. Discuss and articulate the scope, purpose, intended use, audience, and budget of the evaluation.
3. Determine what you want to learn from the monitoring and evaluation of the program. Develop the evaluation questions based on these priorities. See our previous article Tips for Asking the Right Questions for help on developing assessment questions.
4. Select indicators that provide a clear method for measuring the responses to the evaluation questions. Indicators can be quantitative or qualitative. A process indicator is information that focuses on how a program is implemented.
5. Determine the best data collection methods for your indicators and budget. Surveys, interviews, administrative and program data, and document reviews are examples of data collection methods.
6. Analyze the information you collect. Look for patterns or trends that you may want to investigate further.
7. Provide comments and recommendations based on the analysis. Use data analysis to make recommendations on what is working and what may need adjustment within your program.
8. Communicate your recommendations, including the data and how you reached your conclusions, to your stakeholders. Ask them for feedback on the best ways to use the results. [World Bank. 2007]
Regardless of the process you use, it is important that the theory and logic of your program serve as the basis for your monitoring and evaluation systems. If you don’t have a logic model for your program, check out our article on Creating Useful Logic Models.
Resources remain one of the biggest barriers for nonprofits that want to increase their monitoring and evaluation activities. According to the 2016 Innovation Network survey of US-based 501 (c) 3 organizations, 92% of nonprofits participated in the assessment last year, and the vast majority of these organizations (92%) received funding for the evaluation from at least one source. On the other hand, only 12% of surveyed nonprofits spent 5% or more of their organization’s budgets on evaluation. Less than a tenth of nonprofits reported having evaluation staff (internal or external). [Innovation Network. 2017]
Without sufficient resources, it can be difficult to design and implement monitoring and evaluation systems. On the other hand, the data you collect through monitoring and evaluation activities can help you retain donors. Some nonprofits with successful monitoring and evaluation systems even create “dashboards” of data on their websites so donors and other members can track the success of the organization. While we often talk about evaluation in relation to donors, the results of ongoing monitoring and evaluation can also show donors that their money is being used and allocated correctly.
In conclusion, using monitoring and evaluation tools to assess and understand the implementation and impact of nonprofit programs offers significant benefits for your organization. Consider increasing your organization’s capacity to plan and implement good monitoring and evaluation practices by participating in a local chapter of the American Evaluation Association, attending a workshop at a nearby university, or talking to a RevGen consultant about simple things you could implement. and that a positive return on investment.
References and further reading
American Evaluation Association
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
NGO funds. Why is monitoring and evaluation important for NGOs? 2013
Innovation Network. Assessment Status 2016: Assessment Capacity and Practice in the Nonprofit Sector. 2017
Markiewicz, Anne, and Ian Patrick. Develop monitoring and evaluation frameworks. SAGE Publications. 2016
Georgetown University National Center for Maternal and Child Health Education
United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women. Why is monitoring and evaluation important? 2012
World Bank. Monitoring and evaluation tip sheet. 2007
World Health Organization