by Gerard Emmanuel Kamdem Kamga
At one point or another practitioners involved in projects and programmes need to engage in a crucial process, namely monitoring and evaluation (M&E). Contemporary understanding of M&E emerged in the 1950s when the performance of the public sector around the world begun to decline. As an employee of a non-governmental organisation which engages with various partners and stakeholders, I believe it is important to scrutinise all mechanisms and processes in our work so that we can become more results-oriented for, these processes are able to maximise benefits for those communities which we seek to support and assist. It is, therefore, crucial to routinely assess the key elements, implementation and progress, and impact of the projects or programmes with which we are involved. Such an undertaking is more easily achieved through what is generally known as M&E. In this short reflection, I will provide readers with a brief overview of M&E. M&E are understood as mechanisms which allow for the collection and assessment of data so as to provide feedback to project and programme managers, co-ordinators, organisations, civil societies and other stakeholders regarding the implementation and impact of a project or programme. M&E is not an abstract theory but rather a set of practical tools enabling policy-makers, project managers, co-ordinators and programme heads to know precisely in which direction they are heading:
Without effective planning [of] M&E, it would be impossible to judge if work is going in the right direction, whether progress and success can be claimed, and how future efforts might be improved (UNDP 2009:5).
However, M&E presents some challenges. Mentioning these challenges should not discourage anyone from engaging in M&E processes. One of the objectives of the present paper is to assure those engaged in projects, programmes and policy design that challenges are not only an intrinsic aspect of the work that we do but probably constitutes one of the most important aspects. Indeed, we ought to derive real satisfaction from addressing such issues. The core task is to choose appropriate M&E methods and tools. What does M&E entail and what is its primary purpose, we need to ask. We also need to enquire about the mechanisms, standards and guiding principles of sound M&E. What pitfalls can we anticipate in applying them? I will attempt to answer these questions in this paper.
Programmes and projects are generally designed in phases and cycles which guide their implementation. In the planning stage, particular objectives, targets and outcomes are determined. In other words, a set of clear instructions is drawn up to define the framework and process to be followed by the team in order to ensure successful completion of planned projects or programmes. M&E provides programme heads with an opportunity to reassess and revise aspects at any point in a programme or project’s life-cycle:
[…] Projects and programmes have a greater chance of success when the objectives and scope of the programmes or projects are properly defined and clarified. This reduces the likelihood of experiencing major challenges in implementation (UNDP 2009:7).
The monitoring process refers to routine collection and assessment of data or information pertaining to the state of a project or programme, especially during its implementation phase. Monitoring is crucial to enable early detection of problems and to alert programme or project managers, so that they have an opportunity to address or correct such problems. Monitoring assesses data and provides an indication of whether or not actual implementation of activities and use of specified resources will effectively meet the objectives and achieve the set targets. The process gives programme heads the option to determine which areas require specific attention, and, in particular, which aspects of the project or programme merit revision and improvement. Monitoring is an important process because it has the potential to alert programme staff members to challenges and inefficiencies which previously went unnoticed, and this is to enable better solutions to be found.
In contrast with monitoring, the evaluation process focuses on the issue of cause and effect. It attempts to provide answers as to why particular objectives and outcomes were or were not met. Evaluation is then about establishing a relationship between the implementation phase of the project or programme and the specified outcome. Evaluation scrutinises internal and external factors which could impact on sound or poor implementation of the project or programme. Evaluation is often planned after a certain period of time has passed, generally occurring at the mid-point or end-point of the project or programme. The evaluation process assesses resources used and the efficiency of implementation. It seeks to uncover the project or programme’s strengths and weaknesses, and provides input regarding strategies for improvement.
M&E are crucial processes, and practitioners should familiarise themselves with them. Individuals involved in policymaking, projects and programmes generally explore means to improve the quality of their work, including aspects such as data collection, analysis of information, rational use of resources, effective and efficient implementation strategies, and finally anticipation of potential problems and what needs to be done to prevent such problems developing. M&E is a set of relevant tools to keep projects and programmes on track, to closely monitor their progress and completion, and, if necessary, to reallocate resources in a different manner. The relevance of M&E has been reiterated on numerous occasions:
Programmes and projects with strong M&E components tend to stay on track. Additionally, problems are often detected earlier, which reduces the likelihood of having major cost overruns or time delays later (UNDP 2009: 7).
The M&E process is crucial in enabling public authorities, non-governmental organisations, communities, civil societies, donors and other stakeholders to draw lessons from current and past experiences, most notably through improving the planning, structuring, co-ordination, implementation and impact of policies, projects and programmes.
M&E are two different but interdependent and complementary sets of tools that remind programme managers and co-ordinators that no process is set in stone: there is always room for improvement. These tools play another crucial role in relation to improved reporting, and ensuring transparency and accountability. When working on a funded programme or project, for instance, donors and stakeholders are entitled to get detailed progress reports. M&E are ideal tools to design such reports, to justify the allocation of funds and resources, and to reveal the purpose, implementation, outcome and impact of a project or programme.
M&E provide instrumental techniques for tracking and improving performance in implementing a project or a programme. However, their use involves various challenges. The first major challenge may be the inexperience of project staff and their lack of relevant M&E skills. For example, if collection of data and information pertaining to a project or programme is inaccurate, or if the analysis and interpretation of such data is incorrect, these errors may compromise the entire M&E process. Project and programme managers need to have the necessary skills to define performance indicators and to identify the source of problems. The second challenge emerges when M&E processes are conducted independently of each other. The monitoring process may help to identify problems and dysfunction, but it does not necessarily suggest why these problems occurred in the first place. The evaluation process is often performed at the mid-point or end of a project or programme. Yet the outcome of the evaluation process and its impact may be experienced weeks, months or even years after the project or programme is completed. A third type of challenge is related to some projects and programmes having their own M&E units, in which experts are in charge of the M&E process. Such specialists are not necessarily members of the team which designed and managed the programme or project. As a result, there may be misunderstandings and a lack of co-ordination between the two teams, leading to tensions. It may be more rational and efficient for those who plan and implement projects or programmes to be at the forefront of M&E processes.
I have shown how important M&E is for people working in policy-making environments, as well as for civil society, donors, communities and various stakeholders. M&E is a crucial set of processes to enable clear assessment of processes and progress in the work we do. It is a genuine accountability tool as it enables project managers, programme heads, experts and stakeholders to determine the efficiency, value and transparency of projects and programmes. While challenges may arise during the M&E process, they can usually be easily addressed.
Cameron, J. 1993. The challenges for monitoring and evaluation in the 1990s. Project Appraisal, 8(2)
Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). 2010. Glossary of key terms in evaluation and results-based management. Available at http://www.oecd.org/dac/2754804.pdf (accessed 26 April 2018).
United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). 2009. Handbook on Planning, Monitoring and Evaluating for Development Results. New York: UNDP.