By Robert Worthington
Why does monitoring, evaluation, and learning (MEL) matter?
In a world of limited resources, we need to make informed decisions on the best use of funds. Monitoring, evaluation and learning is the practice of:
- continually monitoring the performance of your project or programme;
- selectively evaluating your assumptions about which activities result in the changes you seek to achieve; and
- ongoing learning to understand how you adjust and improve what you are doing.
Together these practices can help you to understand which activities are most effective. As the scale of your work grows, putting in place robust systems to support monitoring, evaluation and learning become essential.
MEL systems and the different options that exist
There are a bewildering number of different systems available to support MEL in your work. However, most systems tend to fall into one of the following categories. Understanding these categories can help determine which is best suited to your programme.
Survey – survey tools are designed to collect responses to questionnaires. They streamline the process of designing and publishing questionnaires. They often make it easy for programmes to collect responses using mobile devices. They may also assist with the analysis of the data collected. Take a look at the range of tools built on Open Rosa / SDK for options in this area – https://enketo.org/openrosa/
Indicator – indicator tools are designed around a log frame or results in the framework. These tools focus on helping you define a number of indicators and collect data needed to measure them. In some cases, they will use survey tools to collect the underlying data. They may also assist with measuring trends over time for indicators. Take a look at tools like https://www.mandeonline.com/ and www.logalto.com for examples.
Outcome – outcome-based tools use approaches like most significant change or outcome harvesting. These are based on the assumption that change is complex and unpredictable. Instead of monitoring what you hope will happen, it focuses on tracking outcomes that you see – and then assessing to what extent they resulted from your work. Take a look at http://www.kwantu.net/process-apps/2016/11/25/outcome-harvesting-app for an example.
Administrative – administrative systems are primarily focused on managing the delivery of a service. However, in doing so they can also collect high quality and disaggregated data. An example of an administrative system is registering students in a school, assigning them to classes and tracking their attendance and results. There is a wide range of specialist administrative systems that focus on specific contexts. www.openemis.org is one example focused on the education sector. The Kwantu platform – www.kwantu.net – is an example of a platform designed to create specialist administrative systems quickly and at low cost.
Things that organisations should consider when choosing MEL systems
Before embarking on the process of finding the right MEL system for you, it is important to get the right foundations in place. The most important foundation is to have agreed on a MEL framework that sets out what change you hope to see, what you will do to bring that about and what you will measure to see if it is happening or not. This will help guide which of the types of MEL systems are best suited for you.
Introducing a MEL system can require significant organisational change. The challenges this bring may take time to overcome. Having both a senior champion and a technical lead are important to drive this change. Finally, as you start looking at the options available (or contracting a supplier to create something just for you) we recommend having a clear specification to guide your search. This will help you rule out options that do not provide what you need and focus your energy on what is necessary.
Source: Lessons and Reflections about Implementing M&E in South Africa: An anthology of articles by Zenex staff, M&E experts and NGOs. www.zenexfoundation.org.za