By Gail Campbell
I am a strong proponent of M&E as a key lever in evidence-based grantmaking. It definitely adds a cost to the donor and I am sharing my perspective on four key issues to do with budgeting for, and the costs of, monitoring and evaluation (M&E):
- the importance of allocating grant funding to monitoring and evaluation;
- budgeting for monitoring and evaluation;
- funding for the dissemination of evaluation results; and
- strengthening M&E in the sector.
The importance of allocating of grant funding to monitoring and evaluation
Over the years, Zenex Foundation has been questioned on the amount of money that has been allocated to evaluations. The frequent refrain is that the money could be better spent on beneficiaries, and this is something of a moral conundrum for those of us doing grant making in a context where the education need is so great.
Evaluations are indeed an additional cost to project costs, but it is important to do them. We need to undertake both formative as well as summative evaluations, as it is important for us to learn as we implement. Because the Zenex Foundation makes learning the primary purpose of evaluations rather than only being about accountability, our experience is that partners have found them to be valuable.
However, as evaluations are ultimately about value judgements on the impact of interventions, evaluations are not always well received. It is difficult for both donors and partners to get feedback on projects or components of projects which are not working. However, we learn from success and learn even more from failures.
Budgeting for monitoring and evaluation
When I first started at the Zenex Foundation, we dedicated 10% of the project costs to evaluation. However, we don’t slavishly follow the 10% guideline anymore as it’s more effective to budget according to the defined purpose of an evaluation as well as its value to project partners and the broader sector. We don’t commission an external evaluation of every project and thus we have been able to keep the overall costs of evaluations within the benchmark of 10% of our total project funding per annum.
An evaluation can cost as much as 30% of a project’s costs. I had an experience of this three years ago when the Zenex Foundation evaluated a pilot of a school-based internships in Initial Teacher Education. We had the project evaluated so we could establish the efficacy of the model and to determine whether the pilot could be replicated. In order to do this, the evaluation needed to consider the various components of the programme – the at-school mentoring, the wrap-around support provided to the intern, the academic distance learning model, the resources needed by the managing agency and tracked the interns in their first teaching role – in order to make an argument about the replicability of the model. This made it a time-consuming process and the evaluation exceeded the 10% guideline.
We as donors need to set up our own internal monitoring systems as well as commission external evaluations of the projects we support. Both have cost implications for the donor and are both equally important.
Source: Lessons and Reflections about Implementing M&E in South Africa: An anthology of articles by Zenex staff, M&E experts and NGOs. http://www.zenexfoundation.