Are you a recent graduate hoping to start a career in Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E)? A professional who wants to make a career switch to M&E? Or a M&E practitioner who wishes to take your career to the next level? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then this article is for you! Read on.
I will describe a few things that you should be doing to achieve your goal of being a “M&E Rock Star”.
Before executing the things on my list below, make sure that you have completed an accredited M&E training programme that covers the theoretical aspects of M&E. Once you have done that, your next steps are to:
1. Subscribe to online platforms
An essential resource is ‘My M&E.’ This is an interactive Web 2.0 platform that shares knowledge on country-led M&E systems worldwide. Additionally, ‘My M&E’ has a virtual library, maintains a roster of evaluators, has a listing of training programmes offered by different institutions, gives an overview of M&E job vacancies, has webinars and an e-learning programme. “My M&E” is the ultimate ‘one stop shop of M&E”. So, what are you waiting for? Go sign up already!
Additionally, you should be a subscriber to BetterEvaluation.org. This is not a suggestion, it is an absolute must for anybody who is serious about M&E. I find this website to be a rich source of useful (and downloadable) documents on a wide variety of thematic areas.
2. Join an Evaluation Society or Association
I definitely recommend that you become a member of your national/regional evaluation society or association. Not only does this give you credibility, but it is good for networking and for keeping abreast of the developments in your local context.
For example, 2015 is designated as the International Year of Evaluation by the UN. Being a member of your Evaluation Society may give you both information and access to certain conferences or events that is being organized in your area to commemorate the International Year of Evaluation.
Below is a list of just a few evaluation societies and associations.
Please see this interactive map for an overview of the evaluation societies and associations worldwide.
American Evaluation Association (AEA)
African Evaluation Society (AfrEA)
Australasian Evaluation Society (AES)
Canadian Evaluation Society (CEA)
European Evaluation Society (EES)
UK Evaluation Society (UKES)
3. Become an active member of an Community of Practice (COPs) groups on Monitoring and Evaluation
There are several groups on Linkedin, Yahoo and Facebook that are dedicated to the subject of M&E. Just conduct a search on these platforms and several group names will appear. Some organisations, such as the UN, have COPs for a variety of professional groups. Once you join a group, make an effort to be an active participant.
Even if you are new to M&E, you can contribute by asking questions within the group. Share a problem you have been grappling with on your project. If you are a student or unemployed, ask about an assignment or ask about career prospects. You’d be surprised on how willing people are to help and depart their knowledge. Or better yet, if you are a bit more experienced, share your best practices with the group. I regularly learn new things from my groups.
Being part of a community is an excellent way to network, increase your knowledge and get insight into developing trends and issues within M&E.
“Book knowledge” can only get you so far. It is useful to learn from the experiences of other M&E practitioners in the field. How did they conduct an evaluation? Design a Results Framework? What issues did they encounter working with a particular group or with a M&E technique etc.?
4. Find a Mentor
If you have executed all the points listed above, that is, subscribing to the online platforms and being active in Evaluation societies and groups, then you should be able to identify certain ‘personalities’ that you admire and would love to learn more from.
Hopefully, by attending the seminars, networking events, actively contributing to group discussions etc., you would have also built up a sort of relationship with your potential mentor. This makes approaching them for guidance a bit easier than contacting them out of the blue.
I had several mentors when I worked for the UN. They did not know that I viewed them as such, but I always volunteered to be on projects that they were leading. Use every opportunity to collaborate and work with people you admire and hope to learn from. If you are a student, it may be a particular lecturer. Find out which projects the lecturer may be involved and offer to be a volunteer or intern.
If you work for an organization that is currently undergoing an evaluation by an external evaluator (and you want to build up some experience), try and get involved. If it is even to just furnish the external evaluator with programme documents. In the same e-mail that that has the document attached, use this opportunity to ask the evaluator about his or her approach to the evaluation. If you can, also sit in the 'Inception Meeting' and observe or participate when appropriate.
5. Become an expert in specialized areas
This one is a no-brainer. If you want to become a M&E expert, you should have specialized knowledge on the development areas in which you hope to work. How else can you develop indicators, design a Theory of Change or an Intervention Logic if you have limited understanding of the area you are monitoring and evaluating? Just knowing M&E concepts is not enough.
If you woke me in the middle of the night, though half asleep, I could tell you about the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). This is because child protection and gender are two of the areas I specialise in.
With this said though, being a generalist and knowing about a lot of subject areas can be counter-productive. My advice is to select a few areas of development work and then know about them in the same way you know your own name.
6. Invest in continuous learning and training
Commit to lifelong learning. Always refresh your skills and be on the lookout for information and training on new and innovative M&E techniques. For example, Most Significant Change and Outcomes Harvesting. Learn about them and then use them. This is the only way to stay sharp and on top of your game, not just in M&E, but in any area of life. To use the analogy of mobile technology, either you keep upgrading yourself or become obsolete.
7. Acquire good communication skills
Any successful M&E practitioner will tell you that collaboration with several stakeholders at various levels in a variety of fields is an unavoidable aspect of the job. There is no way around this. During my tenure at the UN, I was working with several UN agencies; medical doctors, engineers, sociologists, community workers and the list goes on. All these persons had a part to play in the UN ‘Delivering As One’ country programming in Jamaica.
Why am I telling you this? Well, as a part of the evaluation team, I had to interact (or provide training) to all these persons, with different backgrounds to explain technical M&E jargons. The ability to communicate complex concepts in a simple and clear way will be one of your greatest asset.
Learn to communicate well and you will be more than just a good M&E practitioner, you will be an exceptional one. You can have all the technical expertise in the world, but it is of little use if other people cannot understand your brilliant ideas. This applies to any professional field.
Additionally, spend time to develop other 'soft skills' such as coordination and interpersonal skills. These often get swept aside for the technical skills. However, if you possess the technical skills, have the ability to coordinate effectively, work well in multicultural and inter-disciplinary teams and you are a good communicator , then you are indeed a "M&E Superhero".
Hope these tips were helpful in taking your M&E career to the next level. Please feel free to share any other tips or useful information in the Comments section below.