Updated: 2 days ago
In a recent blog post I wrote an article on the reasons why every development organisation should have Monitoring, Learning and Evaluation (MEL).
Well it is now the end of the year, a time when most donor reports are being written to let the Board and other stakeholders know how the programmes are progressing. Questions abound; “How many direct and indirect beneficiaries were reached?”, “How much of the budget was spent?”, “Did the programme have an impact?”, “What are the success stories?”
There you are running around like a headless chicken (pardon the metaphor for the animal lovers), scouring through endless Excel sheets, different monthly and quarterly reports, calling up Jackie from the Finance department for the latest figures and trying to reach Sam, the Project Officer, who is currently somewhere in the field. As chance would have it, there is intermittent internet connectivity in his neck of the woods. Guess you are on your own.
In your panic, you also start searching the computer for the smiling photos of the recipients of a scholarship from the education programme in Kenya a few months ago. These photos would look really nice in the donor report. However, where were these photos saved? You also vaguely remember Sally telling a nice story of a woman who got her life back on track after getting a small loan under the income-generation project in Guatemala. That would make a good case study. Alas, Sally is on vacation for a month.
Does any of the above sound familiar? You would be surprised to know that this scenario plays out in a lot of development organisations every single reporting cycle. It is not that these organisations are sloppy and disorganized.
On the contrary, most of them do possess a Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) system to track the achievement of results. However, their M&E system is usually paper-based and relies on data that is electronically stored in a spreadsheet, in multiple places and in different persons’ heads.
For a small NGO that has few projects in a few geographical locations and a small budget, they may get by with a paper-based M&E system. Though as mentioned earlier, it can be a painstaking process that takes time, energy and effort to collate and analyse all the information.
However, for the development organisations and non-profits that manage and implement complex programmes, a proper M&E software solution is an absolute necessity. By complex programmes, I am refering to the ones with many components/services with multiple and broad objectives that are implemented in different countries, with a lot of different donors and agencies, a sizeable budget and oftentimes there is country-led planning and evaluation. It behoves such an organization to have a modern M&E system in place.
Here are five (5) reasons why every development organization should have Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) software.
1. Get the full picture in one place
A M& E software allows you to get an overview of all your interventions, wherever they are located, the amount of the budget that is spent and if you are on track to deliver results. No longer will you feel like you are doing a jigsaw puzzle to put together the pieces of the last Quarterly Reports, Evaluation Reports, Financial report etc., to show progress or impact.
The log frame and the indicators (with baselines, targets and milestones) are captured by the M&E software. The system then uses this information to automatically update to show the implementation rate and to highlight the extent to which the targets and milestones have been achieved.
Without an M&E software it is an arduous search to find all the missing pieces to know if your programme is achieving the deliverables
2. More efficiency and the reduction of errors
Once again it is a painstaking process to manually comb through different surveys, evaluation reports and project documents to write a coherent report. Can you imagine searching for a formula error in an Excel spreadsheet with over a thousand cells? Or worse, manually tallying the number of direct and indirect beneficiaries reached from over 10 interventions in the last 5 years? This is where the efficiency of a M&E software comes in. All the calculations are done for you with reports automatically generated. This is lessens the reporting, is faster and there is far less margin for (fatal) errors.
Not having a M&E Software could spell doom for your organization
3. Tap into the magical world of data visualisation
A M&E software unleashes the power to analyse data and generate an array of diagrams that will breathe life into the most lacklustre report. As the entire programme data is already stored by the software, with the click of a mouse button the data can be visualised. Gone are the days of (re)entering data from multiple sources and merging Excel files to create charts.
Just one click of the mouse and voila! All the charts magically appear!
4. Get the information ‘Live and Direct’
Another value added of a M&E software is the ability to capture and summarise data in ‘real time’ and directly from the source (which enhances the quality of the data).
For example, if your staff need to complete a series of checklists when on a site visit, rather than filling out a paper form that will be entered into Microsoft Excel when they get back in the office, a good M&E software will allow the staff (or partners) to complete the checklist directly unto the platform from a mobile device or laptop in the field.
This increases efficiency and ensures that all project information is captured. Going back to the fictitious example cited earlier, if they had a M&E software, the scholarship photos from Kenya and the case study from Guatemala would have been on the system and there would be no need to rely on Sally and Sam.
With a M&E software you get ‘real time’ data so you don’t miss the boat and become extinct like the dinosaurs
5. Better project management an opportunities for organisational learning
Another advantage of having a M&E software that collects the data in ‘real time’ is that it gives project managers the most up-to-date information on which to learn from and to make timely decisions as issues are spotted right away.
A lot of development organisations that rely on archaic M&E systems find themselves in a predicament when ‘red flags’ appear too late. For example, there is 3 months left until the end of year and that is when the realisation hits that there was gross underspending or that that the data collection was not carried out according to plan. It then becomes a race against time to implement and achieve the programme deliverables.
With a M&E software it is less of a race against time
There you have it, five good reasons to invest in a M&E software. Is your organisation ready to modernise and upgrade to using a M&E software? Logalto may be an option for you.
Full disclosure: I have provided professional services to the software developer of Logalto in the past and my article is also featured on their website, https://www.logalto.com/en/news/why-you-need-a-me-software/. With this said, based on my interaction with and use of the software
I genuinely think it is a great M&E solution.
If you have worked with any other M&E software that you wish to recommend, please do so in the 'Comments' section below and state the reason(s) why.