How To Design a Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) System
Any organisation working in the area of international development would likely have a Theory of Change (ToC) and/or a Logical Framework. Within these documents, the road towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and to arrive to ‘happily ever after’ is outlined.
But wait a minute, something seems to be missing.
There is the destination (the goal of ‘a world without poverty’), there is the road map (ToC/Logical Framework) but what needs to happen within an organisation on the journey towards attaining the goal?
To use the metaphor of a family road trip, it is not as simple as using a road map to arrive at the final destination. Several things have to happen throughout the journey.
Such as ''Which vehicle should be used?’’, ''Who is responsible for driving?’’, ‘‘How often will the gas tank be filled up?’’, ''What are the milestones of the trip?’’, ''How will the family vacation be recorded?’, ''How many pit stops will there be along the way?’’ etc.
What is a Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) system?
In development work, a Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) system represents all the things that need be undertaken before, during and after programme implementation, in order to track and measure progress (and success) in achieving the goal.
In other words, the M&E system would include things like who is responsible for M&E tasks in the organisation, the intervals where data should be collected, how the data is collected, who collects the data, the type of database that is used for storing the data, the standard forms and data collection tools to be used, how the data is analysed, the evaluation questions, the frequency with which an evaluation takes place, the budget allocated for evaluation etc.,
A more formal definition of a M&E system is a ‘series of policies, practices and processes that enable the systematic and effective collection, analysis and use of monitoring and evaluation information’. Nigel Simister, October 2009.
Sometimes the terms ‘M&E system’ and ‘M&E Plan’ are used interchangeable. A review of the literature shows that there are many different ways and steps to develop a M&E system. There is not a best (or one) way to develop a M&E system. The system that is ultimately developed should fit your context, needs and purposes.
With this said though, a well-designed M&E system ‘will ensure a consistent approach to the collection, analysis and use of information, whilst allowing considerable scope for different parts of an organisation to develop their own solutions in response to their own particular situations’. –Tiina Pasanen and Louise Shaxson (2016)
Additionally, M&E systems should ideally be underpinned the OECD DAC guidelines or criteria of (i) relevance, (ii) coherence (iii)effectiveness (iv) efficiency (v) impact and (vI) sustainability.
What does a template that depict a M&E System look like?
There are many different formats for depicting a M&E system. Examples are shown in the various tables below.
Table 1 shows an empty template of how of a M&E system could be visually presented. It shows parts of the Logical Framework but goes a step further to cover the frequency at which the indicators will be monitored, the responsible person and where the information will be presented.
Table 1: Blank template for depicting a M&E System
Table 2: The sample M&E system template completed
Table 3 is another example of M&E system that is depicted as an ‘extended’ logical framework.
Table 3: Example from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies
The illustration in Table 4 is a ‘M&E System’ template that goes beyond just giving more insight into the Logical Framework. This template touches on how data will be stored, the learning mechanisms and other practical issues. The content in Tables 4 and 5 are reproduced from a publication by Simister (2009)
Table 5 shows a completed template that captures a M&E system for a complex organisation that has interventions across various sectors at the global, regional and country levels.
However, before the above templates can be completed, there needs to be a process to fill in the information. For example, how do we determine that primary and high school test scores are measured on an annual basis rather than quarterly? Or that X database is used for storing the data over database Y? Getting the answers to these questions is done through a series of steps.
In my next article I will cover the 10 steps to developing a M&E system for your organisation. Stay tuned.