The importance of monitoring and evaluation
Assume that you are managing a ‘handwashing with soap after visiting latrine’ campaign in your community. How do you make sure that the activities of the campaign are on track? How do you know that the necessary products (e.g. soap) and services (e.g. water) are available during the campaign? How would you know at the end of the campaign that community members are definitely washing their hands with soap after visiting a latrine (Figure 15.1)?
Monitoring and evaluation are ways of systematically measuring and assessing programme activities and results. Their purpose is to check on the progress of implementation and outputs systematically. They help to determine when a programme is going to plan and when changes may be needed. They form the basis for modification of interventions, and of assessing the quality of any activities that are being conducted. Moreover, with a positive outcome, they can be used to demonstrate that programmes have been implemented effectively and have had a measureable impact.
Together, monitoring and evaluation (frequently abbreviated to M&E) provide the necessary data to guide planning, to allocate resources, to design and implement programmes and projects and, if necessary, to re-allocate resources in better ways. They are essential in providing planners, implementers, policy makers and donors with the information and understanding they need to make informed decisions about the operation of their programmes.
Although often referred to together as M&E, monitoring and evaluation are two different but linked processes that apply to many projects, programmes and other interventions. (Note that in following sections, we have used ‘projects’ to include all types of activity that would need M&E.)
What is monitoring?
Monitoring is systematic, timely and purposeful observation and data collection to check if project activities are being implemented as planned. More precisely, monitoring assesses project activities to establish what activities are being done, and where, with whom, when and how many have been completed. Box 15.1 explains some of the key terms that are used when discussing monitoring and evaluation.
Box 15.1 Key terms in monitoring and evaluation
Outputs are the things produced by a project or programme. In WASH, examples include tangible products like new or rehabilitated wells and pumps, new latrines and training manuals; they could be events and activities like running a training workshop for frontline workers, or producing hygiene promotion posters.
Outcomes are the effects of the outputs, usually in the short- to medium-term. Examples, following those above, could be the number of people who now have access to safe water as a result of the new water schemes or attendance at the training workshop.
Impacts are long-term effects and consequences. Examples could be a fall in the incidence of diarrhoeal disease, improved school attendance, or pumps that last longer because they are well-maintained.
An indicator is something that can be seen or measured or counted, which provides evidence of progress towards a target. Indicators are used to monitor or evaluate project performance. They are project-specific and defined by the objectives of the project. They can be based on either quantitative or qualitative measurements.
Monitoring is used to track changes in project performance over time against measurable indicators defined well in advance. It involves collecting data and tracking actions being taken in order to measure progress towards the goals and to identify any problems. For any particular activity, the output, the outcome and the process should all be monitored.
The purpose of monitoring is to permit managers to make informed decisions regarding the implementation and performance of projects and the efficient use of resources. Monitoring is often done internally by project managers or by dedicated project monitoring staff. It involves a continuous process of checking, analysing and giving feedback into project activity and resource allocation plans.
One well-known example of an international monitoring programme is the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) for Water Supply and Sanitation. This is a global monitoring programme for the WASH sector that annually collects and publishes data on a range of indicators for countries all over the world (JMP, 2014).
What is evaluation?
Evaluation is an objective assessment of the design, implementation and results of an ongoing or completed project. Evaluations can be conducted during or at the end of the project period, depending on the purpose of the evaluation. Unlike monitoring, which should be done frequently, evaluation involves collecting data or undertaking surveys at particular points during a project (Figure 15.2). This will include baseline data collected at the start and follow-up data collected during or at the end of the project. Baseline data provides information about the situation before the project began which can then be compared with the follow-up data collected later. This comparison means that the effects of the project activities can be measured.
Evaluation also provides information that can help decision makers when planning new initiatives. Reflections on lessons learned from past successes and failures can be very helpful when planning future interventions. Unlike monitoring, evaluation of a project is usually done by an independent individual or firm in order to provide managers and staff with an objective assessment of the project. The aim of evaluation is to determine the efficiency, effectiveness, impact and sustainability of a project, and whether it has met its objectives.
In summary, monitoring and evaluation are important management tools for providing information that can help to inform decisions, improve performance and achieve planned results.