Introduction to monitoring and evaluation
Monitoring and evaluation are critically important aspects of planning and management of any programme. Monitoring is the systematic and continuous assessment of the progress of a piece of work over time, in order to check that things are going to plan. Evaluation is an assessment of the value or worth of a programme or intervention and the extent to which the stated objectives have been achieved. Evaluation is not continuous and usually takes place periodically through the course of the programme or after completion. Together, monitoring and evaluation are a set of processes designed to measure the achievements and progress of a programme. The two terms are closely connected and are frequently combined with the result that the abbreviation M&E is widely used.
A town health office is interested in finding out how many families practise solid waste sorting and reuse at household level. Is this monitoring or evaluation?
This is monitoring because it is an on-going activity concerned only with counting the number of something, in this case how many families were sorting their waste.
What is M&E?
Programmes, projects and other interventions can be described in five stages, as shown in Figure 15.1. The inputs, on the left, are the resources (funding, equipment, personnel) and activities that are undertaken. The results, on the right, are the outputs, outcomes and impacts (see Box 15.1).
An effective M&E system measures the inputs, outputs, outcomes and impacts resulting from implementation of a programme. To provide useful knowledge these results need to be compared with the situation before the programme started, which requires baseline data. Baseline data gives information about the situation at the start of an intervention (the baseline position) and provides a point of comparison against which future data, collected as part of a monitoring process, can be compared. Progress can be evaluated by comparing the two.
Box 15.1 Outputs, outcomes and impacts
There are several words used in M&E that can be confused. They sound similar but have important differences in their meaning.
- Outputs – the things produced by the project/programme/intervention. In sanitation and waste management, examples could include tangible products like new latrines or waste transfer stations or could be events and activities like running a training workshop for composting workers.
- Outcomes – the effects of the intervention, usually in the short to medium term. Some examples, following those above, could be the number of people in a community who now have access to improved sanitation or the number of people attending the training workshop.
- Impacts – long-term effects and consequences. Examples could be a fall in the incidence of diarrhoeal disease or a reduction in the amount of waste sent to landfill.
It’s very important to plan monitoring activities during the earliest stages of project development — they should be integrated into project activities and not be added on as an afterthought. Monitoring requires regular and timely feedback in the form of reports from implementers to project managers so they can keep track of progress. These reports provide information about activities and what has been achieved in terms of outputs. They also include financial reports that give information on budgets and expenditure. With this information, managers can assess progress and plan the next steps for their project.
Why is M&E so important?
A well-managed M&E system will allow stakeholders to:
- Track progress: M&E assesses inputs (expenditure), outputs and outcomes, which enables managers to track progress towards achieving specific objectives.
- Measure impact: M&E reduces guesswork and possible bias in reporting results by asking questions such as: What is the impact of the programme? Are the expected benefits being realised? Is sanitation improving? Are waste recovery rates increasing?
- Increase accountability: M&E can provide the basis for accountability if the information gathered by the M&E process is reported and shared with users and other stakeholders at all levels.
- Inform decision making:M&E provides evidence about the successes and failures of current and past projects that planners and managers need to make decisions about future projects. It should also encourage reflection on lessons learned in which managers ask themselves questions like ‘what worked well in this project?’ and ‘what can we do better next time?’.
- Encourage investment:a credible M&E system builds trust and confidence from government and donors which will increase possibilities of further investment.
- Build capacity: a sound M&E system supports community participation and responsibility. It encourages the user communities to look regularly at how well their sanitation and waste schemes are working, what changes need to take place in sanitation and waste behaviours, what health benefits are resulting and what more needs to be done. It enables a community to build its own capacity, recognise its own successes and record them regularly.
Reporting on monitoring activity is essential because otherwise the information cannot be used. It is no use collecting data and then filing it away without sharing it. As noted above, one of the reasons for undertaking M&E is to inform decision makers and enable lessons to be learned and therefore they need to be provided with the information in a timely way for that benefit to be realised.