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The Importance of Monitoring & Evaluation for Your Nonprofit
Monitoring and evaluation (often abbreviated to M&E) are separate but related tools for evaluating and understanding program implementation and impact. Evaluation professionals often have graduate degrees or other advanced education in evaluation, data collection, statistics, or qualitative research methods, but plan and implement good monitoring and evaluation practices There are many things nonprofits can do to build capacity.
This article discusses the similarities and differences between monitoring and evaluation, their importance to program effectiveness, and basic steps to improve an organization’s ability to develop monitoring and evaluation systems. Besides textbooks, there are also many excellent resources from funders such as the World Bank and the United Nations. See the list at the end of this article for great sources for further reading.
What is monitoring and evaluation?
Monitoring and evaluation are important for building an evidence base about the needs the program addresses and for evaluating different interventions in place to address the problem globally. These are tools for identifying and documenting successful programs and approaches and for tracking progress towards common metrics across related projects. Monitoring and evaluation form the basis for understanding the underlying factors and the effectiveness of responses at the service provider, community, national and international levels. [United Nations. 2012]
Monitoring is a systematic, long-term process of gathering information about the progress of implemented projects. Evaluations are time-bound and are performed to determine whether the project has met its goals and delivered the expected results according to its original plan. [FundsforNGOs. 2013]
Both monitoring and evaluation use social research techniques to conduct systematic research and help answer a common set of questions. Despite their common purpose, their roles are different. The focus of monitoring is to track program implementation and progress, including program activities and processes, outputs, and initial outcomes. Oversight focuses both on what is being done in the program and how it is being done to support management decision-making and accountability. [Markiewicz & Patrick. 2016]
Ratings are based on monitoring and tracking to determine program performance. The analysis performed as part of the assessment is usually based on the synthesis of various data, including data obtained by monitoring. Evaluation is concerned with better understanding change. [Markiewicz & Patrick. 2016]
Why is monitoring and evaluation important?
Monitoring and evaluation are important management tools. Non-profit organizations (and commercial enterprises) use them to track progress and enable informed decision-making. Some grant makers need some kind of oversight and evaluation, but the people they work with in the organization can be the biggest consumers of evaluation. A thorough and honest review of your activities will help your nonprofit develop programs and activities that are effective, efficient, and a powerful source of change for your community.
The need for monitoring and evaluation is also illustrated in the contemporary policy context where management strategies such as RBM (results-based management) are influencing the expectations placed on organizations. Monitoring and evaluation have become essential elements in making informed decisions about the future of the programme. This is especially important when the program is dedicated to learning what works for its intended beneficiaries and adjusting the program based on those results. [Markiewicz & Patrick. 2016]
Monitoring and evaluation should be part of the program planning and management process. It’s not just the essential elements of a grant application. An evaluation plan lays the foundation for identifying the changes needed to accurately measure results, engage the appropriate stakeholders, and designate the appropriate resources needed to enhance social impact. It should be incorporated into the design phase of the project. Moreover, good M&E provides funders with accurate data that is often used to assess the need for ongoing support.
What does your nonprofit need to get started?
Of course, developing a monitoring and evaluation system is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor. The steps required will depend on the program you are planning and your specific organizational needs. “What, if anything, can the nonprofit you work with be able to do to be prepared to work with evaluation consultants?”
Be open and ready for change. The assessment consultant’s responsibility is to assess the needs of the target population within the service environment and develop a viable plan to address those needs. Of course, managing this plan consists of collecting data and reporting findings, but what are the actual outcomes of existing projects if they do not meet the needs of the target population? Sometimes change is necessary. While not always the case, it’s important to be prepared for constructive criticism and be open to change when necessary.
There are also some general steps that apply to the development of most monitoring and evaluation systems. Below is a World Bank overview that can be used to ensure that monitoring and evaluation is included in program planning.
1. Identify stakeholders in each part of program design, implementation, and reporting. Ensure their input is incorporated into monitoring and evaluation plans and program design.
2. Discuss and clarify the scope, purpose, intended use, audience, and budget of the assessment.
3. Decide what you want to learn from program monitoring and evaluation. Create assessment questions based on these priorities. For information on creating assessment questions, see our previous article, Tips for Asking the Right Questions.
4. Choose a metric that provides a clear way to measure responses to evaluation questions. A metric can be either quantitative or qualitative. Process metrics are information focused on how the program is implemented.
5. Find the best data collection method for your metrics and budget. Surveys, interviews, program and administrative data, and document reviews are examples of data collection methods.
6. Analyze the information we collect. Look for patterns or trends that you want to investigate further.
7. Provide feedback and recommendations based on our analysis. We use data analysis to make recommendations on what is working and what may need to be adjusted within the program.
8. Communicate your recommendations to stakeholders, including the data and how you arrived at your conclusions. Ask for feedback on how best to use the results. [World Bank. 2007]
Whatever process you use, it is important that the theory and logic of your program form the basis of your monitoring and evaluation system. If you don’t have a logic model for your program, see Create a useful logic model.
Resources remain one of the biggest barriers for nonprofits wanting to increase their monitoring and evaluation efforts. A 2016 Innovation Network survey of U.S.-based 501(c)3 organizations found that 92% of nonprofits were involved in evaluations in the past year, and the majority (92%) of these organizations had at least We have received funding for evaluation from one organization. sauce. By contrast, only 12% of the nonprofits surveyed spent 5% or more of their organization’s budget on evaluation. Less than a tenth of nonprofits report having an evaluation staff (internal or external). [Innovation Network. 2017]
Without adequate resources, monitoring and evaluation systems can be difficult to design and implement. Meanwhile, the data we collect through our monitoring and evaluation activities help us retain our donors. Some non-profit organizations with successful monitoring and evaluation systems create data “dashboards” on their websites so that donors and other members can track the organization’s success. We often talk about evaluation as it relates to grantors, but the results of ongoing monitoring and evaluation can also prove to donors that funds are being used and allocated correctly.
In conclusion, using monitoring and evaluation tools to assess and understand the implementation and impact of nonprofit programs has important benefits for organizations. Plan and implement good monitoring and evaluation practices by attending a local chapter of the American Evaluation Society, attending a workshop at a nearby university, or discussing simple things you can implement with a RevGen consultant Consider increasing your organization’s capacity to Positive return on investment.
References and additional material
American Evaluation Society
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Funds for NGOs. Why is monitoring and evaluation important for NGOs? 2013
innovation network. State of Evaluation 2016: Evaluation Competence and Practice in the Nonprofit Sector. 2017
Markiewicz, Anne, and Ian Patrick. Developing a monitoring and evaluation framework. SAGE publications. 2016
Georgetown University National Maternal and Child Health Education Center
United Nations agency for gender equality and women’s empowerment. Why is monitoring and evaluation important? year 2012
World Bank. Monitoring and evaluation tip sheet. 2007
world health organization
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