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What are monitoring and evaluation?

This article unpacks what we mean by monitoring and evaluation, and how they can help you to identify what initiatives are working well.
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Was your programme a success or a failure? Did you achieve the outcomes that you set out to achieve? Did the programme deliver value and benefits to the stakeholders? Or did you have an impact on outcomes that you didn’t even set out to? And if you did do this, what was it about your programme that led to this impact? If your programme is ongoing, how can we improve it to be more effective? Or if it has a time limit, how can you show it was successful to advocate for the sustained funding to continue it?
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Or if you were effective at achieving outcomes, are there aspects of other programmes that are more effective, that you can learn from and incorporate into your own programmes? These are important questions, and without monitoring and evaluating your programmes are nearly impossible to answer. Although monitoring and evaluation are often spoken of as one phrase, they are two distinctly separate concepts. Monitoring generally refers to the routine and often ongoing collection of information of a programme, on how it is progressing towards achieving planned results. Specifically, monitoring is about measuring change, whether intended or unintended as a result of the programme. In most social programmes, it is about measuring changes in behaviour.
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While evaluation on the other hand, is the periodic assessment of the outcomes and impacts of the programme, and it measures the success of the programme in achieving the overall goals that it set out to. Or more generally, evaluation is about working out the value of the programme to its stakeholders or donors. And to demonstrate the link between the two, you first need to understand what you’re going to evaluate before you decide what you’re going to monitor. There are three primary ways that monitoring and evaluation provides value to organisations. The first is learning what works on your programme, what doesn’t, and ultimately, improving your programme design.
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The second is about demonstrating accountability for the resources you are using, for example, demonstrating accountability for the funding you might have received from a donor. And the third value of monitoring and evaluation is using results to advocate for continued funding for programmes sustainability, or even increased funding to expand programming. Monitoring and evaluation is often oversimplified by programme staff, and conducted as a simple tick box exercise to keep donors happy. Despite this, monitoring and evaluation needs to be carefully planned to ensure clarity in what you’re trying to achieve. You are collecting the most important information for your programme and that you have the financial and human resources to do so.
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There is a wide range of tools methods and monitoring and evaluation designs that can be used to capture impact. These range from the very simple, to the highly complex. Briefly, these can include interviewing, observation, written participant reflection, and other written and recorded data, which we referred to as qualitative methods. Or health assessments and surveys collecting number data that can be counted, which we refer to as quantitative methods. As an example of simple monitoring, a financial donor may want to know how many participants attended each session of your sport development programme, an a sign in sheet each week can capture this.
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Or more complex, you might want to know if your programme has led to a sustained behaviour change either health or social amongst the population in which it was delivered. This would require rigorous data collection using both qualitative and quantitative methods. And data collection will likely need to be from a group of participants, on multiple occasions, over an extended time period. Designing a plan on how you will monitor and evaluate your programme, commonly referred to as a monitoring and evaluation framework or plan is only the beginning. The reality of implementing it is very different and the challenges of conducting monitoring and evaluation are numerous.
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Aside from ensuring that your monitoring and evaluation plan will collect the information most useful or important for the programme, it’s also important to ensure that your monitoring and evaluation plan is feasible given your budget, human resources and expertise. The most common misconception of monitoring and evaluation is that it happens after a programme is started or even finished. The reality is that effective monitoring and evaluation needs to be designed and data collected, even before the first participant joins in your programme. Everyone involved in a programme is usually involved in monitoring and evaluation in some capacity. Imagine you are Sport for Development financial donor, and it was your money being spent on the programme.
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What would you want to know at the end of that programme about what you got for your money? Then ask what do we need to monitor to answer that question? Also, you need to remember that monitoring and evaluation is about working out what has changed as a result of the programme. So you first need to understand the situation at the beginning. We call this the baseline. Unless we understand the baseline, we really can’t work out what has changed and by how much.

As the video above illustrates, monitoring and evaluation (M&E) are essential to answer key questions about your initiative (whether a policy or programme) and its effectiveness.

What are monitoring and evaluation?

Although monitoring and evaluation are often used as a single phrase, the two words refer to separate concepts.

Monitoring is the tracking of key programming elements and the routine collection of information. The evaluation assesses and interprets this information. Monitoring is usually done internally by a programme or delivery team while evaluation is often (but not always) carried out by an external party such as a university.

The two go hand in hand. Monitoring data can be used in the evaluation, and evaluation can inform monitoring processes.

The table below illustrates how monitoring and evaluation differ and how they work together.

Monitoring Evaluation
Clarifies programme objectives Analyses why intended results were or were not achieved
Links activities and required resources to objectives Assesses the extent to which activities were responsible for results
Translates objectives into performance indicators and set targets Examines implementation process: what went well and what could be improved?
Routinely collects data on indicators, compares actual results with targets Explores unintended results: what happened that we didn’t expect?
Reports progress to managers and alert them to problems Provides lessons highlights significant accomplishments or programme potential and offers recommendations for improvement

Most importantly, monitoring and evaluation together help you to identify what is working well and what is not! It enables you to learn and strengthen your policy or programme.

Monitoring is important for all activities – it helps you to notice patterns and take action quickly if something is not working.

Resources

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Sport for Sustainable Development: Designing Effective Policies and Programmes

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