When organizations approach monitoring and evaluation (M&E), it is often from the standpoint of compliance: Certain regulations require performance assessments for development projects, which require collecting and evaluating multiple kinds of data and information. In my opinion, however, this is not the most important driver of the value of M&E. Rather, it is the picture of accomplishment that M&E practices deliver.
When this picture is based on high quality, reliable data and rigorous evaluation driven by a deep understanding of local contexts and conditions as well as economics, statistics, and social science research, it becomes compelling. And compelling data drives social change. How does this work? An accurate picture of accomplishment lets program managers see how effective they have been. I would argue that understanding this effectiveness enhances commitment to the cause, because knowing something factually reinforces belief.
Let’s say your goal is to increase early reading outcomes, such as the CARS program in Nicaragua. How do you know the program is effective? For one, you can count the number of books that have been provided to school and teachers who have earned a diploma in improved active teaching-learning methodologies. Then, take it a step further. Look at what students have produced, for example, a puppet show about child trafficking on the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua. The performance was designed and produced by a group of young student beneficiaries from the Community Action for Reading and Security (CARS) Activity funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) implemented by DevTech Systems, Inc.
After watching the CARS video and seeing tangible impacts the program is having, I would challenge you NOT to be more committed to this cause.
Whether it is educating children, reducing the instances of malaria due to better vaccination, or reducing violent extremist recruitment and activity in targeted communities, M&E plays a valuable role in bringing the right information to arguments about policy. Furthermore, we are currently bombarded with messages about the challenges the developing world faces, and it is easy to succumb to fatigue and even cynicism. Data-driven pictures of accomplishments will re-energize the teams of people dedicated to improving human development and provide the tools organizations and governments need to influence policy and create positive social change.