Almost every development project involves a monitoring and evaluation focal point, tasked with the collection and reporting of data set by donors and partners. These processes are critical in helping to assess stakeholder engagement, evaluate the success of projects and interventions, and shape future budgetary and programming decisions. Particularly in health work, there is a demand for M&E professionals for both home office and field positions.
Monitoring and evaluation can be broken down into two technical categories, explained Shahid Umar, M&E specialist currently serving on a U.S. Agency for International Development performance management support contract implemented by MSI. Monitoring is the periodical collection of data based on predetermined project indicators, Umar continued, and evaluation is about using your knowledge of research methods and making judgments on specific targets, whether or not they have been met, and how they can be.
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M&E professionals use a range of methodologies — qualitative, quantitative, or mixed — to collect data and draw conclusions on program effectiveness, Umar explained. In addition to possessing strong Excel and database skills, it’s therefore useful to have some knowledge of software that supports this work.
Devex spoke to a number of M&E practitioners working in global development to find out what software they use and recommend. Here are the top suggestions.
Designed for global development
ActivityInfo has been used to support cluster management, care management, and interagency coordination with staff working on projects in locations including Iraq, Mali, Lebanon, Somalia, Yemen, the Central African Republic, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It is designed to support work on education, health, nonfood items, protection, shelter, and water and sanitation.
Used by: United Nations agencies, NGOs working in humanitarian operations
Drag-and-drop tools help users build apps quickly and without the need for coding. They can then collect data, even when offline, and use case management tools for built-in decision support and notifications, and link data from multiple forms to avoid duplication errors and track workforce performance. Reporting tools make it easy for users to aggregate and visualize data and spot trends. Other features include workforce performance tracking.
CommCare has been used in health care interventions for children under 5 in Burkina Faso, to deliver agricultural training, and support malaria prevention campaigns across Africa.
Used by: Rainforest Alliance, One Acre Fund, Catholic Relief Services, John Hopkins University, Partners in Health, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
DevResults software includes interactive map features which have built-in intelligence on the country’s administrative boundaries and allows users a birds-eye view of the geographical context of their programs. Users can customize data disaggregation, define success indicators, and set up the program’s results framework. Other features support collaboration and management through photo galleries, work plans, and budget tracking tools.
Used by: USAID, Chemonics International, World Learning, Feed the Children
Granity is designed to support nonprofits and social enterprises with planning and reporting processes. Users can create checklists and surveys for routine tasks and procedures, or generate automated reports. Granity also works for mobile data collection and online data storage to support development workers in the field.
Designed for data collection in “demanding contexts,” KoBoToolbox works online and offline and from mobile devices. It is used by humanitarian organizations, researchers, and aid workers to create forms, share projects with colleagues, and create summary reports with graphs and tables. Features also allow users to visualize collected data on a map, including heatmaps or clustering, or disaggregate data in reports and maps by gender, region or education level.
This software enable users to design logical frameworks, monitor indicators, and collect and upload data by project. Users can access live reports and create tables and charts. The software can also be used in offline mode and be accessed on a mobile app for custom forms.
Used by: NGOs, foundations, governments, ministries, donors
Originally developed to support child vaccination campaigns around the world, Magpi is now used across health education, outbreak response, program coordination, monitoring, and evaluation. It provides solutions for mobile data collection, messaging, and visualization. It has specific tools which support: beneficiary registration; collection of voice, mobile, and SMS data; conference polls; emergency alerts; data integration.
The software has been used to monitor humanitarian activities in Syria, improve polio programming in Nigeria, track newborn deaths in DRC, observe electoral progress in Tanzania, and facilitate communication with farmers in Chile.
Used by: U.N. Population Fund, Pact, UNICEF, Jon Sno, Inc
Designed to support frontline workers operating in the field, Mobenzi’s features help M&E professionals create forms for mobile data collection and then share data insights through charts and maps. Other features support field worker management and performance reporting. Mobenzi has been used by primary health worker teams as well as for projects on education and early childhood development, and field research.
Used by: World Vision, USAID, Norwegian Refugee Council, Oxfam
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Open Data Kit
Free and open source software for collecting, managing and using data in “resource-constrained environments.” Open Data Kit has been used to monitor rainforests, observe elections, and track disease outbreaks.
Used by: World Health Organization, USAID, Red Cross, Jane Goodall Institute
Designed for researchers and professionals working in offline settings, users can collect data using mobile phones or tablets then access it immediately. There are tools to help users design and test forms, monitor incoming data for quality, and visualize it as it comes in.
Survey CTO has been used for essential medicines programs in Uganda, WASH projects in West Africa, health and public policy evaluations in Kenya, HIV research in Rwanda, and newborn and child health programs in Ghana.
Used by: Innovations for Poverty Action, Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL), World Bank, Elizabeth Glaser Pediatrics AIDS Foundation
Designed for organizations working to make a positive impact, TolaData aims to simplify how organizations can collect and manage real-time data, track progress using a results framework and indicator plan, and share data visualizations through dashboards.
The software has been used for World Bank-funded construction projects in Afghanistan, National Heritage Trust-funded projects in the U.K., and international NGO operations in East Africa.
Used by: Norwegian Mission Alliance, Bertelsmann Foundation
Widely-used across all sectors
The software you will be using depends on the sector you work in, according to Umar. “Those working in agriculture, economics, public policy, and governance projects — they might be using STATA,” he explained, while “in other projects ... I have observed SPSS … [and] in health, most frequently used is SAS.”
Negar Ghobadi, M&E manager at the Norwegian Refugee Council based in Jordan, said that she has observed a lot of teams in the field using STATA, which is often software favored by academics. SPSS is another common software used for basic humanitarian level monitoring and evaluation. Ghobadi recommended PowerBI in addition to Excel skills.
SAS provides solutions for advanced analytics and data management, including tools for data integration and access, data preparation, data governance, data mining, forecasting, statistical analysis, and text analysis.
Used by: World Wildlife Fund, International Organization for Migration
Software for data science, STATA is designed to support professionals working in economics, education, medical research, political science, public health, public policy, and finance, business, and marketing. STATA offers a range of survey methods; tests and predictions; resampling and simulation methods; data management features; and analysis methods including cluster, Bayesian, and survival analysis.
Statistical Package for Social Sciences was first launched in 1968 before being acquired by IBM in 2009. With SPSS, users can run descriptive statistics, regression, and advanced statistics. They can then create charts and tables, in addition to decisions trees to visualize results.
Specifically designed for health sector professionals, District Health Information Software is a free, open-source health management data platform that is currently used in 60 countries. This software is used to support health-related projects, including patient health monitoring, improving disease surveillance and pinpointing outbreaks, and speeding up health data access. DHIS2 can help health workers aggregate statistical data collection, validation, analysis, management, and visualization.
Used by: European Union, NGOs, governments
This software is purpose-built for qualitative and mixed methods data analysis. Nvivo was recommended by four M&E specialists Devex spoke to for handling qualitative data. It is most commonly used by academics and researchers, including in public health studies. It allows data to be imported from almost any source — text, audio, video, emails, images, spreadsheets, online surveys, social, and web content. In addition to query and visualization tools, there is an automated transcription tool to help speed up this time-consuming part of the research process.
Resources for learning
It’s helpful to have the skills to work with different analytical software, said Joseph Sineka Limange, senior M&E adviser at MSI, and these are often skills that can be learned online through workshops and courses. Limange recommended investing some time in online learning, even if already working in the field of M&E, to advance your skills.
In addition to familiarizing yourself with some of the most relevant software, there are a number of free resources to help you brush up on M&E skills.
If you are looking to go back to basics, the Global Health Learning Centre offers a two-hour online course on M&E Fundamentals.
A free course provided by the Philanthropy University on Planning for Monitoring and Evaluation also starts with an introduction to M&E and how this links to project design before looking at how to identify indicators and targets, collect data, and assign M&E roles and responsibilities. Specifically designed for nonprofit organizations and staff, it also provides a course which looks at nonprofit strategy and includes modules on preparing for feedback and program evaluation.
USAID's Learning Lab shares tips for designing M&E systems for learning as well as How-To notes and separate toolkits for monitoring and evaluation.
Devex, with financial support from our partner 2U, is exploring the skills and education development sector professionals will need for the future. Visit the Focus on: Devpros 2030 page for more.