Often lost in the discussion on monitoring and evaluation is its role within an organization. It is not uncommon for M&E to be treated as more of a task than a tool or as a requirement instead of an integral part of project implementation and learning. Organizations taking M&E seriously are rarely inspired by the newest global framework, but rather are adopting innovative methods out of passion for improving their work.
In a related sense, Washington, D.C., recently played host to a conference focused exclusively on the topic of monitoring, evaluation and technology. Dubbed “M&E Tech,” the agenda featured lightning rounds of innovative solutions that assist development and humanitarian actors in monitoring their programming, breakout sessions on big data and keynotes highlighting the future of M&E in a data-driven world.
Conspicuously absent from the conversation were topics that normally play a central role at development conferences, such as the Millennium Development Goals and the post-2015 agenda, emerging global frameworks related to concepts such as resilience and governance, and other global issues that typically steer donor dollars. In place of these topics was a wide-ranging dialogue on how individual programs could be monitored, evaluated and therefore improved. The experience was tremendously refreshing. The entrepreneurial aspects of our industry were on full display and, at least in my case, discussions focused on how M&E could support programs.
One tool showcased at the conference was DevResults, which began in the same office space as my company, International Solutions Group. DevResults produces software that provides organizations with a tool to track results and comply with donor reporting requirements. In short, DevResults helps organizations focus on programming while also complying with donor and other development frameworks.
Another presenter was Global Giving, which provides a crowdfunding platform for charitable projects. Global Giving motivates organizations to monitor their programs by creating a ranking system that compares similar charities based on M&E data that they themselves provide. By introducing a competitive process, participants are inspired to improve their ranking and reporting so as to attract new donations through the platform. This method drives organizations to view M&E as a way to increase funding and exposure rather than merely for compliance or as a reporting obligation.
The central theme that makes these types of solutions successful is their ability to connect organizations with simple-to-use M&E tools so that they can focus on what they do best — implementation.
As the director of a company focused on providing M&E solutions, I get to see firsthand how much time, effort and money are spent on monitoring, reporting and evaluations. Accordingly, it is clear that our partners are looking for ways to simplify this part of their work — finding better ways to incorporate M&E into their programs in a more straightforward and efficient manner.
When our partners find tools that make it easier to collect and analyze program data, the stigma often associated with M&E is reduced. The resulting data that is collected allows evaluators like ISG to provide more accurate analysis and recommendations and a virtuous circle is created within a project or organization.
This becomes all the more pertinent as we close the books on 2014 and enter 2015: the International Year of Evaluation. Discussions on M&E are sure to be front and center in the new year, and it is my hope that we use this opportunity to innovate and incentivize good M&E practices and work to ensure that our time and resources are allocated toward what is most important — helping beneficiaries.
As an industry, we should aim to streamline reporting and compliance measures that tend to bog down many development and humanitarian actors, and there is no time to get started like the present. I recommend making M&E a priority this year and taking advantage of the proliferation of tools that have recently emerged in our field.
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