Monitoring in the real world

Monitoring that helps NGOs achieve more

I just read a great new manual on monitoring NGO work. It’s called Integrated Monitoring, by Sonia Herrero of inProgress. It’s available for free and I highly recommend it.

It’s easy to read and written in Plain English. The text is genuinely quick and easy to follow. The ideas are excellently explained. Hurrah! This is all too rare in NGO guidance.

It’s practical, including examples and tools. Sonia writes about the real issues  NGOs face, like balancing what donors want with local realities. She understands the limits of what NGOs can achieve: every project shouldn’t try to transform long term living standards.

It’s principled. Sonia points out that the main reason to monitor work is to improve it – not send glowing reports to donors. Within their monitoring, NGOs have to respect people’s right to make their own decisions. This is all exactly right and often overlooked.

Some favourite quotes:

During project implementa­tion it will not be possible to measure the overall im­pact, only whether the planned outcomes have been achieved. (p. 17)

One of the main reasons for the limited success enjoyed by many development projects is … aiming for results that are overly ambitious, such as changing a whole institution or even a country. (p. 24)

If we are to be successful with our projects, we need to be more modest and much more concrete with the formulation of our results. Results should be formulated in a way that is achievable. (p. 24)

In order to monitor project progress we need to observe the time, budget and resources that we are spending compared to what we originally planned. (p. 22)

[We need to] monitor the quality and quantity of outputs. (p. 23)

And some reflections:

Monitoring is crucially important. It drives continual learning and improvement. It allows NGOs to respond to the world around them, rather than assuming that the rest of the world stays still.

Every NGO project has to monitor many different things: expenditure, activities, outputs and results. This will take significant management time and skills. We need to be very disciplined about monitoring as little as possible of what matters most.

Sonia recommends Outcome Mapping as the preferred way of monitoring results. I’m a fan of Outcome Mapping- in particular, its focus on measuring changes in people’s behaviour and on direct results. The sector as a whole also urgently needs to develop other alternative approaches. I believe quantified feedback systems have a lot to offer.

One last comment. The manual is most relevant for smaller NGOs and individual projects. It’s not clear how to apply its lessons to a big NGO, running a wide variety of projects – or at donor level. These are also top priorities for tackling the overall culture of monitoring and evaluation in the sector.

One Response

  1. Just read your post and agree with much of what you say. I reviewed and recommended Sonia’s manual as well: http://www.how-matters.org/2012/05/30/the-critical-first-half-of-m-and-e/ We as M&E specialists can go longer act as “technical experts” and must be much more principled, pragmatic and discerning about how M&E can be be used within programmatic decision-making, not just carried out for accountability purposes.

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