M&E should be addressed as part of project planning and integrated with project implementation and management systems for maximum effectiveness. In our previous blog, we explored the 5 phases to the life cycle of project management. Today, we’ll take a look at the key phases required in completing an M&E project. Both the methodology and the content of M&E should be considered.
The key steps in undertaking M&E
Let’s take a look at how the major steps in M&E connect to the project cycle’s key steps.
Step 1: Agreeing on the starting point
What is the context for establishing the M&E? Ideally, decisions about M&E are made at the beginning of the program. The planned project and the context in which it will take place may just have a few basic qualities. There are still a few crucial early decisions to be taken, including:
- Who are the key implementers?
- Who are the primary beneficiaries?
- Who funds the reform and is it a multi-donor intervention?
- Who provides resources for M&E?
- Are there additional partners?
- Who has the skills and is available to undertake M&E work in the team /organization?
This information gives the context in which to design M&E.
Who should carry out the M&E?
The responsibility for M&E is distributed amongst multiple sections within numerous multilateral and bilateral organizations. The local program staff, in collaboration with their counterparts at local partner organizations, is normally in charge of continuous monitoring. The local team is normally in charge of reviewing immediate outputs and outcomes, but with the help of external consultants and professional M&E staff. These could be from the organization’s local evaluation department or the central evaluation department.
The program team, on the other hand, is responsible for ensuring that their monitoring systems and evaluation findings offer evidence for impact assessment, therefore they must understand what impact assessment is and how it is done. The Project Manager (PM) must have control over what is required for implementation, as well as the ability to demonstrate what has been done, how it was done, what has been measured, and what outcomes have been achieved. PMs must also be sure that evaluators and impact assessors will be able to access the information they require on the project as well as a comparator or control group. The real design responsibility varies from project to project and from organization to organization. The PM, on the other hand, must be aware of the M&E requirements and be able to integrate and translate M&E and program management requirements.
Step 2: Identifying the approach and securing a budget
Creating an M&E strategy is usually an iterative process that involves numerous different iterations of the strategy. The program manager will not be in charge of all tasks, but he or she will need to comprehend, influence, and maybe make the ultimate choice. Prior to securing a budget and putting it all together into a formal plan, there are usually six variables to consider in M&E design.
Putting together an M&E budget
The cost of M&E is becoming more of a concern. As development organizations look for more reliable ways to measure development outcomes, concerns regarding the costs and efficiency of M&E surface. Cost is frequently cited as a barrier to doing serious assessment efforts beyond the conventional end-of-project wrap-up. The idea is that resources spent on M&E would be better spent on the aid intervention itself, maximizing the benefits to people who are being helped.
The overall budget for M&E activities and their scope for every specific project must be proportional to the volume and scope of the humanitarian intervention being evaluated. Larger, more complex projects involving a large number of businesses and/or people will typically have more extensive, and thus more expensive, M&E systems. Similarly, because new ways must be developed, an innovative project may necessitate additional effort and resources for M&E. A pilot activity, on the other hand, can entail more intensive M&E work over a shorter period of time in order to determine whether it should be ‘rolled out’ more widely.
How much should be allocated?
After the components of the M&E design have been determined, everything must be costed and combined into an M&E budget. This, too, may be an iterative process. The budget must strike a balance between available M&E resources and the requirements of the M&E framework and plan that have been developed.
Who manages the budget?
The budget may not be administered in a single location or by a single person. As previously mentioned, several of these M&E tasks (especially monitoring) are part of the routine gathering of data on the reform’s activities and outcomes and can be carried out by partners or the project team. To ensure accurate and timely data collection and recording, computer programs or training may be required. This money could be used for something else. Instead of funding from the program, an impact evaluation may be required and paid for by a single donor. When creating a budget and reporting ‘rules of thumb,’ all of these elements must be taken into account.
Step 3: Implementing the M&E Plan
After a program has been approved for execution, the following step is to put the M&E activities into action.
The first duty will be to update the M&E framework and plan, as well as to complete a more extensive program management framework, with the goal of:
- Reflecting any changes in the original schedule.
- Identifying and assigning M&E duties and responsibilities to internal PM/M&E officials.
- Preparing final TORs for any external consultant who will be assisting with the M&E, as well as a recruitment procedure and schedule.
- Ensuring that project reporting systems are linked to M&E systems, reporting procedures, and documentation.
What are the key tasks for implementing the M&E plan?
The project manager has specific implementation responsibilities:
- Internal PM/M&E officers will be briefed on the overall plan and their critical role in monitoring and evaluation activities.
- Choosing and briefing external consultants to help with periodic evaluations.
- Ascertaining that any baseline survey work is started.
- If using a quasi-experimental M&E technique, planning for the identification and construction of control groups, as well as confirmation of the major target group audience for the reform activity, is required.
- Putting in place monitoring systems for capturing and recording inputs, activities, processes, and outputs.
- Data gathering for evaluating outputs and results is done regularly.
- Data collecting for the effect assessment regularly.
- Examining and updating the log frame.
- Establishing stakeholder forums.
- Identifying other parties who could be interested.
- Creating a communication strategy.
Step 4: Analyze M&E Findings
Data is collected during M&E activities throughout the project; thus, analysis of the data should be done concurrently.
If the informing and learning responsibilities of M&E are to be fulfilled, it is necessary to conduct continual analysis and debate findings as they are provided. The tools required to analyze data acquired during M&E activities will be determined by the methodology used, the types of data collection instruments used, and the volume and nature of the data collected.
Data must be examined for various groups, compared between groups, and compared across time.
External expertise may be necessary for data analysis, both in terms of advising on which tools to use and how data should be gathered and maintained, as well as performing the actual analysis once the data has been acquired. In addition to the routine M&E reporting done as part of project management, there are usually four or five points in a project where findings must be analyzed and reported.
The following are the main points of analysis and reporting:
- First stage baseline and mapping work. If a project requires doing a baseline or mapping exercise, the results of this work must be reviewed and reported as soon as possible since they create an important foundation upon which the project will be built and will often determine which activities will be completed and which will not.
- Pilot phases or pilot work. A project may include a pilot phase, in which something is tested with a small group or a specific area before being ‘rolled out’ to a larger audience.
Again, it’s critical that the M&E data from this pilot be thoroughly and swiftly analyzed, as the results will be used to guide the project’s progress.
- Mid-term or periodic evaluative reviews. The major findings from periodic assessment work, which normally begins around the project’s mid-term timeframe, must be assessed and reported in a timely manner since they show whether the project’s outputs are being met and whether process issues are progressing. The data from these mid-term evaluations help to ensure that the M&E plan for analyzing project outcomes and impact is still valid. If preliminary findings indicate that the project is not meeting its goals, or is achieving them in an unanticipated fashion, the M&E plan may need to be reviewed and amended as part of the project’s final evaluation efforts. This examination of project/program outcomes is based on goals and indicators, hypotheses and chains of results, and data and information gathered through results-oriented monitoring.
- End of project evaluation. This is usually the most in-depth study because it combines all of the above while also conducting end-of-project data collecting, analysis, and reporting. If findings are to be processed and reported promptly following the project’s finish, this is the most important time for M&E work. As a result, resources must have been in place and tasks must have been well managed during this time. External personnel – colleagues from the central assessment department and/or external consultants – will always be involved in this evaluation. Don’t underestimate the amount of time it will take to compile the summative M&E data and findings.
- Post-project evaluation. Sometimes, after a project has ended – a year or more later – there is a provision in the contract for a review with the focus on effect This is usually done by a professional within the organization and/or external consultants who are hired to do the work, develop the analysis, and deliver the results.
Step 5: Communicating M&E findings
While M&E results are often reported through project management systems, as mentioned above, it is not uncommon for them to go unnoticed, both internally and outside. Those working in M&E, particularly impact assessment activities, frequently dedicate a great deal of effort to the design and implementation of M&E systems while neglecting to consider how their findings will be used. It is critical to have a good dissemination plan in place if M&E practice is to fulfill both its learning and proving responsibilities, and its findings are to affect development thinking, policy, and practice.
How to ensure inclusion
There should be a continuing diversity/inclusion prompt that functions at each stage of the design, implementation, and management of project M&E practice to ensure that issues and concerns of diversity and inclusion are examined and addressed where practicable.
- From the start, M&E should be completely incorporated into the project cycle and project management systems.
- PMs must play an important role in the design and planning of M&E.
- PMs may or may not be in charge of all M&E responsibilities.
- Early on in the process, identify the essential questions that the M&E will be asked and answered.
- With representatives from the partner organizations, milestones and operational plans should be developed collaboratively.
- Effective communication can help to increase support for reform, speed acceptance, and ensure its long-term viability.
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