Essentially, Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) is about learning and finding out what is or is not working in a project or programme set-up. An effective M&E system facilitates tracking this. However, setting up an M&E system to attain this objective is more than just building a spreadsheet or database. It is primarily about data, data that is accurate, valid, reliable, timely, relevant and complete.
In the M&E continuum, before the synthesised data feeds into the ongoing implementation or subsequent planning, the raw data first requires meeting these criteria. However, quality raw data that actually fits the requirement is not easy to obtain (as also noted in ‘Challenges in Monitoring and Evaluation’ – Proceedings of the Fifth Annual Conference of the Latin American and the Caribbean Monitoring and Evaluation Network, June 2010). Nonetheless, stakeholders’ engagement and open data principles may prove to be of some assistance in this situation!
In the context of national development or poverty reduction strategies, M&E plays an indispensable role in guiding the implementation and subsequent policymaking, based on evidence (as this UNICEF publication also corroborates). However, for the M&E system to be truly effective, involvement of stakeholders, such as implementing agencies and the beneficiaries, at all stages of strategy development and implementation, may bring in greater ownership of activities/outputs and, thus, data for guiding the implementation. Therefore, devising a comprehensive and integrated M&E system – which takes into account the multi-stakeholder nature of the work – is crucial.
It is crucial also because M&E systems may not be useful if managed centrally and not in a distributed fashion, as Keith Mackay notes here in the context of low use of Govt. of Chile’s M&E system intended for similar use.
The M&E systems for such purposes could obtain activities/output data directly from the regular administrative data collection mechanisms of implementing agencies at national and sub-national levels, and data for outcome/impact indicators (usually measured at the population level) could be obtained through population-based surveys and the census.
Of course, challenges will be there! Especially on the administrative data front – availability, quality, timeliness and incentives to misreport are important issues that may have to be dealt with prudently.
A game-changer scenario in this circumstance would be (as depicted below in the image) if the government institutions responsible for reporting on their activities/outputs (do not “report”, but) make their reporting data available online in machine-readable formats regularly on their websites. This data then can be picked up by the multiple numbers of institutions interested in conducting M&E! This way, the reporting institutions, which are also the implementing institutions of government projects, may not only reduce their obligatory reporting burden (which in many cases, are huge after doing the actual work on the ground) but also be accountable to their constituencies – in terms of accuracy and timeliness of data. This will also let citizens, as ultimate beneficiaries participate in providing substantive feedback – as they will have access to highly contextualised and relevant data.