© Mbortolino / iStock
© Mbortolino / iStock

For small and medium sized NGOs this can seem like a tricky question: you know you need some sort of help with monitoring and evaluation but are not sure what sort exactly.

So here are the 4 things you need to think about to make sure that you’re buying, and getting, the evaluation support that you need:

  1. Do you have a strategy?I know this sounds obvious, but do you know where you’re going and why you’re doing the work that you’re doing (and I hope the answer is not “because we can get money to do this”)? There is no point in putting in place any kind of monitoring, evaluation and learning plan if you’re unsure about the goal of the work being done. This could be just at a project level, or a programme level or even at an organisational level. Make sure you can answer this question and that everyone else can answer it too.
  2. Do you know what you want to measure and why?There is a truism: what gets measured matters. It’s true because the moment you have an indicator or a MEL plan, then that is the only thing that people are interested in measuring or reporting because they know someone else higher up the chain is interested in the result. All other stuff is deprioritised (if it happens at all). So being really clear about what you needto measure is important and understanding howthat data or information is going to be reported and used is crucial. So think carefully about who will use this information and how.
  3. Do you know how you want to measure your work?You can spend a lot of time and energy designing a beautiful, fully integrated MEL plan, but if it doesn’t fit in with existing work loads or it is far too onerous then all that effort is going to go to waste. Once you know what you need to measure, think about how you’re going to do that so that you can get the right kind of information in the right format at the right time.
  4. What evaluation questions do you want to ask and which do you need to ask?You will eventually need to do an evaluation on your project or programme or organisation. Very often evaluations get used to ask questions that people in the organisation are interested in or have a particular fascination with. You may also want to ask questions about effectiveness, efficiency and so on. But are those really the questions that you needto ask? Often commissioners of evaluations have pre-set a huge range of evaluation questions before they have even spoken to an evaluator (partly to keep all those vested interests happy internally), which makes a nonsense of asking an evaluator to design a methodology for the evaluation (why have a dog and wag its tail for it?). Sometimes you won’t be able to get away from some of the questions or types of questions, because donors also want to know about efficiency and effectiveness. But spend time with your evaluator setting out those questions you need to ask of a project, such as
    1. What is getting developed or not getting developed as a result of the intervention (or how the intervention relates to its environment)?
    2. What are the implications of what is getting developed (or not developed)?

Being clear on the kind of support that you need will make buying in that support so much more effective and valuable for your organisation. Are you clear on the support you need?


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