You will remember that last month I mentioned that M&E was one of the five basic planning issues that social impact organisations needed to get right. So what happens when M&E doesn’t work? What happens when, despite best efforts, either the wrong data is collected or the tools and M&E plan itself isn’t correct?
Well, despite the obvious that you don’t have the data that you expected to have, you simply don’t know whether your interventions or business plan is actually delivering the results that you planned for. This is the important bit really: if you don’t know whether your activities are delivering results, you won’t be able to respond and adjust to the changing needs of your beneficiaries, improve the current interventions you are already delivering and, quite simply, you will not be able to measure the public benefit or social impact that you are delivering.
Monitoring and evaluation is crucial to understanding your social impact. There are three elements to putting in place a successful monitoring and evaluation plan:
- Leadership: M&E has to be a priority for the executive team and the board. This includes the board asking for the information that it needs to govern the organisation with, and the senior team asking for the information that it needs to manage the organisation. Knowing that M&E is a strategic priority will ensure that it is given due attention in the planning and delivery of activities across the organisation;
- Investment: M&E needs to have a budget, a healthy budget. I am not saying that you need to put in place a bespoke automated data collection system with analysis software attached to it (although if you want to that’s also fine). Whatever you choose as your M&E system needs to be well designed, fully implemented and proportionately well-funded. This might sound like a plug for M&E, but the reality is that without investment, M&E tools, systems and activities will get deprioritised and you will be back to square one;
- Trained staff: Having staff that understand monitoring tools and processes is crucial. Whilst monitoring should be part of everyone’s role description, every social impact organisation still needs key individuals who can design tools and support their implementation so that the right questions get asked, the right data is collected and the right analysis is undertaken.
You can read more about these three elements in this report. Disclaimer: I led the team that delivered this report.
If these three elements are not in place, you can end up with systems and processes that don’t work for anyone, individual teams choosing their own data management approaches and software and poor filing practices that mean in reality nothing can be located, analysed or used to demonstrate impact.
What are your experiences of implementing M&E in your organisation?