Picture it: you’re a small charity with limited staff, financial resources and no experience in fancy flowcharts, surveys and log frames. But you know you need to do something to demonstrate your impact. Your supporters are asking questions, your donors want to know what difference you’re making. Even the regulator thinks you should be writing about public benefit provided through your work. What to do?
Start by asking these three questions:
- Who needs to know what, when and how are they using that data? Monitoring is only useful if the data collected is used by someone for something. So before you design a monitoring plan and tools, think about why you are collecting the data and who will be using the data. For example: you will need to report on project or programme progress to your board, that’s a strategic use of data. You will also need to share successes and challenges with your supporters (communication and fundraising) and with your donors (fundraising). Don’t forget you will need to feedback to your beneficiaries or service-users on the success of the programme you have been running with them (programme design and management); and your project team or senior management team (if you have one) will need to know that things are on track.
- Can I satisfy all of my audiences or stakeholders from one set of data? The more data you need to collect from the same project, the more time and expense it will take, and the more alienated your beneficiaries or service-users will be (they don’t want to be seen as just a number in your programme). Often so much data is collected without a clear reason why it is needed that it sits on servers taking up space and never being used. So can you collect data only once or twice in a cycle and still respond to the needs of the different audiences for that data. Yes, possibly. It won’t always be possible, but if you can agree up front with everyone what data they need and when, you can build that into your data collection tools and calendar and minimise the disruption to your service-users and beneficiaries.
- What are my priorities for designing data collection tools and processes? Many people think that data collection is just about surveys and a few case studies. But actually there are many more options and opportunities for data collection than just these two. Particularly when you have few staff and little time, beneficiaries and service-users should be involved in collecting data for you as well as contributing to the data being collected. This is also very good practice for ensuring that they feel like they are part of the project and that their experience of the project matters. Being able to triangulate results is very important, so collecting data using more than one tool is also useful. For example, you might already use a pre- and post-participation questionnaire that your service users complete. How about including a preference ranking exercise or a participatory rapid assessment exercise that asks the same information in a different way to ensure the service-users really are experiencing the change that you have set out to achieve. Additionally, ending your intervention with an interactive session allows everyone to leave on a high. Collect both quantitative and qualitative data using methods such as outcome mapping, outcome harvesting, PRA exercises, etc. alongside surveys and case studies. Use tech as and when needed. Especially if you work with young people. Tech reduces the risk of errors and can speed up the analysis process, allowing you to use your data more quickly.
So, figure out who needs the data, how much data to collect and how to collect that data.
Data storage and analysis is also important but I’ll cover some of that next time. For now, these three questions should help you focus on planning for good monitoring.