We talk about monitoring and evaluation together all the time. But how many of us have stopped to think about these two different activities and what they really mean.  To some of you the difference may be obvious, but I have had a few requests to write about what is so different about monitoring and evaluation, especially following on from my last post about where in the organisation monitoring and evaluation should sit.

There are a few different definitions of monitoring and evaluation, especially in the international development context.  The World Bank, the Global Fund, the OECD and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) amongst others all provide definitions for what they believe monitoring and evaluation to be.
While all slightly different, there are some commonalities between these interpretations of the terms monitoring and evaluation.
Monitoring is an ongoing process during your project or programme that collects and analyses data to track how your project is performing against its intended outputs and outcomes.  UNDP points out that this could be done in a narrow sense, simply recording findings and data. However, as I found in a recent study I conducted along with colleagues at ITAD and the New Economics Foundation for Comic Relief, DIFD, Big Lottery Fund and Bond, it is important to analyse the data that you collect in a structured way and use the data to improve your project as you go so that the eventual outcomes will be the best that they can be.  UNDP agrees with this approach stating in their definition that “monitoring also involves tracking strategies and actions being taken by partners and non-partners, and figuring out what new strategies and actions need to be taken to ensure progress towards the most important results.” (UNDP 2011)
Evaluation is widely recognised as being an external activity that happens less often than monitoring (usually at the mid-point and end of a project) and which is focused on determining the impact of your project and whether the project was well conceived, designed and delivered.  The OECD DAC Criteria are often quoted here as being the criteria against which an intervention or project will be evaluated.  I use these criteria in my evaluation work and they provide a strong structured framework for the evaluation that is generally welcomed by my clients.
So as a project officer or monitoring officer in an NGO you will undertake monitoring activities almost everyday, but external consultants like me will undertake the evaluation, based on the data that you have been collecting during the project.  Of course sometimes you get consultants like me to come in and help set up the monitoring framework beforehand, which can be a good use of time and resources if you need that extra capacity only at certain points in the project cycle.
Increasingly of course planning and learning are being included when thinking about monitoring and its role within in the organisation.  Results-based management is more popular and wide-spread in international development these days.  For it to be successful as a method for managing projects and strategies, you need to make sure that planning, monitoring, evaluation and learning are all aligned right from the start.
Next time I’ll talk more about planning and how monitoring and evaluation data can help.  For now though, I’ll leave you with the very useful table that the Global Fund developed for its monitoring and evaluation toolkit (click on the image for a larger size):
© 2011 The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, Monitoring and Evaluation Toolkit - 4th Edition

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