So we record how many people attended a workshop, we make sure each person completes a feedback form, we enter this information onto a spreadsheet or a database, we store the hard copies somewhere for a while (just in case). We click on ‘save’ and send the information to someone else. And then at the next workshop, we do it all again.
So what? What happens to that information, that data? Where does it eventually end up? What do the responses of participants tell us? Who does that information belong to? What about the comments that participants make that are actually quite good ideas for improving the workshop?
You see, its all about the data that we collect. This is the data that gets analysed to tell us how well we are managing and project, and this is the data that eventually tells us what sort of impact we have had with the project (and therefore whether it is worth scaling up, repeating, tweaking, changing or cancelling).
No doubt that when you first set up your M&E framework or plan and allocate the tasks to everyone and make sure that everyone is trained in how to collect and store the data, you fully intended that the data collected and stored would be analysed to tell everyone how the work is going and what difference the project is making. But does that really happen in practice?
No, not always. Very often we simply collect data that we are told we have to and we enter it into a database or spreadsheet and then someone else looks at it (often in a different office or organisation even) and makes all sorts of conclusions about the project based on the data, without speaking to you. But maybe if that person had spoken to you, you could have told them that you didn’t think that the data you had to collect was quite right, that something else was going on that wasn’t being recorded because there was no way to record the additional information.
Perhaps you are the person that does that analysis of data from the field and you complete your report and send it on to your manager, who includes it in the set of papers to go to the projects committee of the board or even to the board itself. But what you don’t know is that the committee or board don’t really read the report, because it doesn’t really tell them what they want to know and they don’t really know how to ask for the information that they want. So you keep writing and they keep receiving, but the information doesn’t really help anyone.
This is why it is important to understand where the data that is generated by your M&E plan goes and what decisions it is supposed to influence and how it can actually influence strategy.
Below is a sample data flow (click on the image for a larger size) that I created for a study on M&E in small and medium-sized NGOs that I was commissioned to do by a number of funders here in the UK. It sets out how data moves backwards and forwards across an NGO and its partner as part of a project delivery cycle.