Collecting Data

Image from iStockphoto/danleap

When I talk to people about monitoring and keeping track of their projects and interventions, it seems that at no point have they stopped to think about why they are monitoring the work that they they are.

I mean, they will tell me that it is so that they can report to the donor, or because the head office needs it or indeed another NGO needs the data.  And, yes, you do need to do these things.  But that isn’t why you monitor projects or why you measure how successful you have been.
We monitor and measure activities (or we should) so that we know whether they are working for the beneficiaries we are trying to help, and so that we can improve our activities and our overall strategy.
We measure stuff so that we know what works and what doesn’t work and change our strategies accordingly.  Then, and only then, do we measure stuff for donors, the head office, other NGOs and so on.
This might sound slightly obvious, but actually few people in the NGO sector think about monitoring from this perspective.  The facts and figures and stories that get collected during monitoring should be relevant to the NGO’s needs and not focused on what someone else needs.  These days most donors are beginning to realise this and are willing to have discussions with NGOs about how to use the data that is being collected.
A whole separate matter is whether the right data is being collected in the first place.  I will tackle this in a later post, but for now it is worth considering whether you think that the data that you are collecting when you monitor and measure your activities is actually useful to your NGO or just to your funders.  Do you use your data to improve your activities?
What do you think?
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