Monitoring & Evaluation
CommDev has developed this section in partnership with Business for Social Responsibility (BSR).
This section describes why monitoring and evaluation (M&E) should be of interest to those involved in, and affected by, community development projects. M&E serves to drive accountability and transparency, inform decision making about project design and management, and provide lessons learned for future projects. When done in a participatory manner, monitoring can be a valuable process for building trust across diverse stakeholder groups, incorporating local knowledge and preferences, improving program outcomes, triangulating findings, and institutionalizing local engagement.
This section presents a traditional nine-step framework on how to design and execute M&E for community development projects. The framework consists of: 1) Creating a logic model and associated indicators; 2) Validating indicators with community stakeholders; 3) Conducting a baseline assessment in order to be able to monitor progress; 4) Setting targets for performance objectives; 5) Collecting data to gauge actual performance; 6) Consulting with stakeholders on performance; 7) Making project adjustments based on data and associated stakeholder feedback; 8) Evaluating project impacts; and 9) Communicating project impacts to stakeholders.
The tools section of this resource center introduces more participatory methods for M&E, such as Community Scorecards, where local stakeholders identify community investment indicators and provide ratings of success according to their own experiences. Finally these same stakeholders actively participate in a community-level discussion with program managers and local government to reconcile the different definitions and perceptions of success. This provides a foundation for realigning the community investment program, if needed, to ensure that the intended beneficiaries are either satisfied with the results, or understand where and why obstacles have occurred. In the near future, this section will be rewritten to include more on participation in M&E.
Monitoring and evaluation (M&E) helps those involved with community development projects to assess if progress is being achieved in line with expectations. Monitoring is the ongoing collection and analysis of data that informs project managers if progress toward established goals is being achieved. Evaluation is a comprehensive appraisal that looks at the long-term impacts of a project and exposes what worked, what did not, and what should be done differently in future projects.
M&E benefits the key actors involved in community development in the following ways:
- For project executors (i.e., a company Community Relations Team, a company/NGO partnership, or a company foundation), M&E can improve management. By monitoring progress against defined goals, a project manager can assess what is working and what is not, and from there can determine what changes should be made to a project.
- For companies, whether executing a project or supporting it through partnership or funding, M&E can be used to demonstrate progress to internal management and to external stakeholders. Internally, measurable results can justify continued funding and clarify the return on investment of community development efforts to managers and shareholders. Externally, the results of M&E can demonstrate commitment to and competence in community development, and thus help a company maintain its social license to operate.
- For local governments, participating in M&E can inform an understanding of and ability to report on progress in terms of local community development.
- For community members and NGOs, participating in M&E is an opportunity to influence the design and execution of community development projects. Furthermore, by providing feedback on whether programs are achieving aims in line with community needs and desires, M&E is a powerful accountability mechanism.
The major challenge of monitoring and evaluation lies in measuring impact. While it is fairly simple to measure what goes into a project, such as funds and staff time, it can be difficult to determine exactly what impact a project has had on the social and economic wellbeing of a community. However, the flip side of this challenge is that if, as a project manager you can see impacts through M&E, you will see significant returns. Demonstrable outcomes open up channels of communication with stakeholders and thus contribute to transparency and accountability, create opportunities for improved management of your project, and provide learning that can be applied to future projects.
IMPLEMENTING MONITORING & EVALUATION
When planning for M&E, it is vital to consider whether appropriate funds and staff time can be allocated to it, since M&E is an ongoing process that requires a significant commitment. Another key consideration is who to partner with to design and execute M&E. While external professionals may bring needed expertise, involving community partners is an excellent strategy for involving stakeholders in project management and for demonstrating accountability.
The diagram below outlines a broad step-by-step process for M&E.
- Logic Model and Indicators: After finalizing a logic model for planning and management purposes, associated indicators should be created in consultation with stakeholders to monitor achievement at every step of the project, from inputs and activities to outputs and outcomes. Indicators should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timely (SMART).
- Validate Indicators with Stakeholders: Developing indicators is a key opportunity for community participation. By providing input on the indicators, community members are not only made aware of, but more importantly provide input to, project design and objective setting. This process of vetting indicators helps build ownership and transparency.
- Conduct Baseline Assessment: An assessment of current conditions is necessary in order to create a baseline against which to measure progress over time. For example, one can only effectively gauge an increase in primary school enrollment over time if there is information on initial levels of enrollment at the beginning of the project.
- Set Targets and Scale: After finalizing the list of indicators that will be measured to monitor progress, targets should be set for each indicator. Targets are the goals that you are aiming to achieve by a certain point in time.
- Monitor Inputs, Outputs and Outcomes: A project’s specific data collection cycle will depend on the timeline for its targets, though periodic data collection in line with a company’s quarterly reporting efforts is a good way to integrate community development into business processes. Data collection should ideally be participatory. By involving the community in monitoring, stakeholders can keep abreast of progress and make suggestions for course corrections, while the project partners can benefit from increased support and buy-in as a result of such transparency.
- Consult Stakeholders on Monitoring Results: By reporting performance data gathered through monitoring, a company can meet community expectations for transparency and continue the dialogue about project design, management and performance. Information that is developed from monitoring should be disclosed in a “culturally appropriate” form that is accessible to all external stakeholders (in the local language, perhaps recited on local radio or in community meetings instead of being presented exclusively in written form, etc.).
- Make Project Adjustments: Engaging stakeholders through data collection and reporting will help project managers gain information on how projects should be adjusted to better ensure that goals are consistently being met. Once this information is brought to light, adjustments to the project should be made to improve performance. This is an iterative cycle that should be repeated throughout a project’s life.
- Evaluate Project Impacts: Project evaluation occurs after a project has been completed. It is an analysis that helps to explain why the project did, or did not, produce particular results. Unlike monitoring, it is not used for ongoing management, but focuses on final outcomes. Evaluations can be large scale surveys executed by an external group with statistical and social science expertise, such as a university. Likewise, it can be a small-scale rapid assessment that uses participatory methods, such as group interviews and key informants as well as available data such as case studies. Evaluation can not only help clarify whether costs for a project were justified but also inform decisions on the design and management of future projects and serve as an accountability mechanism.
- Report and Engage Stakeholders: A final step in M&E is to share information on project impacts with shareholders, communities and the public at large through multiple channels. Reporting should not be seen as an end in itself, but rather as an invitation to dialogue with external stakeholders. The company can use M&E to inform the public of project progress and learnings, as well as to invite feedback on the company’s wider community development efforts.