‘We are not researchers’

Making M&E accessible

Steve Fisher

The increasing need for evidence of the impact of investments in social development, health and education programs places pressures on organisations and their staff. This is not unreasonable, but for many people, monitoring and evaluation remains an obscure subject, distant from the day-to-day activities of working with clients.

Community Works often runs introductory training workshops on monitoring and evaluation for health workers, NGO board members or groups of development professionals seeking to strengthen their work in this area. Sometimes participants make clear their difficulty with the subject. ‘We are not researchers’ they say. ‘Collecting and analysing data is not something we have done before’. Or, they sometimes imply, is that the reason we became health or community workers in the first place.

We have learned from these experiences. As a result, we try to develop materials and deliver training sessions that follow four key principles:

Modify language

The phrase ‘impact assessment’ often throws people off course straight away. We have found that ‘measuring change’ is a good way to talk about monitoring and evaluation because it leads to a conversation about what are the specific changes a project or program intends to achieve and how can we best measure those changes. In social development, usually the answer is to ask people good questions. The same applies to other terms, such as data (equals information).

 

Demystify the subject

Monitoring and evaluation is research. But that doesn’t mean the subject has to be clouded by research process jargon. For example, data analysis can be broken down into a process of grouping responses to interviews or surveys into key messages, trends and ideas. We often suggest that teams measuring change present all their data on the wall or on a big table, so everything can be seen together. That makes it easier to spot key insights and other information.

 

Focus on the process

When an electrician or a plumber comes to my house to repair or install something, the technical language they use is often a barrier to me understanding what they are going to do. We have addressed language above. But not knowing the process also leaves me clueless about their work. The same applies to monitoring and evaluation. In supporting better practice, one of the most useful ways we have found to support people is to set out the steps required. We sometimes present the process visually, as a flights of stairs for example. Once people can see the steps, the whole process seems more manageable.

 Build on the strengths of participants

Often, qualitative information is best collected through, for example, interviews and focus groups. It sounds obvious, but the backgrounds of certain professional or community groups can be very good preparation for this kind of work. For example, health workers are often skilled in putting people at ease and asking questions in a supportive and encouraging way. This means they are often very effective, once given the chance to practice and guidance on the way to facilitate a focus group, for example.

In our training programs, we like to introduce practice early on. We find that participants who might have approached M&E with indifference or fear, become animated and interested when they see how effective they can be in collecting information through talking to people.