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The Emerging Opportunities for M&E in a Tech-Enabled World

By Linda Raftree on September 29, 2014

The past few years have seen dramatic advances in the use of hand-held devices (phones and tablets) for program monitoring and for survey data collection. Progress has been slower with respect to the application of ICT-enabled devices for program evaluation, but this is clearly the next frontier.

In Emerging Opportunities: Monitoring and Evaluation in a Tech-Enabled World, Michael Bamberger and I review how ICT-enabled technologies are already being applied in program monitoring and in survey research. We also review areas where ICTs are starting to be applied in program evaluation and identify new areas in which new technologies can potentially be applied.

The technologies discussed include hand-held devices for quantitative and qualitative data collection and analysis, data quality control, GPS and mapping devices, environmental monitoring, satellite imaging and big data.

While the technological advances and the rapidly falling costs of data collection and analysis are opening up exciting new opportunities for monitoring and evaluation, the paper also cautions that more attention should be paid to basic quality control questions that evaluators normally ask about representativity of data and selection bias, data quality and construct validity.

The ability to use techniques such as crowd sourcing to generate information and feedback from tens of thousands of respondents has so fascinated researchers that concerns about the representativity or quality of the responses have received less attention than is the case with conventional instruments for data collection and analysis.

Some of the challenges include the potential for: selectivity bias and sample design, M&E processes being driven by the requirements of the technology and over-reliance on simple quantitative data, as well as low institutional capacity to introduce ICT and resistance to change, and issues of privacy.

None of this is intended to discourage the introduction of these technologies, as the authors fully recognize their huge potential. One of the most exciting areas concerns the promotion of a more equitable society through simple and cost-effective monitoring and evaluation systems that give voice to previously excluded sectors of the target populations; and that offer opportunities for promoting gender equality in access to information. The application of these technologies however needs to be on a sound methodological footing.

The last section of Emerging Opportunities: Monitoring and Evaluation in a Tech-Enabled World offers some tips and ideas on how to integrate ICTs into M&E practice and potential pitfalls to avoid. Many of these were drawn from Technology Salons and discussions with practitioners, given that there is little solid documentation or evidence related to the use of ICTs for M&E.

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Linda Raftree has worked at the intersection of community development, participatory media, rights-based approaches and new information and communication technologies (ICTs) for 20 years. She blogs at Wait... What?
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