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Monitoring and Evaluation vs. Good Management in Development

By Guest Writer on October 3, 2014

Last week, I was at the M&E Tech conference in Washington, DC. It was two days of discussion on how to better use technology for monitoring and evaluation of development projects, and how to monitor and evaluate the use of technology for development projects. So ICT4M&E as well as M&E for ICT4D. Got it? Cool.

We were barely done with the second session when I had a quick reaction: We’ve talked a lot about the need to put more time and money into M&E. It’s a perennial issue in development, even ignoring the technology dimension. What’s always struck me as weird about the “spend more on M&E” argument is that the whole idea of M&E is totally unique to development, aid, nonprofits, and the broader social good space. M&E doesn’t exist in the private sector. Why is that?

Short answer: monitoring and evaluation are part and parcel with management. Whether you’re managing a project, store, service provider, manufacturing plant, or whatever, you can’t manage (read: make decisions) without data that creates a feedback loop. That’s monitoring. And you can’t make larger choices about strategic direction or investments without making a summative assessment of past work. That’s evaluation.

M&E is just good management.

But the development sector doesn’t care much for management. We don’t value it. The reasons why are many – relating to funding models, accountability structures, and institutional culture – that I won’t get into here. The practical upshot is that no one gets much traction in the sector by saying, “Let’s improve our management practices.” When good management practices spread, it’s often because they take another form. Our focus on M&E, measurement and metrics is a great example of this. (“Innovation” is another one.)

So as much as I lament our sector’s lack of respect for good management, I’m at least hopeful that better M&E can provide a backdoor for better management.

Dave Algoso is the Managing Director at Reboot and this post was first published as Monitoring-and-Evaluation versus Management

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9 Comments to “Monitoring and Evaluation vs. Good Management in Development”

  1. Hi Dave,

    I see your earlier Tweet and post on this topic and found it very insightful. Great to see it re-posted here for a wider audience. I hope this starts a wider debate on this question.

    While I wasn’t able to attend M&E Tech, one of the themes I hear emerged is the need to connect operations with M&E, which I guess is a step in this direction.

    Our work is very much looking at practical ways of doing this, starting with a deep understanding of the operational processes that NGOs (and other development organisations) take in their work – and then looking at how to link this to M&E.

    We’re interested in talking more with others that want to explore this approach.


  2. I totally agree with you David! I’m at the NY M&E Tech event and we’re having similar conversations. In the financial inclusion sector, the M&E conversation is mostly labeled ‘social performance management’. But it’s hard to get MFIs to embrace it unless they are requested by stakeholders to do it. Several of us have talked about how it’s really ‘best practices in managing a socially-focused organization’. Why would a leader/manager not want that? Your conclusion that the development sector doesn’t care for good management explains that, but I really don’t want to accept that conclusion. Given super constrained resources in our sector, I think what we need to do is work harder to demonstrate the business case for M&E and SPM to leaders. Linking M&E to Operations as Rob says, is critical. Grameen Foundation has some good experience with that in our work with the PPI (Progress out of Poverty Index)…embedding it in operations so that the data falls out of the work. However, much more needs to be done with the data once it is there. We need investment in analytical mindsets and capabilities at the field level. And that needs to be driven by leadership.

  3. Mike Dawson says:

    It is indeed sad that any medium size supermarket knows a lot more about how to position baked beans for optimal sale than we in the development sector know about what is actually going on over years in under-served schools. It’s up to the buyer, that is the donor government agency to hold their agents (NGOs, contractors, etc) to task and to stop accepting excuses.

  4. Wayan Vota says:

    I keep wondering why we in the development sector expect a PhD in Education to somehow also be a good project manager. Instead, we hire a second person, give them the title of “M&E Specialist”, and then expect them to help the education person manage.

    Maybe we should use those skilled in management to be managers and those skilled in education, health, etc to advise project staff how to impact the different sectors.

  5. Dave Algoso says:

    Glad to hear the post resonated with so many people. I guess it’s a testament to how big this problem is!

    Julie and Mike, your comments about Grameen and supermarkets remind me a bit of the “projectization” problem. There’s not much incentive or operating space to incorporate good M&E into management of a term-limited project, but when you have ongoing operations (like Grameen or a supermarket) you have a lot more ability and reason to create and continuously refine management information systems.

  6. I would agree that management doesn’t get the attention it deserves. I wonder if two factors in development contribute to that: (a) the obsession in our marketing with trying to show that overheads/ indirect costs are low, with the implicit message that management and administration are thus somehow wasteful (personally I’m far less interested in the overheads than in how well you spend everything else); (b) the relative difficulty in measuring some of the things we’re trying to change (prevention of disasters; reduction of child abuse); would it be simplistic of me to say that when your main metrics are revenue, profit and customer satisfaction, you’ve got an easier job of it?

    Doing evaluation well is a fairly sophisticated business, so I’m happy to see NGOs employing specialists; but they’re of no use if there isn’t the demand for and use of evidence by managers (and donors).

  7. Dave Algoso says:

    Michael, from my (admittedly non-scientific) observation, I would put more weight on (b) difficulty of measurement, compared to (a) obsession with overhead, as a driver of poor management. But that would also depend a lot on the organization, how it’s funded, which (sub-)sectors it works in, etc.

  8. Mike Dawson says:

    I believe projecting is generally valid. Often the metrics are not so difficult that they are made out to be; if one has a project to improve school attendance then why only look at the numbers at the end of the year from paper registers? As the post says good management would include building a feedback loop; be that a mobile system to get attendance info daily, attendance cards, regular spot checks, etc.

    I think there’s a huge problem with the distance between what’s going on and where the funders (e.g. taxpayers) are. If a local school was missing half a playground because the administration didn’t get it’s paperwork in order the parent teachers association, local press, etc. would nail those responsible. If it happens on the other side of the world that’s a whole lot less likely to happen.

  9. Christian Pennotti says:

    I was drafting a comment on this on another site and am glad I came to the source! Great post Dave. Like you and others though, I’m not willing to settle for a back door solution to this one. The points Julie, Mike, Michael and Wayan are making all resonate strongly with me. I’ve long said the same things about knowledge management that you’re saying about M&E – 95% of good ‘KM’ is actually just good “M.”

    I often wonder how we can turn the sector on its head. The major disconnect from my standpoint is that our customers (i.e. donors) judge our efficacy while our clients (i.e. those we nominally serve) continue to have almost zero voice in the equation. I would hope that at an ICT4D conference in particular we might find some ways of reversing or at least balancing that equation. Anyone raise that at any of these forums?