In this article, we are going to address some of the most common challenges of Monitoring and Evaluation, and go through some tips for how to deal with them. We will go through what monitoring and evaluation is, and then some of the key challenges which organisations face when trying to develop their monitoring and evaluation processes. For each challenge, we will provide some tips and advice for how to overcome these challenges.
What is Monitoring and Evaluation?
Put simply, Monitoring and Evaluation is a group of processes and activities geared towards improving performance.
Monitoring primarily focuses on improving the performance of the project you are working on. You gather information which tracks the progress of your current project and use that to help you make decisions which improve the performance of your project.
Evaluation on the other hand reviews and assesses how previous projects have performed, and that information is used to help you make decisions about the future. The information you gather supports you in ‘big picture’ or strategic planning.
For more detail on what Monitoring and Evaluation is and the difference between them visit our article here.
What are some common challenges of Monitoring and Evaluation?
Time and Resource
Not surprisingly, one of the major challenges in effective monitoring and evaluation processes is in finding the time and resource to do it well. In a recent study, the majority of non-profit organisations said that limited staff time (79%) and insufficient financial resources (52%) were barriers to evaluation activities. With most organisations facing financial constraints, it can be easy for Monitoring and Evaluation to move down the priorities list as other activities are dealt with instead. Effective Monitoring and Evaluation, however, in the long run can in fact alleviate some of these major issues which face non-profits. Understanding where you can have the most influence and what factors are most important to successful interventions, can free up staff time and resource. Similarly, being able to demonstrate and evidence your impact can support you dramatically in your fundraising activities, both with individual donors and grant giving bodies, giving you greater access to funding and reducing financial constraints. M&E also helps you understand what activities contribute towards your long term goals and objectives and help you identify when you are going over time and budget so you can intervene rapidly. This all combines to mean that M&E can support you in finding that precious time and resource, providing you can work to create effective processes in the short term.
In addition, technical expertise within an organisation can be a significant challenge to developing effective monitoring and evaluation processes and activities. 48% of non-profits said that limited staff knowledge, skills, and/or tools were a barrier to evaluation activities and 69% of organisations said that having sufficient access to knowledge and skills was a key supporting factor in being able to carry out their evaluations (Source). This lack of technical expertise is in part due to the fact that only 8% of organisations have staff who exclusively perform evaluations. This means there is a significant lack of access to evaluation specialists, and many of those within an organisation tasked with M&E activities, will have their attentions diverted elsewhere. There are many ways to overcome this challenge which can be an affordable option for many non-profits. If you don’t have the option of having M&E specialists within house, you can hire external consultants to provide that capability for you, without the ongoing expense of an employee. If you would like to talk to us about our consulting options, you can contact us through the Contact Form. Alternatively, for the many individuals who have been tasked with M&E activities, as part of their varied job roles our training courses on Theory of Change and Impact Measurement can be an affordable place to develop the necessary technical skills.
Another challenge to M&E, is making sure that you have a culture within your organisation which supports the process. Monitoring and Evaluation is more than one any individual activity or process – it is about having a team which focuses on learning and adopting a growth mindset. If the right culture isn’t in place, then Monitoring and evaluation can often feel like its purpose is to criticise and identify failures. When done well, however, with the right approach, M&E can be an important part of creating an environment, which creates a positive environment within an organisation – accepting mistakes as part of the learning process, and giving individuals to learn and grow without the fear of retribution. In a study, the right culture was seen as critically important to supporting evaluation activities. 77% of organisation said that the biggest supporting factors for evaluation came from support from leadership (77%) and having a culture in support of evaluation (67%) (Source).
Lack of Focus
The final challenge to Monitoring and Evaluation is in understanding which areas to focus your efforts. There is a wealth of data and information you could choose to collect about your projects and its effects. As a result, it can be a challenge to understand where to focus your time and attention to get the best value for money out of the process. M&E can often feel overwhelming or be dropped down in the priorities list when there isn’t a clear understanding of why you are doing it or what you are hoping to achieve. Unless these things are clear, you can spend time collecting a lot of data without gaining any valuable insights. As such, one of the ways to support your monitoring and evaluation efforts is to first understand why you are doing them and what you are hoping to learn from it. Then you can focus your time and resource on fewer areas, which can contribute significantly to the wider efforts of your organisation.
In conclusion, there are many challenges which organisations face when they are looking to develop their Monitoring and Evaluation processes and activities. From finding sufficient resources to carry out the work to developing a culture which supports the process, there are many different facets to creating a successful M&E programme. M&E can be particularly challenging for many organisations, since the majority don’t have access to Evaluation specialists full time within their organisation. As a result, access to the technical expertise can be a key barrier to creating an M& framework and then implementing it well. If you or other individuals within your organisation are looking to upskill feel free to look at our Theory of Change and Impact Measurement training courses. In the meantime, one of the foundation activities you can work on is getting the support of leadership within your organisation. This was identified by organisations as the most important factor to evaluation activities successfully.