Monitoring-and-Evaluation versus Management

I’m at the M&E Tech conference in DC today. It’s two days of discussion on how to better use technology for monitoring and evaluation of development projects—and, relatedly, 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’re barely done with the second session but I have 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.