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.

  1. Dave, absolutely excellent point about M&E and (lack of management). I lament the lack of quantitative or qualitative ROI (return on investment) that industry typically measures all the time, which NGOs/governments so rarely do as a measure of effectiveness! We just do it and leave, and don’t look at long-term sustained impact of our projects (maybe they’re great, we don’t know :))… see http://www.ValuingVoices for more rants 🙂

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  2. Reblogged this on valuingvoicesjin and commented:
    Nice blog on ICT (information and communications technology) and M&E (monitoring and evaluation) in international development, about how M&E is to compensate for weak management…

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  3. Great post. Imagine if Starbucks had to hand enter all of their sales and didn’t know if their pumpkin latte was successful until 4 years after product launch. That’s much of development today.

    That said, we can argue until we’re hoarse for better M&E systems, but until we fundamentally change the systemic incentives which strangle development programs from investing in high quality M&E systems it’s going to be a steep uphill battle. Instruments like results-based financing and development impact bonds change this game–making monitoring and evaluation an active part of program management and–most importantly–creating smart incentives for investment in that M&E infrastructure. These instruments literally put a value on good management–tying funding to the results that these programs have on people’s lives.

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    1. You mean we need to know what’s possibly successful? Or is it enough to say we’ve spent the money doing our best to do good? 🙂 Ah… if only int’l development saw our participants as our true clients, maximized their time by prioritizing their views of what would be “smart incentives for investments” they could sustain themselves. Ahhh. Lattes beckon 🙂

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  4. Michael, I like your focus on systemic incentives, but I’m fairly skeptical on DIBs and what results they’ll actually incentivize (see link below). But more importantly, I definitely don’t think the evidence-base exists yet to say that they are changing the game. Keep plugging away and making the case though!

    https://algoso.org/2012/10/15/complexity-theory-adaptive-leadership-and-cash-on-delivery-aid-one-of-these-things-is-not-like-the-others/

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  5. This reflection hit home for me – a big part of my job is focused on transforming data into actionable information through visualization and other tools that (in theory) help us better manage our programs. It’s not just about making data look “pretty”; it’s about making it accessible and actionable, customized to the individual users who can best make choices based on that information.

    I don’t think many people think of the word “management” when they talk about “evidence based decision making” though, which is a much more common buzzword in the development space. I’d be curious to read your thoughts on if more discussions around M&E as a management tool emerged over the course of the two day event.

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  6. The problem with putting M and E down to management is that development is not always about managers making the right decisions for others (staff, target groups, donors, etc. etc.). The point is to move towards decision-making frameworks that are inclusive (depending on ones values, democratic), and participatory. Participation, whilst a subversive topic in development is still an important principle! Management, I fear is not inherently about these principles that we have learned and formed in development practice. Whilst you may argue that good managers embody qualities that enable those things, the common understanding of a manager is not a facilitator, it is someone who takes care of business. The definition in my Mac dictionary is “the process of dealing with or controlling things or people” We cannot just throw these words around in development without understanding that there are meanings attached for the majority that conflict with ‘development’ values.

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  7. Molly de marcellus October 3, 2014 at 11:06 am

    Hi, Dave, I’m new to your blog, and I’m enjoying your posts. The “M&E” in corporate management is performance measurement, but it is generally all about quantitative data, metrics, and the “bottom line.” In development, of course, because we’re ultimately trying to better people’s lives, there’s a greater emphasis on qualitative data, which makes capturing and analyzing it more challenging. However, if development practitioners were to internalize M&E as a management tool instead of a reporting requirement to donors, programs and projects would be that much more efficacious. Thanks for bringing this point to the forefront of our attention!

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

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