Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) are processes used to study the performance of projects and programs implemented by entities such as governments, NGOs, and other organizations. They are divided into two parts: monitoring, which occurs continuously during the course of the program, and evaluation, which examines the impact of the program once it is completed.
The purpose of monitoring is to ensure that all current programming processes are documented, and that all involved stakeholders are provided up-to-date information regarding the running of the program. On the other hand, the purpose of evaluation is to understand and highlight the relevance, effectiveness, efficiency and impact of the program as relevant to its objectives, and providing recommendations for further projects.
Common methods of assessing impact involve measuring how much of the program’s goals have been achieved. This is called a results-based approach, which assumes a causal linear relationship between activities undertaken in a project, and consequences measured later. For instance, a program providing hygiene awareness would determine that any changes in their beneficiaries’ hygiene awareness are impacts of the program.
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Although a results-based approach can quantify change and demonstrate it as a proof of the effect of a program, it has some limitations. Firstly, this approach might not take into account other variables that can influence change, as these variables are hard to identify. Secondly, in attempting to quantify change, this approach can often impose the examiners’ ideas of change and improvement on the beneficiaries, neglect qualitative data, and lose authentic community voices. Thirdly, this approach provides answers to all stakeholders — except the beneficiaries. To sustain and enrich any change, it is important to turn the beneficiaries into change-makers for their larger communities.
To overcome these limitations, it would be helpful to turn to people-centered social sciences and borrow from their methodologies. One such discipline is anthropology, which, broadly, is the study of human behaviors and cultures throughout the past and the present. Hence, anthropology emphasizes individual human voices, rejects appropriation, and its methods aim to contribute to sustainable, independent development.
Ethnography: Ethnography is an immersive participant observation method. Ethnographic evaluation aims to explore how participants have constructed and interpreted a programme and its effects in the light of their social realities and meaning systems. By immersing with the beneficiaries and attempting to understand their world without imposing our own questions on participants, we can gain insight into their problems; discover newer problems, contributing factors, or even solutions; compare different participants’ approaches to a given problem; and construct a holistic, descriptive narrative of the issues faced by a community. In doing so, finding relevant solutions becomes easier as well.
Ethnography in Progress. Image Credits: University of Arizona.
Sensitive interviewing: Oftentimes, respondents cannot answer survey questions, due to various reasons: shyness, inability to articulate, etc. Due to this, evaluators miss out on important data. One way to overcome this is to use sensitive interviewing: to make sure that the interview is being conducted with the full consent and comfort of the respondent, to ensure that the language used is simple and friendly, and to ensure that respondents get time to think and form authentic responses.
Constructivism: A constructivist approach assumes that people are the motor behind the development of novelties and societal change processes. Hence, this approach emphasizes mutual understanding and exchange of experiences. Such processes support collective learning, improvement and change, as beneficiaries and other stakeholders can create a holistic idea of what change means, and how it is occuring, how people are influencing it, and how people’s influence can be modified for maximum impact. For example, in a skilling program, if the skilling trainers and their students are allowed to host a long dialogue about how well the program is going, what its shortcomings and challenges are, and how both groups can mitigate them, then the learnings of such a discussion will inform change and include both parties as change agents.
Focus on dissemination: The data and inferences gathered from impact evaluation rarely reach the key subjects of such evaluations: the beneficiaries. It is most important for them to learn how their experiences have been portrayed, and what suggestions have been laid out for them, so that they have ideas for creating and maintaining impact as well. Hence, debriefings, or seminars with beneficiaries, would be helpful to keep them involved and employed in the process of change.
Saakshi Kale, Intern