Technology is playing a large role in the recent trends we are seeing in monitoring and evaluation. In response to increasing demands for more inclusive and timely stakeholder feedback and faster (real-time) data, technology is enabling innovative approaches to monitoring and evaluation (M&E) and changing the field of evaluation.
Use of Information Communication Technology (ICT)
The rapid growth in the use of mobile phones and other ICTs around the globe (including poor communities and developing areas), has allowed for greater access to information and is changing our modes of communication with each other. ICTs are increasing the voice and participation of citizens and program participants allowing for more inclusive planning and feedback processes. ICTs are also opening up access to remote or insecure areas that are otherwise difficult to include in planning or data collection efforts. ICTs are also allowing for more innovative approaches to data collection and analysis as well as more rapid processing and aggregation of data. For example, ICTs can facilitate ‘real-time’ monitoring and reporting through the use of mobile devices, which can allow for course corrections to a program much earlier. This also allows for ‘crowdsourcing’ in which regular citizens are provided with the opportunity to report on their surrounding situation on an open source software platform.
The widespread use of mobile phones is a key part of the technology trend. Mobile phones and other handheld devices are allowing for mobile data collection, including SMS-based surveys. This is reducing the cost of surveying and improving the quality of data since it requires much less processing. Where there is good internet service, data can be uploaded directly to the ‘cloud’ for rapid and easy sharing and compilation.
Data Visualization, Remote Sensing and GPS
Another M&E trend is the increased use of digital mapping platforms and remote sensing to collect and visualize data. Mobile devices, including phones with GPS capabilities are greatly facilitating this as well. This allows observers to record changes in demographics and the natural environment, compare these changes to baseline measurements, and depict them visually. Data visualization has become a trend in itself in monitoring and evaluation allowing for greater interaction with the data.
Although not quite a trend yet in M&E, the use of ‘big data’ holds great potential. ‘Big data’ is an umbrella term for large data sets generated by users of, for example, social media, or it can be the digital footprints we create in our daily lives. These data sets may be analyzed to reveal patterns that could be used to track effects of social policies and programs.
The technologies mentioned here are being used in all stages of evaluation practice from evaluation design, where technology is allowing for more participatory methods of planning and design, to data collection where these technologies are allowing for a greater range and engagement of participants in the collection and the generation of ‘real-time’ data. Technology is also playing a large role in data management and analysis where web-based data management systems are allowing simultaneous data entry by multiple users in different locations, and integration of multiple sources of data. Finally, technology is playing a large role in the reporting and dissemination of results, allowing for more frequent reporting and the use of social media and SMS, for example, to disseminate findings more widely.
The employment of the technology described here for M&E does not only facilitate more rapid and accurate quantitative data, but may also be used to generate qualitative data. Most mobile phones, for example, have cameras that allow for the capture and uploading of photos and videos in addition to the ability to obtain voice recordings.
The use of these technologies is not without serious challenges that must be considered. Challenges include:
- The danger of over relying on digital tools and data that can affect quality control and diminish understanding of the context. This can also lead to over-collection of data.
- Technology driving the M&E processes rather than the other way around.
- Selectivity bias, excluding those who do not have access or adequate literacy to use the technology.
- Institutional capacity that may be too low to integrate use of the technologies into their work.
- Loss of privacy if personal data is not properly protected.
The trends discussed here are likely going to continue for the foreseeable future since the use of technology is only increasing. This holds great promise for the field of evaluation as long as the challenges listed above are properly addressed.
Bruce, K. and Koler, A. “Applying Emergent Technologies to Complex Program Evaluation from the INGO Perspective” in Bamberger, M., Vaessen, J., and Raimondo, E. (Eds.) (2016) Dealing with Complexity in Development Evaluation. Los Angeles. Sage Publications, Inc.
Raftree, L and Bamberger, M. (2014) Emerging Opportunities: Monitoring and Evaluation in a Tech-enabled World. The Rockefeller Foundation.
UNDP (2013) Innovations in Monitoring & Evaluating Results. Retrieved from: http://undp.org/content/undp/en/home/librarypage/capacity-building/discussion-paper--innovations-in-monitoring---evaluating-results.html
About the Author
Kirsten Bording Collins is the founder and director of AdaptivePurpose, LLC (www.adaptivepurpose.org)-a mission-driven consulting practice focused on the application of adaptive and complexity-aware approaches to strategy, planning, management and evaluation. Kirsten has an MA in International Administration from the Korbel School of International Studies and over 15 years of experience in the NGO sector and international development and affairs field, working in project management, planning, research and evaluation. She has worked across several sectors including democracy & governance, social and economic development, the environment and human rights. She provides training, facilitation and consulting services in strategic planning, capacity-building and organizational development, and evaluation, incorporating a systemic perspective and complexity-aware and cross-sectoral approach. Kirsten grew up in Copenhagen, Denmark and currently lives in Washington, DC.
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