Twenty years ago, when I started working in the international relief and development field, understanding of and commitment to Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E), particularly within international Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), was very different. Yes, organizations submitted proposals for funding with a basic understanding of their goals. But, in my experience, there wasn’t nearly as much thought put into developing a framework for measuring project results and impact. And, there was even less thought put into how those specific projects might contribute to agency-wide objectives in wider areas such as health, education, and democracy/governance. There was very limited funding available for M&E activities, whether it was a one-off evaluation or a longer-term monitoring effort. Today, however, increased need to demonstrate effective use of funds and overall program impact has dramatically changed how organizations incorporate M&E into their programming, financing, and staffing decisions.
There are a number of different ways that large international NGOs include M&E priorities and staffing requirements into their agency strategies.
- First, many now incorporate M&E expertise into a Learning or Strategy department at the headquarters level. These senior staff employees are tasked with creating agency-wide systems and procedures for program design that incorporate agreed, basic M&E elements. These systems allow NGOs to standardize the language used within program design (including M&E) as well as help them collect and analyze program data so that they can better determine what kind of impact they’re having at an agency level. They can also more easily learn from their mistakes and share information across the agency.
- Second, large agencies may also employ regional specialists in M&E, who are responsible for ensuring the use of agency systems within their geographic region, i.e. West Africa. These individuals, often with considerable M&E experience, help with program M&E design, monitoring initiatives, and evaluation efforts. They, in coordination with their HQ colleagues, are also often tasked with training field office staff so that the agency systems are implemented “in the field.” They produce learning tools such as the one produced by CRS Asia or this one produced by CARE.
- Third, in some cases, larger programs will include funding for program-specific M&E staff. Budgets could include staff time in the form of an M&E Manager for the overall program as well as time budgeted for both monitoring and evaluation activities. And, it is likely that the larger projects will include funding for an external evaluation, often conducted by an evaluator contracted separately as an independent consultant.
This new environment gives those interested in M&E a number of different angles from which to approach career decisions. Those with the requisite experience and training can choose to either work within these organizations in the roles described above or externally, as independent consultants hired to conduct specific evaluations. The reality is though, that most M&E staff need to be Jacks and Janes-of-all-trades. Smaller organizations may not have enough funding for full-time, dedicated M&E people, despite a great need for M&E understanding and skills. Thus, not only do M&E staff need a tool-kit of different M&E methods and techniques to use in different settings. They also need to be skilled managers, project designers, listeners, negotiators, trainers, analysis, etc. It’s a fascinating world to be involved in!
About the Author
Leslie Sherriff has worked since 1996 in the international relief and development field. Her experience includes nine years with Catholic Relief Services, one of the largest relief and development organizations in the United States. During that time, Ms. Sherriff helped design the CRS Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH) social housing program, which has been recognized as a leader in its field, prompting real legislative change in BiH and subsequent funding from a variety of donors. Ms. Sherriff holds a Master of Public and International Affairs from the University of Pittsburgh in the USA and a Master of Evaluation and Social Research from London Metropolitan University in London, England.
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