Getting Started with Monitoring and Evaluation
A conversation with FHI 360
Philanthropy University is the new tech-enabled platform that transforms the impact of local organizations working to deliver sustainable development for all.April 10, 2018
If you work for a small nonprofit organization, setting up a Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) system can seem like an intimidating and confusing job.
Luckily, FHI 360 understands this experience well and, as a large development organization, provides expert M&E support to many smaller organizations within its network. Recently, FHI 360 experts Barney Singer and Marty Galindo-Schmith collaborated with Philanthropy University to create our Planning for Monitoring and Evaluation course, which will be open for enrollment next week.
Earlier this month, we sat down with Barney and Marty to discuss their work, their new course and what organizations need to understand before they get started with M&E. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Philanthropy University: Could you start by introducing FHI 360, and the work you do?
Barney: FHI 360 is a development organization that focuses on some of the challenges that we face in the world today. We have programs that we design, implement and evaluate in the United States and in developing countries around the world that address some of the complex things that we are all facing; that includes things like how civil society can be most effective in advocating for citizen’s needs, education and health.
Philanthropy University: What is M&E, and why is it so important for FHI 360?
Barney: Monitoring is paying attention to what we are doing to make sure we are on the right path. Evaluation is looking back at what we have done and extracting the learnings that we can from the experience.
In order to implement our programs effectively, we need to know how and when we are succeeding; the same thing is true for civil society organizations (CSOs) that we work with. Monitoring and Evaluation are two complementary areas that allow us to do that.
Philanthropy University: M&E can seem like an intimidating field, particularly for small CSOs. What is the best way for an organization to get started with M&E?
Marty: What I have learned, particularly in lower capacity contexts where civil society is more nascent, [is that] our starting point is not with measurement. Our starting point has to move back to what are you doing in your project, what is that based on [and] what is the issue.
We often have to start by going to the proposal and learning what was actually said was going to be done before getting into measurement because sometimes it was not fully understood: “well if I do this, it is not going to lead to that… I made a huge assumption, I did not think about risks.” That, to me, is the most valuable piece.
Philanthropy University: Is there a particular tool that you would recommend that CSOs master?
Marty: [If your goal is] understanding your project, then it is the logframe.
Barney: Yeah, I agree. I was thinking of a results framework, which is another kind of logframe; that can be the guiding document for both program design and for implementation because it forces us to ask, “are these activities going to lead to the results that we want?” What inputs do we need in order to walk up that chain that is going to give us the best chance for success?
Philanthropy University: That is helpful advice. You mentioned that understanding the risks and assumptions embedded in your project design is one of the first steps towards establishing a solid M&E system. Can you think of an example from your work that illustrates the importance of monitoring risks and assumptions?
Barney: The example that immediately pops into mind is one that our dear friend and colleague used to bring up about a project years ago in Peru. The project design that was implemented was one that dug wells at the village level so it would save the women hours a day from having to walk to the river and carry it home.
The project implementers were so excited because of what they were able to do for the women in the villages, but the women were not using the wells. They were not pumping the water because they were still walking to the river, which was taking them hours, out and back.
Why? Well, it turns out that that was time that was important for the women. They were so busy taking care of their children and their homes and their families and their other responsibilities that that was the only time that they actually had to be together for socializing and networking purposes. They did not want the wells! Nobody asked them in advance.
Marty: Here is another [example]. The grantees were running prevention sessions. They called people to one site and they spent 45 minutes watching a short film and then having a discussion about HIV AIDS, prevention and their thoughts, [but] participation was really low.
[The grantees] were just going to continue with low participation until we stopped to say – no! – talk to people and find out why participation is low and figure out a solution; that is what monitoring is.
They went and talked to people and [learned that] young boys were not coming because of a conflict with soccer practice. Men were not coming because they had something else to do. Women were not coming because they were too busy.
Philanthropy University: We recently opened enrollment for our new Planning for Monitoring and Evaluation course, which you both were instrumental in creating. Who should take this course?
Marty: Anyone that is involved in implementing a project to support their community should take the course because [M&E] is not [only] for the M&E people. When we work with local CSOs, if they have an M&E person, that is great. They are in the room but so is the program person, the finance person, and key admin people; so, the course is really for anyone that is running development programs.
Philanthropy University: What gets you excited about this course?
Barney: I am excited about this course because I hope that it will help folks working for civil society organizations be able to do their jobs more effectively, tell their stories more effectively and help their organizations be more self-sustaining.
To learn more about getting started with M&E, make sure to enroll in FHI 360’s new course, Planning for Monitoring and Evaluation. The course begins on April 16th, so enroll today!
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