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Unmesh Sheth 10/7/19 1:02 PM 8 min read

8 Major Monitoring & Evaluation Challenges and How To Overcome Them!

While many nonprofits and INGOs may have Monitoring and Evaluation software, often, they are designed around a results-based framework. The results-based framework is often tightly coupled between different programs and focuses on project management, emphasizing collecting activity and output results. These systems has monitoring and evaluation challenges like they are often too simplistic to manage activities and output results or are too complicated. Either they focus on simple data collection, visualization, and documentation. Or some are sophisticated but overly complicated, with lengthy implementation, difficult to improve once implemented, and takes a long time to implement. Most monitoring and evaluation systems fail to provide scalable solutions to aggregate results regularly. Those that do may require a significant amount of customization or manual data aggregation.

So without further ado, let's dive into the eight worst mistakes to avoid when choosing monitoring and evaluation systems.

This article will describe the most common monitoring and evaluation challenges and give you in-depth solutions to overcome them. 

This article provides a unique case study augmented with video to give you more deep insight. For best experience, start with article first and put on the headphone for deep dive.

Monitoring and Evaluation Challenges

So, let's start this with the most challenging obstacles in Monitoring and Evaluation and see how we can solve them! Step by Step -


1. Monitoring & Evaluation Is Luxury

This misconception cannot be further from the truth! In the social impact world, there is a fallacy that impact measurement is a luxury and necessary evil to satisfy a funder.  I have met so many social entrepreneurs who throw the kitchen sink at you like this. 

  • We know that we are already doing social good; why do we need to measure?
  • We are an early-stage social enterprise just barely struggling to build a business model; measurement is an unnecessary burden.
  • No one is paying for impact measurement.

Most of these arguments are so self-serving or demonstrate a lack of fundamental understanding behind impact measurement. 

Our previous blog, SDG 3: Scaling Mobile Healthcare Through Evidence-Based Impact Measurement, describes how many mobile healthcare projects remain at the pilot level. However, a healthcare delivery organization in India can scale an entire program statewide with careful integration of impact measurement.  Here is a clue - a carefully designed, iterative process with systematic data collection and community engagement can do magic. 

Video icon   Challenges of Monitoring and Evaluation in South Africa

Read More - 5 Steps to Design a Systematic Impact Evaluation Plan

2. Lack of data trust

There are billions of dollars being spent at the behest of donors to find that most reporting data are collected just because congress or board members require every international development project or foundation requires them to report, etc. Many of these program organizations take a long time and cost a lot with RCT, collecting survey data, etc. While this is a necessary evil, it is hardly useful in creating trust with the donors.
Read More: 5 Biggest Challenges that nonprofits face in impact measurement

Raising the bar for impact management practice with stakeholders at the center creates better alignment between funders (asset owners, asset managers) and organizations working close to the stakeholders (assets). This process requires a culture of impact & outcome alignment, a better language of impact measurement, and agreement on improving data culture to improve stakeholder-aligned impact. This is the single most missing reason for the lack of data trust and perhaps the most colossal waste of precious resources.

Read More: Important M&E Tools and Techniques that are a must know


3.  Missing theory of change driven data collection

Most organizations' data collection is either non-existent or missing robust data strategy. If they are collecting data, they often focus on activity and output data which usually do not align and validate the primary mission and vision of the organization.  This lack of alignment between the theory of change and data collection is the most significant barrier to understanding social change.  Without this alignment, an organization can't realize WHAT, WHO, CONTRIBUTION, HOW MUCH and RISK - a critical prerequisite of understanding and communicating social impact.]

Read More: Impact Investments Measurement Best Practices

Make process actionable and effective.

THEORY OF CHANGE (TOC) TO Theory Of Action Theory of Change (ToC) explains your organization's intended path to impact by outlining causal linkages in an initiative (i.e., its shorter-term, intermediate, and long-term outcomes). Theory of Action defines an actionable approach to maximize social impact.

Read More: New approaches to report social impact in real estate projects

4.  Data islands and rudimentary data aggregation

To better understand program outcomes or results, the data collection system aligns with the change-based approach theory.

  • Where do you collect activity and output data?
  • Are these data complete?
  • What is the core outcome that you seek to achieve?
  • How do you know if you are making the right kind of change?
  • How can you aggregate results and learn valuable insight in a short time?

The challenge here is that most organizations data collection and program management data system is all over the place.   Many organizations still collect results in MS Excel, Google Spreadsheets, or custom database solutions. While MS-Excel and Google Spreadsheet-based solutions are easy to set up and learn, there are many limitations --

  • Without robust data management, organizations create data islands over a period of time, making it difficult to track data.
  • Impact framework and metrics can keep changing year after year, making it challenging to manage data.
  • Even within excel, after every event or field data collection, someone must merge data and re-apply the formula adding lots of errors and time.
  • Excel inherently doesn't understand the theory of change
  • Excel is not the best analytics platform

Ultimately, a typical organization uses 4 to 6 different tools to achieve all the objectives of impact measurement, increasing significant time and resource wastage.

Read More: Your go-to guide to evaluating social innovation programs

Lean Data Measurement & Analytics

Impact Cloud provides scalable lean data measurement & analytics, by

  • Theory of change & data alignment
  • Scalable data warehouse
  • Integrate standardized outcome & evidence library

Our ultimate goal is to make impact measurement & management simple by making MS-Excel / Google Sheet-based approach obsolete and providing the most compelling solution than a platform such as Salesforce.



Read More: Essential Monitoring and Evaluation tools to make your life easy.

5. Weak impact framework is a barrier to demonstrating the impact 

While there are many frameworks - result framework, impact frameworks out there, depending on your organization's role, chances are you will start with one of them and modify it to meet internal goals. The best framework is the one that often helps align different impact ecosystem players. But where do you start today?

While new global reporting formats such as Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and other reporting frameworks like IRIS and GRI have emerged, most organizations do not have the capacity to align all their internal theory of change or measurement goals with global standards and structure.

Read More: What are the barriers to stakeholder-centric Impact Management?

6. Lack of stakeholder's voice in measuring social impact

The primary purpose of impact measurement is to drive a better outcome for the beneficiary.  Who are our stakeholders? According to the principles of Social Value International, stakeholders are those who affect and are affected by your activities. However, do you have a system that communicates stakeholders' user experience or satisfaction or dissatisfaction?

  • Do we think reporting how many beneficiaries served makes sense?
  • Does it make sense to report the number of meals to children while needs often outstrip any intervention?

Read More: Economic Development Through Centralized Impact Management Platform

The real questions that you should answer are, 

  • Don't talk about how many beneficiaries benefited from the solar lantern. Instead, talk about how many of them are happy or dissatisfied with a new purchase?
  • Are they expressing job satisfaction?
  • Are they truly able to improve outcomes with the new lending program?


7.  Communicating Impact to Donor Funding Difficult

The most significant barrier for funders in deciding is a lack of visibility between funding and actual impact.  Provide the best way to provide impact capital distribution through better impact evidence.

  • Reduce data distance through a better beneficiary voice & stakeholders
  • AI-based data analytics and integrate with actionable impact scorecard
  • Reduce the distance between funder and stakeholder by providing large scale data integration for distributed & disconnected hierarchical organizations
  • Build the best impact evidence approach

Read More

8. Custom vs. Configure

Customization is expensive, non-flexible, time consuming, and complex

Unlike corporate counterparts, the impact ecosystem organization needs much more scalable and comprehensive solutions. All the above barriers sum up to this question. Only if we have a flexible, comprehensive, configurable system can we have a theory of change-led impact measurement with fewer resources and have all the stakeholders at the same table. 
Impact Cloud is one the most innovative platforms that can make Excel & Customizable Application Platforms (like Salesforce) obsolete for Impact Measurement.

Read More: Mentoring Young People into Adulthood with Impact Data

Impact practitioners have demanded such a platform and helped us build one to reduce social impact measurement & management barriers. Together we are on a mission to make impact measurement and management simple for everyone. Interested in learning more?



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Unmesh Sheth

32 years of track record In technology companies, innovation, leadership. Deep understanding of bottom-up and top-down data trust challenges in high impact philanthropy and impact investments.