While the concept of Monitoring & Evaluation has been around for decades, use of M&E software has grown ever since US Congress passed a law requiring International Development programs to set aside M&E funding for every grant allocation. While the intent of this was to bring accountability & regulatory, the real action was focused on regulatory, so that all the grant-making authority could manage seamless data aggregation from grantees or agencies. This gave rise to M&E software funded by USAID,
M&E software provides an important foundation which is necessary for aggregating results from different partners or agencies. While many advance platforms have built-in data collection for disaggregated results for their results framework, the onus is on partner/agency/grantee to provide individual results in form of data tables. This data table in turn provides calculation capability so that funder can see individual & aggregated results. While this works very well from the funder perspective as they get complete results from the field, this approach is fundamentally lacking an important lesson of accountability from impact investment community.
One the important framework for results collection
The rise in impact investment has given a fresh understanding of what impact is? Impact Management project is one the leading project that provides a deeper insight into how impact should be managed instead of evaluated. True impact requires that we rethink, how we manage impact effectively. The goal of M&E should not be about collecting results from downstream partners but to make them accountable for their data and impact. They must have a right size process that allows them to collect feedback in a systematic way. While it is easier for the downstream partner to collect data on paper, excel or homegrown systems and report using M&E software interface, often missing in action is a system that allows them to manage the beneficiary outcome. These outcomes are often collected in the survey tools like google spreadsheet or SurveyMonkey, offline, voice/SMS, Salesforce, qualitative systems like NVivo or partner records such as email or Word/XLS. Regardless of the source of the collection, it is first and foremost, the downstream partner must have good systems to collect both qualitative and quantitative evidence. More importantly, these systems should allow them to collect actionable results, which allows a better feedback system. The role of downstream partner (NGO, Agency, Grantees) should be more like a startup who continues to qualify or negate hypothesis of their impact intervention.
It is the downstream partner who should be collecting data, aggregating them by funder requirements and managing own performance requirements to meet theory of change (TOC). We firmly believe that downstream partner should have better systems so that they can
- Manage disaggregated data effectively for actionable results. In fact, M & E software should not be providing a capability for grantees to enter disaggregates or data table, as it defeats a purpose of data accountability. If grantee, do not manage those data themselves, they are not using data to achieve their TOC. Funders only have an incentive to collect those results so that they can provide their internal reports. However, these results are not actionable enough.
- Track any key results (both qualitative and quantitative) in a single data store to reduce island of data into different systems
- Downstream partners (grantees, agencies etc) should easily be able to see results based on real-time calculation of outcomes & evidence so that they can improve their results continuously
In the next article, we will describe a future of new M&E Software or impact management solution to meet these goals. By seamlessly integrating multiple systems into a single platform and reducing time spent on consolidating data, thereby allowing the organization to spend more time analyzing data, build impactful reporting engine that can rapidly integrate qualitative and quantitative outcome and take action.