As the corporate social responsibility sector evolves, so should monitoring and evaluation (M&E) practices.
There were 65 000 nonprofit organisations registered with the Department of Social Development at the end of March last year, which are some of the tremendous number of organisations in South Africa that have been formed with the intention of alleviating social problems; of ‘doing good’.
But how can we tell when ‘good’ has been done well? How do we differentiate between projects and organisations that work and those that don’t? And how important is it that we do?
The answer to the first two questions is: through proper M&E. That is, through deriving a clear and accurate picture of what the organisation does and the way in which it does it, and then sensibly measuring project achievements and impact.
Although M&E is gaining momentum in corporate social investment (CSI), its full benefits are yet to be realised. This can be attributed to a number of factors, including associated costs, inadequate project planning, and the fact that it is not fully understood or appreciated. As a result, many social investments go unmeasured, and this can have unfortunate ramifications.
Firstly, if the impact of social investment is not measured, then there is no method of screening ineffective practices. This means that it is possible that these practices will be repeated, resulting in a waste of scarce resources. Similarly, if there is no way of identifying projects that are successful and result in tangible improvements to the lives of their beneficiaries, then it is not possible to replicate these projects elsewhere, or on a larger scale.
Secondly, nonprofit organisations arguably have an obligation to produce measurable, verifiable results among those they ostensibly exist to serve.
Thirdly, donors have a right to expect a return on their social investments. This is not to say that only organisations that can show short-term, measurable results should be funded: often it takes years for the effects of a project to be felt, and denying funding to organisations trying to get off the ground will reduce innovation and experimentation in development.
At the moment, M&E in South Africa exists largely to bolster arguments for compliance with Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) and most recently, the ISO 26 000. We must move from a culture of compliance to a culture of ensuring needs are appropriately addressed. It is therefore important to suggest alternatives that may help to cultivate a culture of measurement among social investors, and to identify projects that contribute to breaking through developmental challenges, whilst exploring the value of the work being done.
As the corporate social responsibility sector evolves, through the introduction of international guidelines that require social responsibility programmes to move from cheque-signing relationships to relationships that engage with communities, so should M&E practices. This evolution requires transformation of ad hoc M&E processes towards more formalised processes that reflect the growing need for accountability, learning and responsible giving.
This is not to say that M&E should serve to simplify the CSI process to the extent that the choice of whether or not to fund a project should be reduced to a couple of variables. Development is complex and, for this reason, clear-cut M&E solutions do not exist. M&E should be tailored to the needs of each development programme.
Tshikululu has designed alternative M&E options whereby social investors can make choices that are appropriate to development programmes. These M&E recommendations are benchmarked against the size of the grant, and include:
- Basic monitoring, which is recommended for small and once-off grants. It functions only to ensure that resources are used to implement activities in the manner agreed between the projects and the grantmakers;
- Intensive monitoring, which is recommended for multi-year and large grants where the social investor is interested in keeping track of the performance of the programme and comparing its effects to the programme objectives; and
- The full M&E package, which is recommended for multi-year projects and large grants. Because of the nature of activities involved in monitoring and evaluation, the full M&E package can be costly, but it is worthwhile for social investors who are interested in evaluating the journey the programme has taken and the impact it has achieved.
CSI is predicated on the understanding that it is possible to encourage work that makes real, tangible and positive changes in the lives of disadvantaged people, and in order for those changes to take root and become part of a long-term solution; they should be measurable and communicable.
- Mokibelo Ntshabeleng is monitoring and evaluation specialist at Tshikululu Social Investments.