M&E on a Shoestring Budget

The funding crisis has impacted the non-governmental organisation (NGO) sector on various levels. Numerous organisations have had to close their doors and many more had no choice but to scale down operations. This has affected not only the scope of work, but often also the quality of services that the organisations can offer.

One way in which organisations can maintain quality control is through monitoring and evaluation (M&E). An M&E system produces information that staff can use to enhance programme performance and optimise the use of limited resources. Unfortunately, M&E is one of the areas that many organisations side-line as a result of scaling down. This article offers seven practical tips on how to maintain an M&E system amidst resource constraints.

Be clear about M&E goals:

As a starting point, get clarity on the role of M&E in the organisation. Questions that can be used for clarification include - Why does the organisation collect M&E data? How will the organisation report on the M&E data? Who will the M&E data be reported to? What role does M&E data play in programme management? Use the answers to these questions to guide the structuring of the M&E system. This will help ensure that the organisation does not waste unnecessary manpower, resources and time to collect M&E data that will not be used.

Select an appropriate focal point person:

Few organisations still have the luxury of a dedicated M&E officer. The best alternative is to appoint an M&E focal point person from existing staff to coordinate M&E tasks. If there is no candidate with suitable qualifications or experience available, the organisation can use personality traits as criteria. Ideally the focal point person should be somebody that is well organised, pays meticulous attention to detail, excels at time management and can write well.

Conduct in-house training using free online manuals:

The Internet provides an alternative for organisations who can’t afford to send staff on M&E courses. International organisations like CIVICUS, the UN and World Bank all have online training manuals that are freely available. These manuals introduce key M&E concepts, techniques and practices. Organisational staff can work through the manuals in small groups using the practical exercises to guide the development of the M&E system.

Have an integrated set of tools:

Often, organisations use various tools to collect the same M&E data. A reason for this could be that various stakeholders have different reporting requirements. The key, however, is not to collect the data in different formats but to be able to report on the data in various formats. Therefore, have a single set of M&E tools that is sufficient for all your purposes. Stakeholders, even those with their own proposed tools, are usually content as long as reporting takes place in the correct format.

Keep M&E tools simple:

M&E data is mostly collected by field staff, with limited time, as part of their daily tasks. Simplified M&E tools that are quick to complete will help ensure that unnecessary manpower and time are not spent on M&E. M&E tools can be simplified through the introduction of tick boxes, Likert scales and predefined options.

Develop an Excel-based M&E database:

Most organisations will benefit from having a database where M&E data is captured ready for analysis and reporting. The database does not have to be a sophisticated, specially designed system. Instead, the organisation can make use of staff’s existing Microsoft Excel skills to develop an Excel-based database.

Get free expert advice through social media:

LinkedIn have a number of M&E groups where experts and practitioners discuss the ins and outs of M&E. Should an organisation require assistance with a specific aspect of M&E, they can simply post a question and group members will respond. In addition to advice, the organisation will also be exposed to best practices from around the world.

These seven tips are just the starting point to a discussion. There are many more solutions that organisations can identify to maintain an M&E system on a shoestring budget. In the end, it will be worth it as M&E is the tool that gives organisations the edge.

Zani Naudé Lamb is monitoring and evaluation specialist working with Cape Town-based community-based organisations.

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