Monitoring and evaluation is the process of data collection and analysis to track project progress and support decision making. As the adage goes, what gets measured gets managed. M and E is central to the success of every project as it involves the gathering of data which brings out insights into what is working and what is not. This helps project teams find ways to improve upon project implementation to bring about planned results.
M and E personnel are tasked with the responsibility to produce M and E plans, develop tools for data collection, collect data, develop and manage databases, analyze data, produce meaningful visualizations, write reports and communicate results. For this to happen, M and E personnel must possess a wide range of skills and utilize a number of software tools.
In this article, I will round up the most important tools that every M and E professional working in social impact organizations (and just about anyone responsible for the tasks listed above) must be skilled in.
Data collection software
One of the most fundamental tasks every M and E professional is responsible for is the development of tools for data collection. For this, there are desktop, we-based and mobile-based data collection solutions you can use.
Many international development organizations are migrating from paper-based data collection to mobile data collection due to the efficiency, ease-of-use, and ability to collect different kinds of data among many reasons. Hence it is advisable that you invest into learning one or more tools for developing and deploying mobile data collection projects.
The following are the top data collection software available:
For organizations that collect large volumes of data, using powerful relational databases is a must. Relational databases allow for the aggregation of large volumes of data generated from multiple systems. This data can then be used to gain a 360 degree view of the organization as a whole from projects and operations to administration.
Here are the top database software being used in international projects today:
Data visualization software
Data visualization is the visual representation of data through the use of charts, graphs and other diagrams. Rather than trying to get meaning from a bunch of numbers, visualizations make it easy to detect trends and patterns in data by presenting them visually. Our brains process visual information much quickly; easily detecting changes in size, shape, position, quantity and color. Data visualization taps into this ability to make getting and communicating insights easy.
Every M and E professional is tasked with communicating results with a wide range of project stakeholders – most of who may not have a good grounding in understanding advanced statistics. Using data visualizations such as line charts, bar charts, pie charts, maps, Gantt charts, word clouds and others ensures that your presentation is easy to understand, is visually appealing and engaging to all stakeholders.
Some of the most popular data visualization software are listed below:
Statistical data analysis software
Data professionals rely on statistical methods of data analysis to unearth deeper insights from quantitative data. Statistics allow us to summarize data into meaningful metrics as well as infer and predict phenomena from a small set of data to a broader population.
As a Monitoring and Evaluation professional, you are responsible for running statistical analyses on data. Therefore, it is key that apart from understanding statistical methods of data analysis, you should also be well vested in the use of software for statistical analyses.
The following is a list of the most popular statistical analysis software:
Qualitative data analysis software
In many cases, data will come in the form of descriptions, stories, videos, audios and photos among other formats. This is known as qualitative data.
As an M and E professional, you will need to utilize qualitative data to collect broader insights that might otherwise not be captured quantitatively using numbers. Such scenarios may include capturing significant change stories, interviewing key informants and doing participant observations among others.
The most popular qualitative analysis software include the following:
- FreeQDA – sourceforge.net
A Geographic Information system (GIS) is a computer system used to capture, store, organize, manipulate, analyze and present geographically referenced data.
Adding geographical information to your reports enriches the insights you are trying to communicate by highlighting patterns and trends identifiable spatially.
Examples of the application of GIS in M and E include using heatmaps to show the concentration of cholera cases, mapping project beneficiaries and their household characteristics, using remote sensing to monitor forests, among others.
The following are the most popular GIS software
Sector-specific data management software
There exist software specifically developed to collect, manage, analyze and report data for specific sectors.
For example, if you are working in the health sector, you may need to be familiar with District Health Information System (DHIS2). DHIS2 is a powerful platform for collecting, managing, analyzing, and presenting health data. It is used in many countries in the world to manage their national health reporting. Applications include patient health monitoring, disease surveillance, mapping of disease outbreaks.
M and E professionals in the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) sector, may have to be vested in mWater – a data management platform for the WASH sector. The platform includes a mobile data collection app and a portal for aggregating and analyzing data.
Document and Presentation software
One of the areas where M and E professionals spend much of their time is putting together reports and presentations of their findings and recommendations. To do this, they have to use tools for writing documents and presentations.
The most popular tools used are:
As an M and E professional, you typically work in a team of other project staff such as field staff, project managers and coordinators among others. You also have to communicate with other stakeholders who may include donors and organization leadership. This calls for familiarity with communication software such as the following:
Most of the paid options offer free plans of their software
Cloud storage software
Cloud storage software provide a more secure file storage solution which in most cases includes the ability to collaborate with other users.
Knowledge of how to use cloud storage platforms and collaborate with others online is very crucial to the work of M and E professionals, who have to work with other members in a team and ensure the availability and security of data and reports.
The most popular cloud storage platforms include:
Most of the paid options offer plans of their software
Monitoring and Evaluation professionals have many responsibilities that include planning for M and E activities, data collection, analysis, visualization, reporting and communication.
There exist many software tools that can be used to accomplish these tasks as discussed in this article. Many of these tools are being updated very frequently and more tools and standards are being introduced.
The successful M and E professional is versatile enough to work with a number tools across the categories listed.