Monitoring and evaluation involves the collection, analysis and presentation of project data to support decision making. M and E is at the center of evidence-based decision making in social impact organizations. The insights generated from the routine collection and analysis of data helps project implementers and stakeholders to track the progress of planned activities and results and to pivot accordingly if the project is off-track.
The tasks involved during monitoring and evaluation include:
- Preparation of plans and tools for monitoring and evaluation
- Collection of data
- Development and management of data repositories or databases
- Quantitative, qualitative and spatial data analyses
- Production of meaningful data visualizations
- Preparation of reports and
- Communicating the results to different stakeholders
Opportunities to utilize information technologies exist across these M and E functions. However, adopting these information technologies requires that an assessment be made on the costs vs benefits.
In this article, I will suggest ways in which information technologies can be integrated into the said M and E functions.
Preparation of plans and tools for monitoring and evaluation
The first and one of the most important function in M and E is that of reviewing the project design and developing plans and tools for monitoring and evaluation. This typically involves a team that includes M and E personnel, project managers and even field staff.
The key area of integrating information technologies in this function is collaboration. To speed up the process of developing plans and tools, document collaboration tools as well as team communication tools can be used.
Where teams in multiple locations must work together on this function, collaborating online represents a cost-effective way to achieve the same goal of developing robust tools and plans for M and E.
The following are the best-in-class tools that will help you on this function:
- Google Workspace – a collection of cloud computing, productivity and collaboration tools which include Gmail, Google Docs, Google Meet, google Calendar and other tools
- Microsoft Office 365 – Microsoft’s suite of productivity and collaboration software which include Microsoft Office apps (desktop, online and mobile versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint etc), Microsoft Teams, Microsoft SharePoint etc
Monitoring and evaluation staff spend so much time gathering information from different stakeholders including project beneficiaries, community gatekeepers, key informants and project staff, among others.
Data collection is where lies much of the opportunities to utilize technologies which include the following:
Collect data using mobile devices
Mobile data collection is the use of mobile devices like smartphones and tablets to collect data. With mobile data collection, forms are typically developed through the browser or using a computer software and loaded to mobile devices. The best mobile data collection tools provide the ability to collect data offline and then sending it to a server when an internet connection is available. This data is immediately aggregated and can be accessed for analyses.
Many international development organizations are migrating from paper forms to mobile data collection because of several reasons that include:
- The ability to collect rich data such as photos, videos and GPS,
- Flexibility, ability to collect, aggregate and analyze data in real time
- Ability to enforce automatic skip checks and data validations that will result in better data quality, among many other reasons.
Best-in-class software for developing and deploying mobile data collection tools include the following:
- KoBo Toolbox – Cloud-based version available for free. Data collection can be done on Android mobile devices or any browser.
- Open Data Kit – Available for free as a self-hosted solution. A paid cloud-based version is available. Data collection is done through the ODK Collect Android app
- CSpro – Available as a windows software. Data collection is done using the CSEntry windows or Android mobile app
Use sensors for data collection and monitoring
Sensors are used to detect change in the quantity of some physical properties such as light, pressure or temperature. They provide an objective and highly accurate way of measuring physical properties of objects.
In M and E, you can use sensors in different ways such as the following:
- Monitoring an area’s soil moisture using soil moisture sensors
- Using temperature sensors connected to the internet to monitor temperatures for deliveries such as vaccines and blood.
- Water sensors can be deployed in community water pumps to monitor faults in real time
Use satellite imagery
satellite images are photos of the earth’s surface collected by satellites orbiting in the atmosphere.
These images can be used among other things to monitor cropping or forestry.
Use mapping drones
Drones also known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) are small aircrafts that run without a human aboard. Over the past few years international development organizations have experimented with drones in their projects such as delivering essential vaccines and medicines to remote areas.
Drones can be used in M and E to:
- Provide high quality mapping of an area
- Monitor changes in crop or forest cover
- Monitor and assess risks for disasters
Use SMS, USSD or IVR for data collection
Where reaching project beneficiaries through physical contacting is not feasible or cost-effective, basic mobile phone technologies such as SMS (Short Message Service, USSD (Unstructured Supplementary Service Data) and IVR (Interactive Voice Response) can be used.
SMS has been used for disseminating messages and collecting data for a long time. With increased access to mobile connectivity in rural areas, mobile technologies like SMS present an opportunity to reach out to a broader population at a low cost.
Similarly, questions can be administered through USSD using a unique mobile shortcode.
Interactive Voice Response such as the ones used by mobile carriers to provide support can be used to collect data from beneficiaries.
When choosing these technologies, considerations must be made on the nature and cost of the technology as compared to other approaches such as mobile data collection forms.
Best-in-class pltaforms that can be used to develop SMS, USSD or IVR tools include:
- Twilio – Cloud communications platform that provides support for data collection using SMS and IVR
- Africa’s Talking – Platform for developing and deploying SMS, USSD and IVR solutions
- Magpi – Mobile data collection platform with support for data collection using SMS and IVR
- Commcare – Mobile Data Collection platform that supports SMS, email and IVR
Use social media to collect data
With billions of active users across the world, social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter provide an opportunity to collect large volumes of data for your project.
Social media data collection can be as simple as seeking opinions from social media users by asking questions directly, or sharing a web based data collection form. On the advanced side, you can also use programming languages such as Python to scrape social media sites such as twitter and analyze the data based on keywords of interest.
Collect data from key informants and other stakeholders using web forms
If your data collection project involves respondents who can’t be easily contacted due to busy schedules, self-administered web forms provide a convenient way to interview.
Platforms that can be used to develop web-based data collection forms include the following:
Operate a call center and/or use CATI
Call centers are best used in social impact projects to disseminate information such as reproductive health messages. However, not only can the calls be tracked to collect data that can be used for monitoring what messages are being accessed and the services being requested, beneficiaries can also be called with the aim of administering a CATI (computer Assisted Telephone Interview) questionnaire.
Apart from utilizing a whole call center, telephone interviewing is also a common way of data collection. Instead of meeting respondents in-person, calls can be used to administer surveys.
Communicating M and E results to different stakeholders
Apart from planning for M and E activities and data collection, information technologies can also used in the dissemination of M and E information.
For example, dashboards built using software such as Microsoft Power BI and Tableau can be used to give stakeholders access to insights on project performance. Connected to data sources such as databases and mobile data collection platforms, these dashboards can provide a real-time up-to-date view of the status of key performance indicators of the project.
Websites, social media and email can also be used to disseminate information of project progress to different stakeholders such as donors, partner organizations and the general public.
The following table summaries more ideas of integrating information technologies into M and E.
|Area of M and E||Ideas of integrating Information technologies|
|Development and management of data repositories or databases||Use database software such as Microsoft SQL, MySQL or PostreSQL|
|Quantitative, qualitative and spatial data analyses||Use data analysis software such as SPSS for statistical data analyses (or other free alternatives), NVIVO for qualitative data analysis and QGIS for spatial analyses and visualization|
|Production of meaningful data visualizations||Use visualization software such as Microsoft Power BI, Microsoft Excel or Tableau|
|Preparation of reports||Use team communication and collaboration software such as Google Workspace or Microsoft 365|
There are man ways in which a project can integrate information technologies in its M and E functions. There are many advantages of doing so, including efficiency in time and cost, effectiveness, ability to reach beneficiaries at scale, and ability to make better decisions faster.
It is imperative however to do an assessment first before adopting any information technology in your organization. Focus must be put on the project’s M and E goals. The technology must come in to support those goals, and not the other way round.