The importance of participatory monitoring of outcomes.

In my previous blog, "What's in a baseline" in the last sentence I say, "...we need to put more emphasis on E and less on M in M & E". What I meant to say was exactly the opposite, that is, 'more emphasis on M and less on E in M & E'.

What I failed to do was monitor what I was doing. It was only later, when Rituu Nanda made a comment that I realized my error. But it was too late! This is exactly what happens so often in community development - outputs get monitored instead of outcomes and then someone does an evaluation to tell us what we should have already known. When the evaluation is positive it's not so bad. When the evaluation is not so positive it's too late to do much about it except ensure that we don't make the same mistake/s again.

In my previous blog I also did what I tell people not to do, that is, I failed to monitor the outcome. I had all the words there - the outputs, but they were in the wrong order resulting in the wrong message - the wrong outcome.

In almost every evaluation I have conducted for NGOs, of recently completed projects a recommendation I make is to develop a participatory monitoring schedule which focuses on the outcome level of the project rather than the output level. There are two important points here - Participation, and Outcomes.

You don't need to be an expert to monitor, but you do need to be involved in, and understand what is going on - what is supposed to be happening. When those people who are often referred to as beneficiaries are included in monitoring projects are usually far more effective and relevant than when monitoring is the domain of the implementing agency.

Participatory monitoring involves monitoring indicators which have been identified by those to whom they refer - the so called beneficiaries. These indicators are those that show if the change that is intended by the project is happening - they are the indicators of change identified by those to whom they refer. Because they are indicators of change they are also indicators of outcome (or impact). 

When the monitoring is of outcome level indicators all those involved are able to see if the project is achieving what it set out to do. If it is not achieving what it set out to do, that is bring about desired change, then all those involved can be engaged in the decisions made as to what should be done to ensure that the desired change does occur. 

One of the most important aspects of monitoring is the decisions made based on what is found out through monitoring. Participation in monitoring should include participation in this decision making. This decision making is an aspect of monitoring which is so often ignored. I have so often seen projects which monitor outputs only and as long as the activities are being completed and outputs produced then the project is deemed to be 'on track'. From a management perspective of the implementation process of the project this may be so, but from almost every other perspective this may not be the case.

I also often hear from NGO staff complaints that management have made decisions which impact on them as staff but they, the staff, had no input into the decision making - they are complaining about the lack of participation by themselves in a monitoring process. There is a real irony here in that what staff are complaining about is exactly what they so often do to those people in the communities with whom they work - they exclude them from decision making in the monitoring process.

When projects are monitored at the outcome/impact level in a truly participatory manner, evaluation at the end of the project becomes a function of substantiation rather than assessment - that is the evaluation reaffirms what is already known - the project has brought about the desired change. You don't need some external 'expert' to tell you what you already know.

Monitoring is important. It should be participatory and it should be focused on the outcomes (impact) that the project is intended to bring about.

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Comment by Jindra Cekan, PhD on March 3, 2016 at 20:00

I can't agree more that participants (beneficiaries) are the best substantiation were we to listen throughout. This blog from fieldwork I did in Ethiopia in '14 could be helpful re: participatory M&E: Also I would argue that unless we return 2-7 years post-project we're not looking at actual impact which takes time to occur (or not). More at Cheers!

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