When social scientists set about creating lasting change, they need a pretty good intervention strategy. Depending on the issue, and whether it’s in the field of global health, infrastructure building, security, or securing gender rights, the scientist(s) in question need to think about the stakeholders and beneficiaries they will be working with. Simple questions need to be asked when coming up with an intervention strategy such as 1) how will we reach the target population and 2) how will the intervention strategy better their lives, in the near and short term?
Conducting accurate demographic research and looking at the statistics for a problem usually forms the basis for an intervention. For example, a predominately minority-led neighborhood is experiencing high amounts of diabetes than other surrounding neighborhoods. Researchers can look at the comparative numbers and then create some type of flow chart outlining the differences in lifestyle/habits between two neighborhoods.
Why monitoring and evaluation is used at the institutional level
In the above example, it would be great if the researchers designing an intervention strategy tried to come up with some campaign for the negative health effects of eating at fast food establishments. This might be one way (out of several), to try and bring down the onset of diabetes over a defined period of time.
But it’s not enough.
Whoever is funding this project, if it comes from an external source, needs status updates to know what is happening with the money they funneled into the project. How is the budget working? What supplies and equipment are being used? How are the activities of families in that neighborhood changing after exposure to the campaign?
Monitoring the intervention keeps donors happy, but also in terms of learning helps the researchers know if what they are doing is working or whether it’s a waste of time. Monitoring also helps organizations understand the gaps their methodology is producing, and thus how to fix such a gap quickly so there can still be a good result generated in six months or a year.
The more detail that is put into the monitoring aspect of your intervention leads to better analysis in the actual evaluation. Simply put, monitoring a project for a year, it’s inputs, it’s budget, personnel involved, and the outcomes leads researchers to really say in their evaluation piece if the project was a success or not.
Sometimes organizations file a monitoring report separate from their evaluation report, and sometimes both are combined. But the evaluation is contingent upon the monitoring and good data that has been recorded and a good evaluation is if nothing else, honest about the intervention within a larger social, cultural, or political context.
Bringing M&E to other walks of life
Sometimes organizations in the non-profit and social science space can create great programs and have much success, but policymakers and civil society members can also benefit from some type of M&E practice. Individuals from many walks of life can, and that’s the point. The fact that this evaluation practice has been siloed to some industries and organizations is hindering innovation on the grand scale, not helping it.
For example many citizens in the U.S. right now little ways of evaluating if the town or community they are living in has gotten better in terms of COVID cases or whether the amount of cases has gone up or down precipitously. Of course, turning to the news and informational outlets such as the Johns Hopkins Resource Center (which has become an authority figure for case counts), to understand case counts and percentages is one way to monitor the situation, but it’s not a monitoring strategy, and that’s what is needed to run a good evaluation as well.
That’s why M&E as a practice should be adopted on a more wide-scale level, especially amid the current situation with Covid-19. M&E doesn’t always have to be a robust accounting matrix of what is going on with what money and where, but it does need to be a thought process that is integrated into the lives of people who are dealing with a problem, even if they aren’t social scientists.