Lately I have noted that the periodic collection of data for monitoring purposes seems only very loosely tied to the evaluation questions that are the basis for either the performance or impact evaluations that should guide policy making. The notion that M&E are part of a unified system upon which objective decision making is based is challenged by this disconnect. Evaluators certainly consider the implementing partner’s Performance Monitoring Plan, its indicators and the resulting quarterly/annual reports but the centrality of the monitoring “evidence” to the evaluation itself is not clear. In those instances where the connection between M and E are weak, evaluations could become more like subjective management audits that concentrate on how things are being done rather than reporting objectively on what is being achieved.
Should it be incumbent on the donor organization to define the evaluation questions (the focus) and the evaluation parameters (the scope) – at least in some indicative manner – at the outset of the project? In this way the implementing partner could structure its “M” to address the “E”, a priori. In the contract sections typically related to planned results and deliverables, by whatever name, the donor could be clear about how it will evaluate both performance and impact, with impact evaluations being especially important for sector policy adaptations based on evidence.
Many times, when initiating an evaluation, you will find an M&E office that is collecting all sorts of data and tracking progress on indicators, but they are really unprepared to explain how the interim results they are monitoring “indicate” anything useful relative to an evaluation of performance or impact. My sense is that if the M and the E were more closely aligned at the outset, there would be better evaluations that provide stronger support for policy formulation or adaptation. Maybe we need to think about “Monitoring for Evaluation” and how this evidence based continuum over the life of a project could be more effectively integrated and, thereby, produce more valuable input for policy makers..