M&E systems: the importance of adopting a systems approach to implementing M&E systems
[Editor’s note: This post is the second of a series of posts focused on the nitty-gritty of designing and implementing M&E systems by sharing on the ground learning and experience. This series is produced by Dena Lomofsky of Southern Hemisphere. The first post can be read here]
Over the past few years I have become increasingly concerned about the implementation of M&E frameworks and plans that we help our clients develop, often NGOs or Think Tanks. Why do organisations struggle so much to implement their M&E plans? What are the causes of this failure? Is it our process? Is it a lack of commitment or know how from the client organisations?? Well, the truth is that it is a bit of everything … and for every organisation the barriers and blockages are different.
Developing a M&E plan, tools and guideline documents is the necessary foundation for building an M&E system. The M&E plan covers objectives, indicators, data sources, plans for data collection, analysis, reporting, use and budget. In other words, it outlines very clearly who should collect, analyse and report on certain data. It all looks great on paper, but systems are needed to operationalise them. For implementing M&E, the systems elements that need to be addressed are human resources, information systems, capacity building, decision making processes, and finances. From an organisational development perspective, the system elements are related to one another and work together to create the whole. Since M&E is an organisation wide effort, the system is also organisation wide. Let us start exploring then human resources (HR) as one of the key organisational elements that affects and is affected by any M&E effort. Their importance should never be underestimated since every system is only as good as the people who support it.
There are some challenges commonly encountered with the HR system elements as shared below:
Very often organisations have not clarified the roles and responsibilities around M&E: who leads and coordinates the M&E effort in the organisation and at who plays a part at the programme level,People tasked with M&E may not have the full skill set needed. M&E requires both coordination and management skills, and research skills.
M&E is not included in peoples’ job descriptions and key performance indicators, so it is seen as an add-on function, as opposed to an integral part of everyone’s job.
People in think tanks are usually already over-loaded and see M&E as another reporting version, as opposed to an opportunity to learn.
Recommendations to address these issues are:
Ensure that the situation analysis or diagnostic of the M&E system assesses the human resource arrangements that are in place to support M&E, identify who leads the M&E effort, what are the gaps and who the potential champions could be
Check that the people tasked with carrying out M&E functions have the skills and aptitude to do what is required. Provide training or re-allocate functions if necessary.
Design the M&E system in a participatory way so that people build commitment to the process
Include M&E in everyone’s job descriptions and key performance indicators
Introduce opportunities for learning such as after action reviews or 6 monthly reflection sessions or brown bag lunches. People really enjoy these and they elevate M&E from an admin chore to a learning function. This is part of building a learning culture in the organisation.
Related to this point, try to hold planning processes directly after an M&E effort, such as an evaluation or a review – so that the lessons can be turned immediately into strategy. Hence, the link between M&E and strategy is reinforced, and high level thinkers find this exciting.
Every organisation has its own dynamic, culture and HR practices. Many think tanks don’t even have HR professionals or performance management systems in the first place. Therefore, before developing the new M&E system it is crucial that you think through your HR challenges and address them so as to integrate this dimension into how much can be changed and what needs to be worked on for it.