Monitoring and evaluating (M&E) programmes and interventions are considered vital in many large international organisations, foundations, and bodies. This is especially so when millions are spent towards a projected impact and it becomes imperative that we learn about the interventions, monitor what is working (and what is not), as well as determine the exact impact achieved.
M&E is not a new concept, and it’s now known that even the ancient Egyptians monitored and measured their resources, inputs and outputs. However, it has come a long way and certain standards are in place today that can be met and upheld without any significant effort. Indeed, these must be seen as vital for the South African business development service (BDS) provider community.
M&E can seem daunting to those unfamiliar with the practices that it entails. This is likely more so for smaller, more resource-constrained entities that are active in the market, but are unsure of where or how to start. However, neither monitoring nor evaluating should present as great burdens to any BDS provider. Certainly, for massive, multi-country, concurrent project roll-outs, things can become complicated very quickly – but very few South African BDS providers face project deployments on this scale.
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The real questions are: what is M&E and why conduct it at all?
Monitoring can be understood as the regular collection of information about all project activities. It shows whether things are going to plan and helps you to identify and solve problems quickly on an ongoing basis to keep track of projects/interventions*. On the other hand, evaluation is a process of determining the worth or significance of a development activity, policy, or programme. Data is collected and information is analysed to determine the relevance of objectives, the efficiency of resource used, and the overall impact of the initiative**.
These similar but distinct processes are important for various reasons, but three compelling reasons are put forth below.
The first reason is simply a best-practice approach. If we do not remain reflective then we cannot reliably react with agility to what is required to improve our interventions. Indeed, we cannot determine the return on investment, whether it can be scaled up, what the precise outcomes are, and what we can do better in future.
The second matter is one of credibility within the marketplace as, in South Africa, the BDS realm is not one with any stringent regulations or bodies maintaining particular standards. This means that distinguishing oneself becomes important to convey transparency, credibility, trustworthiness of interventions, and replicability as well. Many BDS providers are doing great work but, in many cases, we do not know how great without any valid measures in place.
Finally, a third good reason – that relates to the previous point – is around access to funding. There are myriad donors, foundations, philanthropists, governments and others through whom local BDS providers could access funding. Such funding could aid in organisational capacity building, scaling interventions to previously untapped beneficiaries, and numerous other beneficial outcomes, but a certain surety is required. If one is unable to show the impact and efficacy of one’s offering, regardless of how exceptional it may be, convincing others that it is worthy of investment becomes a sizeable challenge.
In summary, it would be of great benefit to our sector if more BDS providers adopted M&E practices in both a serious and comprehensive fashion. While this could be difficult for those who do not have the resources at hand, simply scheduling regular check-ins with beneficiaries, collecting basic information about business practices or reforms, and noting revenue and employment changes over time would, at a minimum, improve credibility and effectiveness across the sector. The outcomes of this would be more credible BDS entities, greater potential access to funding for the sector, and the key result of more sustainable and successful beneficiaries.
(*Adapted from WHO; **adapted from World Bank Group)