Monitoring and evaluation for management

[Editor’s note: This post originally appeared at On Think Tanks. It is part of a series of posts reflecting on a long term mentoring project with ASIES from Guatemala and Grupo Faro from Ecuador.]

When donors think of M&E they tend to think of demonstrating influence; but when think tanks think of M&E their first concern is how this may help them improve their own internal management.

Monitoring and evaluation for management ought to be the first concern of donors, but it isn’t. Without proper management systems whatever influence their grantees may achieve should be taken with caution. Rewarding them just for being influential may lead to rewarding organisations that make use of unethical practices to achieve such influence, who have been nothing but lucky in their efforts, or who, while influential, may also be highly inefficient, wasting everybody’s resources in unnecessary activities.

Monitoring and evaluation for management is also an effective way of introducing monitoring and evaluation practices into an organisation. Unlike M&E on influence, it is possible for managers and researchers to experience, in the short term, the benefits of investing in monitoring and evaluation for management. Simple time-sheets, for example, will give managers real-time information of the profitability of their projects -now! not tomorrow or in a few years when the ‘impact’ takes place.

Tomás Garzón de la Roza has prepared a very useful document as part of a literature review series developed to support Grupo FARO and ASIES. The document is available here (in Spanish) but let me offer some interesting insights from it.

The document’s introduction considers the usual discussion between M&E’s accountability and management/learning purposes. Then it focuses on the later.

Tomás identifies, at the core of this effort, the following areas of concern:

  1. Internal affairs: The efficiency of the organisation with research, communications and management;
  2. Innovation and learning: For instance, improvements in the competences of the staff and in the overall think tank’s portfolio; and
  3. Finances: Both in terms of business development or fundraising as well as the proper management of the think tank’s resources.

To address these challenges, he outlines a series of qualitative tools, including:

  • Fit for purpose analysis: It consists in assessing whether the organisation’s structure, systems, and process are appropriate for its objectives. It is often carried out by an ‘evaluation board’ with a certain degree of independence.
  • Light-tough quality control: It consists of random ‘visits’ to projects and outputs with the purpose of determining their quality (and fit for purpose).
  • Horizontal evaluation: Particularly useful during change processes this tool provides opportunities for peer learning and support.
  • Appreciative inquiry: A self-evaluation method that focuses on drawing lessons from successes and failures; rather than focusing on failure itself.

Of particular importance to the issue of monitoring and evaluation for management is that Tomás considers that knowledge management is a key part of this. In a way, it is. KM emerged out of management consultancies efforts to ‘sell’ something new to their clients. In its history from IT into communications and now learning, through M&E, it has not been able to rid itself from it most basic purpose: it provides agents with the information they need to make decisions. These agents, in an organisation can be managers, researchers, communicators, and even board members or partners; but they are all, within their own purview, managing (resources, times, people, expectations, etc.).