Budget friendly M&E: five survival tips for reporting in tough economic times

How can you do good monitoring and evaluation in the face of budget cuts?

When program budgets are tightened, monitoring and evaluation is usually the first place to face cuts. Unlike an efficient building or a solar panel, the effects of good M&E aren’t readily visible to donors – yet they are critical to managing a successful project!  Furthermore, sustainable energy projects have a double burden: they are expected to do all of the monitoring of a traditional technical assistance project and also monitor energy and climate impacts.

The following five tips are based on our experience with top project designers and project managers who “do more with less.”

1. Make your own cuts…to indicators. 

Keep the number of indicators SMALL…and make sure that the proxies used really measure a desirable change. For example, tracking the “number of policies developed,” is not a good indicator of the success of a project to influence policy development positively.  Tracking useless indicators is a waste of time and money; you don’t have that money to spare.

2. Keep the data collection simple for what you do track. 

E Co. has used outcome mapping when designing a multi-country project for an EU client proposal.  A low-cost system that can be run on Excel will be used to collect monthly data from network participants and then aggregate results at the international level. The frequent monitoring makes it apparent when individual teams or sub-projects are lagging behind, there is no need to invest in new systems or software, and the standardized format makes it easy to use and to roll up the results.

3. Use information that comes to you. 

Make and maintain an ‘Outcome journal’ or ‘Output journal‘  –  this is an anecdotal record of any events that relate directly or indirectly to the indicators that are being tracked. This includes press releases, photos, email enquiries, etc. This type of record is particularly useful for donor reporting and for keeping track of project beyond simply completing the activities.

4. Don’t forget to ask people what they think.

Use evaluation forms for trainings, meetings and other events. This step is frequently overlooked, but a simple form with a few questions can really give useful information on how the events are received and how they can be improved.

5. Measuring impacts does not have to be expensive.  Be open to hearing about unexpected impacts, and record them.  A simplified version of Most Significant Change is easy to implement informally; just ask people when you meet them, “As a result of XXX, what is the most significant change in your life / community / organization?”  The answers can provide the team with useful information about unexpected impacts for discussion at team meetings.

While the focus on generating value for money is greatest in lean times, making reporting simple, meaningful and timely is always best even in good times!