Newsletter #3 – Jobs, Marriage, and M&E

Developing an MEL system is like planning a wedding

Developing an M&E framework is a bit like planning a wedding. Admittedly it’s unlikely to be the best day of your life, and you won’t be showing pictures of the M&E Framework to your children in years to come.

There is one critical point of similarity. Like weddings, M&E Frameworks are difficult to develop. They require a lot of time and some level of expertise. Consequently, a lot of people think about bringing in external help. If you are getting married, you might hire a wedding planner. If you’re developing an M&E Framework, you could consider hiring a consultant.

But is this a good idea? What is the best way to make consultancy work? Here are three tips to help.

Tip 1: Consider whether you need support at all

Planning a wedding takes work, but isn’t rocket science. If you have the time, some basic skills, and an undying love for your partner, you can sort out everything by yourself.

In the same way, don’t assume that you need to hire a consultant to develop an M&E framework. It would be more work to do it yourself, and you might end up with a less sophisticated end-product. But there are lots of free online resources. The DCED website is an excellent first port of call – look at their toolkit and supporting guidance papers. Other resources that we find useful are Intrac and Better Evaluation.

Tip 2: Be fully involved in the process

If you do hire a wedding planner, you will want to be fully involved in the process. It is your event, and your special day. You don’t want to arrive at the wedding to discover that the venue is a particularly horrible shade of green, that they misspelt the name of your fiancé, or that nobody remembered to invite your family. The wedding planner can take some of the administrative load, bring their experience and ideas from different weddings, and help you articulate what you want to get out of the day. But they can’t plan the day if you are not fully involved in the process.

Developing M&E frameworks is very similar. If you hire a consultant to develop your M&E framework on their own, you will inevitably end up disappointed. You’ll learn (too late) that the framework doesn’t give you the data you need, or that it requires more resources than you are able to provide. It might be too complex, not complex enough, or miss out a critical feature of your programme.

But if you want to develop an M&E framework yourself, you might find that an external expert can help. They can provide examples from similar programmes around the world, and some advice on what has worked (or not worked) elsewhere. They can help ask important questions about what you actually want to learn, what resources you have available, and what stakeholder requirements it should satisfy. They can even do some of the basic work of putting the framework all down on paper and making it look nice.

Tip 3: More ideas

  • Allocate resources. You need one focal person who is responsible for M&E, who can spend  a significant amount of time on the task. They should work with your external consultants, manage them, and bring in other team members as required.
  • Give time. There’s an old saying about M&E; it can be quick, cheap, or high quality, but not all three. Don’t sacrifice quality (or waste money) by not giving enough time for the framework to be developed.
  • Avoid donor pressure. Develop a strong M&E framework before you are forced to by the donor, not after. The worst time to develop an M&E framework is in a panic following a negative evaluation – much better to do it before you are forced to.
  • Think about what is realistic. The majority of M&E frameworks end up being too complex. Try and really understand the implications of the framework for your day-to-day workload. Will you end up doing hundreds of surveys? Developing long lists of indicators? Think carefully about how much time and resources you have, and insist that the framework matches them. 

Developing an M&E framework isn’t easy, and there’s no shortcut. But if you have a clear idea of what you want, the process of developing one could be the second-best day of your life.

Useful resources: Organisational strengthening

This newsletter includes two great resources that will help build your organisational capacity or that of your partners.

The first is guidance on gender policy from the Women in Business programme, Mozambique. They provide a simple, five-point guide to help you develop a gender equality policy. The guide is particularly good on showing how this can help your organisation, and making it an organisational-wide rather than just about women.

The second is guidance on mentally healthy workplaces from Mind, a UK mental health charity. We’re working through some of the guidance and exercises at DevLearn, and it’s helping us understand how to improve our mental health at work.

That’s all from us this month. Let us know any resources you would like to have featured, and send in any tips or ideas for the next newsletter,

Adam and DevLearn Team