It is crucial for non-profit organisations and corporates alike to be able to prove the impact that their social development initiatives are having, in order to secure ongoing and possibly increased financial support. A panel discussion on monitoring and evaluation (M&E), convened on 24 May 2016 at The Trialogue CSI Conference, brought together corporate, non-profit, foundation and academic perspectives, to explore how M&E can be better incorporated into programme-planning and support. Panellists agreed that monitoring and evaluation (M&E) has become an essential component of CSI work. Of course, funders want to know what impact their money is having, but the question of why practitioners need to monitor and evaluate their projects and organisations, and what they get out of it, is a more complex one.

M&E panel, fltr: Dugan Fraser, Liezemarie Johannes, Namhla Saba, Neissan Besharati and Thabang Skwambane

M&E panel (fltr): Dugan Fraser, Liezemarie Johannes, Namhla Saba,                     Neissan Besharati and Thabang Skwambane

Dugan Fraser of the SA Monitoring and Evaluation Association described M&E as a way of seeing what’s going on below the surface, and added: “It is the shop window that allows you to communicate your results and make your offering persuasive, but it is not just about meeting donor requirements or PR. M&E is an organisational development intervention, it’s about building a strong organisation.”

Funders want to know the challenges, not just the successes, said Namhla Saba, a CSI consultant at Investec.  CSI practitioners need to engage funders honestly and not report what they think the funder wants to see.  She said: “Seeing the real picture allows us to have dialogue and come up with collaborative solutions. Solutions come through when we sit together, interrogate our assumptions, interrogate the way we’ve been doing things, looking at what’s working, what’s not working. Ask how can we improve it?”

Dr Niessan Besharati, head of the Development Effectiveness Programme at the SA Institute of International Affairs, said: “Monitoring and evaluation are two separate things. Monitoring should be embedded in management, so you can improve and correct what you are doing. Evaluation is there to produce the information to make a decision – to stop a project, or to fund it more.”

M&E can be time-consuming and expensive. Liezemarie Johannes, who manages research and monitoring for Corruption Watch, cautioned that M&E should be implemented in a way that doesn’t burden the staff in the organisation. She suggests: “Find the data points that people are already collecting, create a framework to capture them easily and quickly. Make sure the people in the organisation understand why you need it – so we can learn, and push the limits of how we do things, and do better next time. And remember that qualitative data is often just as important as quantitative.”

Saba believes that ideally, the funder should budget and pay for the M&E that they require. “You can have an informal evaluation, a meeting or a monthly report that is generated internally, but budget for a big formal evaluation with an external party.”

Fraser cautioned that M&E risks becoming “the noisy drunken guest at the party who takes over and ruins it for everyone”. He said: “M&E is a key ingredient in the mix. People can become obsessed with quantitative data, but it’s not more important than other elements like planning, or relationship building.”