M&E Sourcebook: Introduction

Definitions and terminology

What is evaluation?

An evaluation is the assessment of a programme or project's achievements. The OECD DAC defines evaluation as "an assessment, as systematic and objective as possible, of an on-going or completed project, programme or policy, its design, implementation and results. The aim is to determine the relevance and fulfilment of objectives, developmental efficiency, effectiveness, impact and sustainability. An evaluation should provide information that is credible and useful, enabling the incorporation of lessons learned into the decision-making process of both recipients and donors."

Assessment of a project or programme can focus on several different aspects:

  • Inputs: the human, financial and technical resources deployed; their effectiveness, cost-effectiveness and appropriateness can be assessed.
  • Activities and processes: the performance of tasks and factors affecting this.
  • Outputs: the immediate results the project achieves (sometimes called "deliverables").
  • Impact (or outcomes): significant or lasting changes in people's lives, brought about by a given action or series of actions.

Evaluations are more analytical than monitoring exercises. They focus on outputs and especially impact, and are intended for a wider audience within and outside the organization. Impact assessments, in particular, are mainly analytical, and concerned with longer-term outcomes. Evaluations are carried out relatively infrequently and can take place at any point in the project cycle. When it takes place after the project has ended, an evaluation can help to find out whether the project has been successful or not. Evaluation is also an organizational process for improving activities still in progress and for aiding management in future planning and decision making.

Examples: Evaluation

The general objectives of the evaluation of CARE-CAMI's Risk Management for Local Sustainable Development project, as laid out in the Terms of Reference, were to review, document and systematize the programmatic, operative, administrative and strategic processes of the project in order to identify "probable impact", lessons learned, best practices, intervention models and its replication potential. See CARE case study

What is monitoring?

Monitoring is distinct from evaluation. Monitoring usually addresses inputs, activities and outputs. Most monitoring systems are designed meet the ongoing information needs of project managers and provide information for donor reports. It enables field operations to be modified to realize the most effective combination and sequences of inputs to achieve project objectives. Monitoring is mainly descriptive and should be frequent, throughout the project.

Examples: Monitoring

The Asian Disaster Preparedness Centre (ADPC) identifies three kinds of monitoring that can be distinguished within the context of project management:

  • Process Monitoring
    Process monitoring is collecting information on the use of inputs, the progress of activities, and the way these are carried out. Process monitoring looks at why and how things have happened; it looks at relevance, effectiveness and the efficiency of processes. It involves stakeholders and beneficiaries in planning, in deciding what is to be monitored, and in developing and recording monitoring processes. Process monitoring requires documentation of how the process was carried out.
  • Effect Monitoring
    Effect monitoring is collecting information on progress towards achieving objectives, and on what the effects are in relation to these objectives. Effect monitoring is a form of continuous self-evaluation. If it is done well, formal evaluations will be needed less often, and if a formal evaluation is carried out, the program staff will already be familiar with their work in relation to their objectives. They will be able to participate more fully in the evaluation, and find it less threatening. All monitoring systems should include both process and effect monitoring.
  • Monitoring Significant Change
    The "significant change"; method of monitoring is not new, but it is not widely known. The method has been used by Australian Overseas Volunteers to assess their contribution in development agencies, during their overseas appointment. The first step to take is for the staff of the implementing organization to identify what areas, or domains, of change they want to monitor using the significant change method. The primary focus should be on two types of change: changes in the lives of individuals, and changes in the organization. The basis of the significant change method is a simple question: "Describe what you think was the most significant change that you contributed to your project." See Community-based disaster Risk Management Field Practitioners Handbook. ADPC, 2004.

Other terms

Other terms that are sometimes used in this context are "review" and "audit":

  • Review comes somewhere between monitoring and evaluation. Reviews supplement regular monitoring, taking place less frequently and focusing more on activities and outputs than on impact. Reviews usually form part of internal management systems, but reviews involving external stakeholders are not uncommon;
  • Audits are normally associated with financial accountability and honesty but the term is sometimes used more broadly.

Monitoring and evaluation in the project cycle

The project cycle (see Guidance Note 5: Project Cycle Management) is a way of viewing the main elements that projects have in common, and how they related to each other in sequence. The precise formulation of the cycle varies from one agency to another, but the basic components are:

  • Programming
  • Identification
  • Appraisal (or preparation)
  • Financing
  • Implementation
  • Evaluation

Further reading and website resources