About two years ago, when I decided to pursue a career in Monitoring and Evaluation, I had so many fears; It looked very cumbersome – unlike saying “I am an Accountant”, “a Doctor” or “an Engineer,” I will introduce myself as a “Monitoring and Evaluation Specialist” or an M&E Expert or simply put, an evaluator. Whichever I choose, the question would always be, “what does that mean?” I will have to start long explanations. Asides, the profession looked tacked with specialised scientific and numerical skills which, apparently, I did not have – the only thing I have and have always done perfectly is writing… ok, speaking too.
I was perplexed and I quizzed my decision as I read more about the profession. However, the more I read, the less boring it becomes. I found myself understanding the logic behind M&E, its essence to organisation frameworks and importance to development work. In the last few months, I have been engrossed with several projects which involved using statistical analysis and designing survey methods – in fact, I almost forgot I failed maths four times while writing Senior Secondary School Examinations.
The journey, so far, has been fulfilling and I can only look forward to more challenges on the field. If you are like me a few years ago, trying to find your feet in this profession, here are five tips that will demystify M&E and help you get started, excitingly.
1. M&E is an art
One thing about M&E is that it looks more scientific from the outside. You hear about certain jargons like logical framework, the theory of change, statistical analysis, data validity and reliability, etcetera. If you are like me, the mathematics and statistical aspect are the most atrocious; the thought of doing maths again after I narrowly escaped it many years back was upsetting.
However, just like writing, M&E is more of an art than science. It has processes and procedures that can be learnt over time and once you familiarise yourself with the methodologies, you get better using them frequently.
Moreover, there are several applications and tools that can handle the maths for you, all you need do is master those tools, develop critical thinking abilities and become the master of your game, bingo!
2. Teamwork drives better results
Unlike writing which can be a lonesome activity, M&E requires a great deal of teamwork for you to get better results and learn faster. Unfortunately, finding a team is somewhat difficult because job opportunities are meagre. I faced this challenge too. You might be lucky to get an internship at a reputable organisation but often time, only a few people are this lucky.
One way for you is to volunteer with community-based organisations around you and use the knowledge you’ve learnt to make an influence at those organisations. You might find out that some of these organisations don’t do or value M&E, don’t be depressed, join them and teach them how to do it. You can also enrol for online courses. Cloneshouse has several courses for different levels. Use the platform, enrol for their programme, get certified and network with other players.
I enrolled for the Dataville International Development course which gave me the opportunity to interact with other like minds. I met some guys who were good with data analysis and learnt from them. I learnt how to use Strata and SPSS software packages. We grew a community during the training and some of us have benefited greatly from it. Just don’t stay alone, join a group and grow with them.
You can also seek mentorship from expert evaluators. However, be willing to give more than you will get. Offer a service to your mentor and he or she will help you grow. You need practical experience to succeed as an evaluator. Development organisations always seek people with industry experience, therefore, find every opportunity to get it. It will help you significantly.
3. M&E is not a fixed-office engagement
This is what I love most about M&E. you don’t sit in the office at all times. You will go out for fieldwork, sometimes, travelling to remote areas. As a passionate traveller, I love to go out of the office for different activities. I love meeting new people, learning from others and sharing experience. M&E, excitingly, gives me the grace to achieve this. During office hours too, you might be involved in team discussions, reviews and deep learning activities on your project. You will not be fixated on your laptop, you will meet, interact and learn from people. Nothing is more exciting!
4. Learning is continuous
Aside from continuously learning on the job as an evaluator, you get to work on a different project and different topics. This means you have to be versatile and read more. You might be working on an HIV Aids project and soon find yourself working on another project centred on Gender violence. Each topic has its own data and metrics so you will have to read widely to have a grasp of the project you are handling.
Also, because M&E is evolving and there are many tools and techniques involved, learning is progressive. As you use new methodologies and write different reports, your understanding will be on the rise.
5. Data is everything
Data might not be the new oil, as some people claimed, but data is an artefact you can’t stop mining and a resource you can’t stop using. M&E is data – both quantitative and qualitative. Development and social works depend on data to derive impact from their activities. The purpose of M&E is to determine whether interventions, whether finished or ongoing are impactful and achieving desired results. Lessons learned are helpful in designing projects and programs.
So, if you are interested in M&E, you must be interested in data and understand how to mine, use and analyse them. You can learn the process through practice and continuous reading. Your ability to do this effectively will help you grow exponentially.
M&E is a profession that gives you a taste of other professions within or outside development and social work. That is why evaluators are the geeks within the organization. Now that you are aware, go ahead and fly.
Are you facing any challenges with progressing in your career? Feel free to share with me in the comments.
Abdulhakeem Abdulkareem is a project coordinator and evaluator at Consultancy Supports Services (CS2) Limited. He is passionate about social development, insecurity and humanitarianism, and climate change. Connect with or send him a mail at him on Twitter and LinkedIn [email protected]