Standards for project monitoring:
1. M&E staff monitors the project and context both formally and informally.
2. M&E systems are designed to engage communities in monitoring.
1. M&E staff monitors the project and context both formally and informally
This handbook integrates guidance on monitoring throughout; however, it merits additional attention here because the importance of informal monitoring is often understated or overlooked in M&E systems and by project staff. Informal monitoring refers to the monitoring of any unanticipated results, both positive and negative, and any changes to the project context by CRS and partner staff during each field visit. These informal monitoring data should be actively incorporated into project decision-making and management. Much of this knowledge may be assumed among project staff, but only through sharing and discussing this knowledge can informal monitoring data inform project decisions and management. Annex A includes an example of a form designed to collect informal monitoring data.
CRS and partner staff often quickly transform informal monitoring data into knowledge, given the depth of their experience. Share both the data (raw observations or feedback from community members or stakeholders) and the associated knowledge (gained through the interpretation of these data) to allow staff to discuss conclusions and gain new insights by considering multiple sources of data together.
Informal monitoring data are commonly collected through observations of behaviors and practices, conversations with community members and leaders and other stakeholders, and observations of external factors that signify changes in the project context. For example: Behavioral observations may include homecare practices of women with children under 5 years old for a health project. For an agricultural project, staff may choose to observe the proportion of promoted crops planted at the beginning of the agricultural season. Conversations with community members and community leaders could focus on project achievements and obstacles, feedback on the implementation of activities, and any suggestions to increase overall project progress and impact. Observations of changing context for a health project could include reductions in water quality and availability (given that it may result in increased diarrhea rates). For an agricultural project, it may be important to observe the progress of the plant growth in the field many times during the agricultural
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season to better predict the quality of the harvest and ultimately changes in the availability and access to staple foods in local markets.
You may include many of the examples above in formal monitoring tools but the advantage of monitoring informally (in addition to formally) is that informal data can be collected much more frequently, during each field visit.
Include observation and conversations related to IR-level indicators and change. IR- level change is commonly evaluated during the midterm evaluations but it is essential to monitor (formally and informally) progress toward these IR indicators to make sure the project is on the right track.
Encourage staff to contribute to each M&E event (part of existing project meetings or stand-alone events) with informal monitoring data (and formal monitoring data if they are available). Use the project‘s monitoring questions to reflect on both the formal and informal monitoring data collected by the team. Refer to the list of suggested monitoring questions provided in Annex A of Reflection Events.
Emphasize to CRS and partner staff that no field trip is complete without an element of informal monitoring! Remind staff how simple and straightforward informal monitoring can be. It can be as easy as a 15-minute discussion with a farmer or a walk through the community’s agricultural fields. Properly document all informal monitoring (in monitoring reports) so that it can be shared.
Informal monitoring alone is not sufficient and should be complemented by formal monitoring. Here formal monitoring refers to data collected through qualitative and quantitative tools to meet ProFrame9 information needs. This handbook also offers guidance for developing quantitative tools and qualitative tools as well as guidance for random sampling and purposeful sampling for monitoring.
2. M&E systems are designed to engage communities in monitoring
Community involvement in monitoring is beneficial for both communities and project quality. Community engagement allows communities to play a more active role in project management, to reflect upon progress and to assess changes in their situation and context. Projects are enriched by gaining additional insight on how communities view progress and identify early signs of change and impact. Community involvement in monitoring also builds the community‘s capacity to direct their development, increases the community‘s sense of ownership of the project and builds accountability and transparency.
9 The ProFrame© (Project Framework) combines the results framework with an older tool known as the Logical Framework or Logframe, which is used by most international development organizations worldwide. The results framework is a snapshot of the higher-level objectives; the ProFrame provides information about outputs and activities, the performance indicators and critical assumptions that have been made about project performance and plans. Refer to ProPack I for more information.
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Encourage the community to participate in monitoring, as it provides many benefits to the community in addition to contributing to the monitoring system. Community monitoring often increases the community’s sense of ownership of the project and awareness of key issues that they identified early on in the design process.
In many cases, communities track indicators of progress and impact that are not included in the ProFrame (and thus not included in official project reports). For example, one community may choose to monitor the number of fruits harvested from local trees before they ripen. In this community, people eat unripe fruit only when they do not have enough of the local staple to eat. Thus, an increase in the number of unripe fruit harvested is a sign of food insecurity. Though the number of unripe fruit taken may not be one of the project‘s impact indicators, discussing this information with the community certainly provides insight into a changing food security situation.10
There is a spectrum of community participation in monitoring (see Figure 1). For current projects, identify where your project falls in this spectrum and determine if there are feasible steps you can take to increase the level of community participation in monitoring. For new projects, determine a feasible starting point given current staff and community capacity.
For ongoing projects, an easy starting point is to involve the community in the interpretation of monitoring results. Hold regular meetings with community members to discuss the monitoring results and interpret these results against the project‘s monitoring questions and information needs. Participatory rural appraisal (PRA) tools are designed to maximize community participation and ownership and incorporating PRA tools in your monitoring system is a great step toward increased participation.
Train and support communities to fulfill their roles and responsibilities. CRS and partner staff can support communities during regularly scheduled field visits and community meetings.
The process for establishing community involvement in monitoring also should be participatory. CRS and partner staff should facilitate and support the community to design monitoring questions and indicators, providing input and minimal monitoring theory when necessary. For additional information, refer to Community Participation in M&E.