A pile of stones or a house?

Over the past few weeks I’ve been writing up an evaluation report.  Part of the evaluation involved a review of the M&E arranagements employed by four prominent international NGOs.  It was encouraging to find that all four agencies were committed (at least intellectually) to learning and improving aid effectiveness.  And it was encouraging that all had taken positive steps towards implementing M&E processes.  However, it was also disappointing to find that the efforts to implement an ‘M&E system’ seemed to post hoc.  They seemed to lack an overall ‘information architecture’ to give the M&E processes some coherence and purpose.

I may have developed an inadequate appreciation for the situation, but on reflection it seems that the focus of M&E remains very much on ‘data’ rathern than on ‘knowledge’. 

As noted by Henri Poincaré, the great French philosopher (1902), “Science is built up with facts, as a house is with stones. But a collection of facts is no more a science than a heap of stones is a house”. 

The same may be said for the relationship between data and knowledge. Unless a information architecture is defined to give purpose and coherence to M&E processes, the data collected (‘stones’) is vulnerable to remaining unutilised (‘a heap’) rather than being assembled into a meaning structure (‘a house’).

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