Bursting the M&E Bubble


I recently had a conversation with a senior bilateral aid donor official that confirmed a growing feeling I’ve had that the ‘M&E bubble’ may burst sometime soon. 

In recent years the field of ‘M&E’ has escalated from a peripheral area to a highly sought-after discipline.  Demand for greater accountability and evidence of aid effectiveness has been a driving force for more, and better M&E.

But I’ve begun getting a sense that the pendulum may be reaching the end of its arc.  The recent conversation with the bilateral donor official mentioned above indicated that there was a growing frustration with the inadequacy of M&E information to support its own fundamental tenet…to inform judgements about aid project performance.  The risk then is that the whole concept of M&E is rejected outright, rather than discriminaing between good and bad quality M&E (aka ‘throwing the baby out with the bathwater’!).

There are at least two reasons why the M&E bubble may burst…

  1. Unrealistic expectations about what M&E can achieve…particularly an expectation that unmeasurable things should be measured, and frustration when they are not
  2. Poor quality work by M&E professionals…including ‘data dumping’ (overloading stakeholders with a mountain of data, rather than exerting the effort to synthesise the key issues in a more accessible form)

In order for M&E not to be rejected outright, it is the responsibility of M&E professionals to do good work with integrity, and to constantly educate stakeholders about the limits of M&E as a ‘science’.

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link to The 'theory of change' approach

The 'theory of change' approach

For a long time, I’ve been using the phrase ‘theory of change’ to express the idea that a project is essentially a social experiment, and that M&E is about testing the hypotheses implicit in the social experiment.  Recently I was challenged to succinctly elaborate what I thought embodied the ‘theory of change’ approach.  The following […]