Can IT really help M&E?

Yes, yes…I know I haven’t been a good boy in the blogging department!  And I’ve promised Santa that I’ll be better this year.  No excuse really except for the familiar cries of too busy, too much international travel, a new baby…

Anyway, enough with excuses.

An issue that has come up several times recently is the role of information systems in support of M&E; specifically, the relative merit of technology-based systems.

As one of the founders of Aid-IT Solutions, I obviously have a view that IT systems can help to improve M&E outcomes.  But it is clear that IT is no ‘magic bullet’.The world learned a very harsh lesson about being unrealistic in this regard during the Dot.Com mania of the new millennium!

A technology-supported M&E system does not change the fundamental problem facing M&E practitioners…that measuring amorphous social change and atributing this to particular interventions is difficult.  Computers can’t help with this.  It is ludicrous to believe that a M&E system can dissolve this problem.

Nevertheless, well placed IT can definitely assist humans with some practical aspects of M&E work.  The simple fact is that irrespective of whether M&E is conducted through paper-based, oral, visual or technology-supported systems, there are many mundane and practical challenges.  Well planned IT systems can assist with tackling these challenges. 

Technology systems are most successful when they acknowledge and are grounded in human realities…when they help individuals to save time/effort and/or attract esteem.

Some of the practical things that a good M&E information system can help with include: a) streamlining the capture of raw data; b) assisting with the analysis, storage and retrieval of information; c) efficiently disseminating performance information to globally distributed stakeholders. 

But beyond these practical benefits, the ultimate challenge for all M&E arrangements is to ensure that the information is actually utilised.  With escalating stakeholder demands for evidence of aid effectiveness has come a dramatic increase in the requirement for information synthesis. 

Synthesis is not easy for humans or technology alone.  It requires an intelligent interaction.  Synthesis remains the strategic challenge for M&E practitioners.  The multi-award winning scientist, Professor Edward Wilson captures this challenge succinctly:

“Thanks to science and technology, access to factual knowledge of all kinds is rising exponentially while dropping in unit cost.  It is destined to become global and democratic.  Soon it will be available everywhere on television and computer screens.  What then?  The answer is clear: synthesis.  We are drowning in information, while starving for wisdom.  The world henceforth will be run by synthesisers, people able to put together the right information at the right time, think critically about it, and make important choices wisely.”

Wilson, E. (1998) Consilience: the unity of knowledge, Abacus, London, p 300

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