I’ve been periodically engaged by AusAID since 2005, working on the development of a quality framework for M&E. In other words, a set of criteria to articulate what AusAID considers to be the basis for good quality M&E arrangements. This framework and the associated good practice guide are now at final draft status within AusAID.
One of the 6 broad criteria for good quality M&E arrangements (and arguably the most challenging) requires that M&E practitioners ensure that M&E arrangements are both comprehensive and efficient.
On the surface, this seems perfectly reasonable. But as with many things in life, a dig slightly below the surface reveals a surprising amount of complexity.
The requirement for comprehensiveness recognises that fostering sustainable social change is a complex process, and so by definition, the arrangements to measure these changes must reflect a degree of complexity. Without comprehensive M&E arrangements, we are likely to be left with gaps in our knowledge, thereby eroding our ability to learn and be accountable.
The requirement for efficiency recognises that successful M&E arrangements are contingent on humans carrying the underlying processes. And humans being what we are, we tend to ‘drop the ball’ from time to time. Failure to perform defined M&E processes is sometimes called ‘non-compliance’.
Research suggests that compliance is negatively affected if:
- the purpose served by the M&E arrangements is not well understood by the people involved
- the M&E responsibilities are not clearly articulated
- the M&E tools and processes are not well defined
- the M&E tools and processes are onerous or complex to implement
- the people tasked with carrying out the M&E processes do not perceive some value proposition (‘reward’) accruing from their compliance
So, the tension between the need for comprehensiveness and efficiency comes down to a balancing act between ‘what information would be great to have’, and ‘what M&E arrangements can be installed that people will actually implement’.
I suspect this ‘balancing act’ is more an art than a science.