Comprehensive v Efficient


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.

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link to The 'theory of change' approach

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