M&E specialist Kandi Shejavali believes that M&E has the power to bring enormous transformation to the wellbeing of people and the planet and bring us closer to the type of society we want. Think that’s an exaggeration? Find out why she feels that way – and learn about her unique culinary method for determining the best countries to work in. Plus, stay with us as we explore the key challenges and opportunities in M&E through Kandi’s perspective.
Can you give us a quick introduction?
Sure! My name is Kandi, also known as Dr. Reader to my family and close friends, given my love for books (I was a total nerd growing up and still have nerd tendencies!).
Aside from my reading obsession, I love to dance and I love to eat good food. Favorite cuisine? Anything local to the place I happen to be in, the more traditional the better!
Which organisation do you work for?
As an entrepreneur, I’m the organization I work for. (laughs) My M&E-related business entity is called RM3 Consulting. But ultimately, I consider who I work for to be my clients, whether they be companies (who hire me for consulting work) or individuals (who benefit from my coaching services). Why? Because they’re the ones I wake up every day to better understand and serve.
I love it when a client tells me that, thanks to my support, they are able to enhance the effective management of their project and maximize positive results (which is what M&E is all about). Similarly, when I’m able to help an individual client conduct M&E with greater clarity, effectiveness, and ease, that absolutely makes my day. So that’s who I work for, my clients.
Which region(s) of the world have you worked in so far? Where did you like working the most?
Gosh, I’ve worked on projects that have been implemented in almost all regions of the world, from Africa to the Americas and the Caribbean to Asia and the Pacific to Europe. I haven’t necessarily had the opportunity to travel to all my project countries, but out of the countries I have been fortunate enough to be in, it’s really, really difficult to say where I liked working the most because each one is so unique.
So, let’s base it on the level of deliciousness of the local food, shall we? On that basis, these are the three countries that I’d love to return to and spend extended periods working (and eating) in: Mozambique, Nepal, and Rwanda. (Mozambican piri-piri, Nepali momos, Rwandan brochettes, mmm, I’m licking my lips just thinking about it…!)
How long have you worked in the monitoring and evaluation (M&E) sector?
I’m not sure if I would call M&E a “sector” per se (rather than a profession), but I’ve conducted M&E work in some form or another across multiple sectors for at least a decade and a half, broken up somewhere in the middle when I hopped over to work in international trade and export controls for a while.
What inspired you to pursue a career in monitoring and evaluation (M&E)?
I wish I could say that it was intentional, but I kind of fell into M&E by accident! I couldn’t decide what sector I wanted to specialize in, so I chose public policy and public economics as the focus areas for my Masters at New York University because that allowed me to explore a wide diversity of sectors. My core public policy analysis skills (which are an element of M&E) could be applied to all of the sectors – public health, education, tax, you name it. An undecided person’s dream!
And, true enough, over the course of my career, which started as an intern at a small non-profit in midtown Manhattan and then as an intern-turned-consultant at the United Nations, I’ve applied my M&E skills to all types of sectors from agriculture to biodiversity finance to oil and gas to social protection to tourism and many others in between.
What inspires me about M&E, aside from providing the opportunity to dabble in a diverse variety of sectors, is the immense promise it offers to maximize the positive results of a project. And the beauty of that is that it makes M&E the responsibility of everyone working on a project because everyone’s efforts affect the project’s results. This means that the entire project team needs to understand how to interact with the M&E system, not just the person with “M&E” in their job title or as part of their official job responsibilities.
What has been your happiest and the most challenging moment related to your M&E work?
Happiest moment: when I realized that my sector colleagues on a large USD304.5 million project for which I served as M&E Director were excitedly running to me to talk M&E, rather than me having to chase them down. That demonstrated to me that my and my team’s efforts to wave the M&E flag and establish how useful M&E could be had paid off. It was so gratifying. Honestly, I could have cried with joy.
Most frustrating or challenging moment: having to facilitate the implementation of a top-down, donor-imposed evaluation that the affected population had not been consulted on and whose methodology aligned neither with that part of the country’s cultural context nor the project’s implementation approach.
Ultimately, that evaluation’s exigencies may have hindered rather than helped the achievement of positive project results – and it certainly didn’t help that the donor-hired evaluation team leader who jetted in showed everyone the level of his sensitivity to other cultures by casually leaning back and propping his feet right up on the meeting room table at the first gathering with selected stakeholders!
All in all, a classic case of M&E getting in the way of implementation and of the achievement of results – and, on top of that, generating resentment. Obviously not the way to do M&E, dear TolaData readers.
What is the funniest reaction you’ve encountered when you told someone that you were “working in monitoring and evaluation (M&E)”?
Usually, whenever I tell anyone outside of the non-profit or international development sectors that I “work in M&E”, I expand on it a little bit right away because I know they’ll be lost if I don’t. After hearing the explanation, they’ll typically grab onto whatever they can identify with and, with great relief and pride in their understanding, they’ll say something that ends up being pretty reductionist, like “oh, KPIs!”
So it’s always funny to see what they sum M&E up as being. I think “financial auditing” was one of the funniest responses – but also the saddest! Maybe I needed to improve my explanation that time!
In your opinion, what are the biggest opportunities and challenges in monitoring and evaluation (M&E) today?
I’m taking the opportunity side of this question to first mean the biggest opportunities presented by M&E, okay?
The biggest opportunity presented by M&E is the enormous potential that it holds to bring us closer to the type of society we want. To me, that’s what M&E is about. It’s not the techniques or tools or graphs and numbers. None of that means anything if M&E system-generated evidence isn’t used to inform decision-making so that projects are not only steered in a way that maximizes intended results but, more broadly, so that projects are designed to be beneficial for people and the planet in the long-term.
This is especially relevant now in the context of anthropogenic climate change and biodiversity loss. I believe that evaluative judgments made through M&E activities have to be arrived at through this lens. M&E has to step to the plate and “help envision and articulate [the type of society we want] and then help chart a path to making it a reality”.
That might seem like wishful thinking, but this isn’t a pipe dream. There are many interesting discussions being had on related topics, as can be heard on podcasts like the GIIN’s Next Normal: Re-imagining capitalism for our future. The opportunity is there for M&E to play an incredibly important role to transforming society for the better! The revised DAC criteria can even be considered one step in this direction, but I think they are applied too late in the project cycle. In my opinion, they should be considered at the planning stage.
So that’s the opportunity presented by M&E.
In terms of opportunities in M&E for professionals, I’d say that independent consulting work is huge. There are so many opportunities out there. I can’t count the number of opportunities I’m invited to participate in that I have to turn down or refer to other people.
That’s why I’m committed to coaching M&E professionals and letting them benefit from this. My interest is in getting these opportunities to qualified people, ideally, people who live and work in or near the communities targeted by the project in question and who are committed to a decolonizing approach to M&E. I mean, why should someone like me be flown into a country to do M&E when a local professional could have the opportunity to earn income while doing an amazing M&E job that would more intuitively incorporate the local communities’ way of knowing and doing into the M&E activities?
I think we really have to commit to what ‘development’ means and ensure that these opportunities don’t keep going to the same people.
Turning to the biggest challenge in M&E, well, it’s sort of the flip side of its opportunity to bring us closer to the type of society we want, and it’s the same challenge faced in other fields and by humanity at large: how to bring an elevated level of consciousness into our work and thus catalyze transformative change.
Eckhart Tolle once said “No change is possible without a shift in consciousness”, and I tend to agree. I’ve started to reflect on what this would look like in M&E practice, and I intend to explore it some more.
That’s actually the other reason I picked Nepal earlier as one of my favorite countries to work in. I felt an amazing sense of peace while I was there (it wasn’t just about the delicious momos, you see)… the zen in the air was almost tangible, and my soul felt very much at ease. I’d love to bathe in that atmosphere again, though of course, we can all cultivate such inner peace from wherever we are.
And the elevated level of consciousness that it represents is what I think the world needs each of us to uncover within ourselves in order to be more effective at truly transforming our societies for the better, including through our work, which of course includes M&E work.
On a more practical level (I know that the consciousness stuff can seem a little esoteric and ‘woo-woo’ for cartesian M&E types (laughs)), another challenge in M&E is how to measure project-specific results when projects typically operate within complex systems. Different parts of life are intricately interrelated, and things don’t work in the linear fashion that may be conveyed by a project’s theory of change (ToC). ToCs have to be caveated, and, in conducting M&E, practical approaches have to be taken to credibly estimate – note, I said estimate; this is not a precise science – a project’s unique contribution to results that multiple other actors may be working towards as well.
Another challenge is measuring what matters. We have lots of measures that are lauded for being robust in a limited statistical sense (GDP, for example) and that are widely used. Yet, they don’t say much about how well we’re truly doing as living beings, as people and nature. I think measures such as Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness need to be used much more widely, with each country or community establishing its related targets and taking measures relevant to its particular context to meet those targets. Imagine the kind of societies we could create! We’d be rich in the way that actually matters.
And I guess a final challenge is that sometimes M&E is seen as a complex and onerous burden. I get it. But it doesn’t have to be that way. That’s why I seek to share my M&E skills in a manner that’s straightforward but allows for the resultant M&E to be robust.
We hope you enjoyed getting to know monitoring and evaluation (M&E) specialist Kandi Shejavali and reading about her reflections on her profession and her journey into M&E.
Stay tuned for the second part of this interview, coming up in January 2022. Kandi will share her thoughts on the emerging trends in M&E, skills that are helpful to have as an M&E professional, reflections on digital M&E, plus excellent tips, recommendations and resources for those new to the sector.