Ever wondered what a career in monitoring and evaluation (M&E) might look like? As the initiator of the Women in Research, Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (RMEL) group and with over 5 years of professional experience in the sector, expert Linda Kpormone Ntsiful reflects on her M&E journey. Linda highlights the key challenges, opportunities and new trends in the sector and shares excellent tips for the young and emerging evaluators (YEEs) looking to advance their careers in M&E.
Let's get to know Linda...
Which organisation do you work for?
I work for Mobile Web Ghana as a Communications and Fundraising Officer. In addition, I work on two personal initiatives:
- Women in Research, Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (RMEL) as the initiator
- Creative Hive Foundation, as the founder
Which region(s) of the world have you worked in so far?
I have worked in Ghana (in West Africa), USA and Belgium (in Europe).
Where did you like working the most?
I enjoyed working in the USA the most as an Undergraduate Researcher because the role included a training component that was linked with my past research experience, allowing me to utilise my knowledge and past exposure in oceanography and fisheries.
What is your favourite dish?
‘Waakye’ (wah -chay) is a popular Ghanaian dish made from cooked rice and black-eyed beans. These are cooked together with red dried sorghum leaves. Once served, it is accompanied by beef or egg, salad, spaghetti or grated cassava (gari). I hope I am not whetting some people’s appetite at the wrong time..haha.
What is your favourite leisure activity (other than M&E, of course!)?
I enjoy doing a number of things for leisure, including reading, art, painting, singing, sightseeing and watching documentaries.
Let’s talk about your career in M&E
How long have you worked in the M&E sector?
For 5 years now.
What inspired you to pursue a career in M&E?
I was inspired to pursue this career because of my desire to see how data collected from projects and programs contribute to the lives of target groups and beneficiaries. Data helps to easily identify and avoid risks, better manage project resources to proactively adjust problem areas quickly. Given that my work and passion is centred on social development projects, I also review and use data frequently to inform the design of these initiatives.
What has been your happiest/most joyful moment related to your M&E work?
Generally, I feel good when I am able to support projects by providing data that allows the team to demonstrate their impact towards fulfilling the goals and objectives of their interventions. My biggest moment was when I was able to provide data that allowed the cocoa farmers who belonged to the largest cocoa cooperative in Ghana to keep track of their farming activities, to monitor changes, ensure compliance to sustainable standards and to increase cocoa yields resulting in improved livelihoods of the beneficiaries.
What has been your most frustrating/least joyful moment related to your M&E work?
In one of my former roles as a Data Impact Coordinator, there was an instance when a client had high expectations from a data collection platform that my team had provided them with to gather information. They expected the data file to be exported in a particular format only to realise that the exported data file was not in the form they had anticipated. It was a very challenging moment for the whole team, but we managed to resolve it by providing the client with alternative options to analyse the data extracted from these data files which enabled us to keep working on the project and maintain a good working relationship with the client.
M&E in your perspective
In your opinion, what are the biggest opportunities in M&E today?
It is great to see many opportunities emerging for improved collaborations and expansion of networks between M&E associations from different regions in the world, thanks to the growth in online events such as webinars and training. These are great innovations and are vital in these unprecedented times of the COVID19 pandemic. Also, there are so many scholarships and other opportunities available for young and emerging evaluators (YEEs) who want to advance their careers in M&E.
What do you think are the biggest challenges in M&E today?
Below are the five biggest challenges I have noticed in M&E today:
- Firstly, most challenges identified are tied to limited funding/budget for M&E and limited access to project resources.
- Secondly, there are different career paths within M&E and so it might be challenging for individuals new to the sector to identify which areas of M&E to specialise in.
- Thirdly, for professionals working in advocacy, if their intervention fails to push through a policy that benefits a vulnerable or marginalized group, the impact could be quite massive emotionally. Initiatives sometimes overestimate the change they contribute in the short term but underestimate the long term change they may make.
- Also, there is a lack of data trust in the sector. Billions of dollars are spent at the behest of donors but in most cases, data is collected just because donors require international development projects to report and not because they want to distil insights and learn from the data.
- Finally, I have often seen that many projects lack a theory of change driven data collection mechanism. Most organisation’s data collection is either non-existent or missing a robust data strategy. If they are collecting data, the focus is often on activity and output data instead of outcome and impact which usually do not align with and validate the primary mission and vision of the organisation.
Are you aware of any emerging trends in the M&E sector? How do you feel about them?
Here are the five emerging trends that I have identified in the M&E sector:
- Firstly, it is interesting to see how M&E is taking a different twist, not only with evaluating processes but also with interconnected systems which are mostly used in environmental projects and are ideal for evaluating several components within a single project.
- Secondly, the Young Emerging Evaluators (YEEs) are recently being recognized more as their efforts are increasingly demanded with the growing need for M&E in the development sector.
- Thirdly, the M&E industry has witnessed a strong growth led by the increasing personalized media interactions demanded by today’s consumers; who are enthusiastic and very demanding in the way they would like to consume content based on their choice of medium, context, schedule, and preferences.
- Needless to say, the industry is constantly innovating and bringing new tools and applications to the market.
- Finally, the actual reality is that the digital and online market is disrupting the industry, and players in the traditional industry are being impacted. This is evidenced by the growth in internet ads expenditure. But the shift to digital platforms for media consumption implies that demand for data will continue to grow.
In your opinion, what are some good skills to have to work in M&E?
The field requires technical skills such as research, inductive and deductive reasoning, project management skills, reporting skills, data collection skills, statistical and analytical skills as well data management skills but it’s also good to be equipped with additional skills, including coordination, proposal writing, communications and networking, presentation, fundraising and digital skills.
Digital Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E)
What are your thoughts on “the digitisation of M&E”?
It is a step in the right direction because technology is growing at a blistering pace. Thanks to the development of apps, dashboards and M&E software and platforms, processes such as developing log frameworks, theories of change, data collection, visualisations, analysis and reporting have become much easier.
Have you used any digital tools for M&E? How was your experience?
Yes, I have used digital tools for M&E such as mobile data collection platforms (e.g Poimapper, Akvo Flow, Akvo Lumen, SurveyCTO, CommCare, KoboToolbox and others) and experimented with M&E platforms like Toladata. On all occasions, I have enjoyed the experience. It makes data collection, management and reporting of results a lot easier, plus it enables me to gain an enhanced insight from the collected data.
Tips and recommendations
Do you have any advice for individuals who are thinking about starting a career in M&E?
I highly recommend interested individuals to join an association involved in M&E to meet and engage with professionals, take courses available on Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) sites or enroll with a recognised institution that offers degree courses on M&E. Also, participate in webinars /workshops such as the gLOCAL evaluation week. Sign up as a volunteer with an M&E organisation such as EvalYouth or participate in evaluation competitions which will allow you to work on a project and expand your network. And of course read publications on M&E.
Are there any books or resource materials on M&E that you would like to recommend to our readers? (optional)
I would like to recommend a manual by the International Fund for Agricultural Development on M&E as well as the Ultimate Guide to Effective Data Collection by Atlan, an Indian IT services company. There are other interesting resources on M&E by INTRAC on their M&E universe website. SoPact, Better Evaluation, Khulisa Management Services and Ann Murray Brown’s website also has a lot of excellent resources. If you are a visual learner, there are many M&E resources on YouTube too.
Some final words for our readers...
What is the funniest reaction you’ve encountered when you told someone (maybe from outside the non-profit sector) that you were “working in M&E”?
I informed a friend about my interest in M&E and she said she had no clue what it was all about so I decided to tell her. After I explained it to her, she said, that’s for “sharks” (a term in Ghana used to describe a smart person) like you. Surprisingly, I never assumed M&E was necessarily for smart people…haha
Any final words to your colleagues in the M&E sector?
I would like to implore colleagues to join a local M&E association which will serve as a gateway to engaging with other M&E associations in the world. Take advantage of digital tools for M&E as well as embrace new innovations. I would like to acknowledge the Ghana Monitoring and Evaluation Forum and YEE which I belong to for creating the platform to broaden my knowledge in M&E.
I would also like to take this opportunity to encourage women RMEL professionals to be a part of the online community which I started this year namely ‘Women in RMEL’ aimed at getting more women into the research, monitoring evaluation and learning (RMEL) sector and to be a support group where people can share their experiences and opportunities with the next generation of RMEL professionals.
A big thank you to Linda for taking out the time from her busy schedule to answer our questions and for sharing her personal and professional experiences in the M&E sector with us. We hope you enjoyed exploring M&E from Linda’s perspective as much as we did and found her tips and recommendations helpful.
Do let us know if you have any questions that you would like us to feature on our next M&E interview with an expert.