In this 2nd part of our 2-part M&E interview series with specialist Kandi Shejavali, Kandi shares her reflections on the emerging new trends in M&E, skills that are helpful to have as an M&E professional, her thoughts on digital M&E, plus, excellent tips, recommendations and resources for those new to the profession. And that’s not all, Kandi even has a special gift prepared for the TolaData readers to help you all widen your M&E horizons and navigate the M&E path more confidently.
So stay with us as we explore M&E together with Kandi Shejavali.
If you’d like to find out what inspired Kandi to pursue a career in M&E and read about her reflections on the profession and her thoughts on the power of M&E, then check out the 1st part of this interview – Explore the power of M&E w/ specialist Kandi Shejavali – P1
Are you aware of any emerging trends in the M&E sector? How do you feel about them?
M&E is an evolving specialization, and most of the emerging trends that I’m aware of are wonderfully promising. For example, I love that the profession is continuing to be more and more oriented towards serving as a management tool for project decision-makers rather than being a checkbox exercise that projects only comply with in order to keep the money rolling in.
The curious part about that, though, is that donors seem to be leading the way in this shift (I was recently on a call with a donor who explicitly stated that part of their M&E requirements were aimed at supporting the use of M&E system-generated evidence for project steering purposes), while some project management teams still consider M&E a burden.
And the project management teams can’t be blamed for feeling that way. There are plenty of elements in today’s M&E that are leftovers from M&E’s old days of being meaningless and onerous to project teams.
But such teams will be glad to know that by viewing and leveraging M&E tools differently, they can be well on their way to making M&E serve them rather than feeling like they have to serve a horrible master called M&E. I hope that the gift that I’ve prepared for TolaData readers helps those who are frustrated by M&E get on the path to this ideal. (Link for gift download.)
Related to this idea of M&E being at the service of management, there’s also great work being done by the team over at SoPact, with the concept of frequent impact experiments that generate short-term feedback loops about what is working and what is not working, so that necessary adjustments can be made sooner rather than later. I also like their approach about not spending too much time developing a complex ToC but rather focusing on refining the general program logic with the help of findings from the impact experiment results.
I may be biased with this next one since it’s part and parcel of my M&E approach, but I think there’s also an emerging trend towards M&E being seen more holistically. I perceive a recognition that M&E is not just about the ‘m’ and the ‘e’; it’s about the full continuum of results articulation, measurement, and management – including the related assumptions, lesson-learning, and considerations of broader impact that I referred to earlier to ensure the maximization of positive results.
I love that this approach appears to be appreciated by my clients, so the demand – or at least receptivity – is there, too. And organizations such as UNDP have started to reflect this evolution in their M&E requirements, and I find this to be a really positive sign, hopefully, a sign of a larger trend.
I also see the interest in decolonizing M&E methodologies as a reflection of this same shift – at least for me, personally, as I explore that particular topic more deeply.
So those are the emerging trends in M&E that I welcome with arms wide open.
On the other hand, trends like calling M&E “MEL” or “MERL” or “MEAL”, don’t appeal to me too much at all… so much so that I wrote a grumpy blog article about it! (laughs) Based on the engagement that the article received, many other professionals are animated by the topic as well.
In your opinion, what are some good skills to have to work in Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E)?
Of course, mastery of all the core M&E concepts and an awareness of the various methodological and analytical approaches out there to answer M&E questions. Plus a good grasp of related skills such as data collation and data analysis, though the extent to which an M&E professional actually needs to know all the intricacies of those types of activities depends on the person’s specific role in M&E (some M&E professionals perform highly complex statistical analyses for evaluations, others are more the M&E systems folks who need more generalist knowledge).
But the core technical skills are only a part of doing great M&E.
You also have to have excellent listening skills – and here I don’t just mean hearing what different stakeholders of a project say but identifying what lies beneath what they are saying, including ‘hearing’ what the relevant documents are saying.
And related to listening skills, excellent translation skills are also needed. For translating what? Well, for translating what technical sector people might say to inform the ToC into language that can be understood by laypeople who might come across that same ToC without being subject matter experts. For translating affected populations’ expressions of desired results into measurable variables. For translating donor’s M&E requirements into practical aspects of the M&E system. And so on.
And if curiosity can be considered a skill, plenty of curiosity as well. Conducting and/or coordinating M&E activities effectively means sticking your nose into all areas of the project’s business – including easily overlooked areas like procurement – and drawing from or informing those areas in order to ensure that the potential for achieving positive results is maximized.
Organization skills, creativity, and a good sense of humor round out my list of good skills to have to work in M&E.
What are your thoughts on “the digitisation of Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E)”?
I think it’s essential! Especially for large projects, gone are the days when M&E data could be managed through the exchange of Excel (or similar) files. Excel can still be great for things like planning out your indicator documentation or for designing reports that will be generated from a digital system. But when it comes to actual M&E data capture, cleaning, storage, analysis, and reporting, using a digital system just makes sense. If well applied, it should make everything easier, all while enhancing data quality as well.
(If you’d like to receive a free template for indicator documentation, feel free to contact Kandi directly via her LinkedIn.)
The digitization of M&E also makes itself manifest in the way in which M&E-related activities such as data collection are undertaken. Digital data capture for survey, for example, allows for more immediate data quality oversight and shortens the timeframe from the point of data collection to the final report, all of which allows for the evidence to be used more promptly to inform project management. This is true for both self-administered and enumerator-administered data collection, though there are specific considerations for when to use each, just as there are for non-digitized M&E.
I think the main thing to take into account in using digital tools is to ensure that they enhance rather than detract from the M&E system’s objectives, and we should particularly ensure that the use of such tools will not limit the meaningful participation of affected populations.
Have you used any digital tools for Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E)? How was your experience?
Yup! I’ve worked on projects where a bespoke management information system was in place or being created to capture and store M&E data as well as allow for some analysis. My experience was pretty good, especially that I had the possibility of providing feedback to refine the digital tools as some kinks still needed to be worked out.
I’ve also had oversight over data collection exercises that used tailormade digital tools. Again, a good experience.
I don’t have much experience with off-the-shelf tools. I’m aware of TolaData’s tool, of course. I’m eager to learn more about it and other products out there and to consider them for use in my projects.
Do you have any advice for individuals who are thinking about starting a career in M&E or those who are new to the sector?
For those thinking about starting a career in M&E, I’d say stop thinking already, and try it out! As I mentioned earlier, M&E is everyone on the project team’s business so even if you don’t end up becoming or remaining an M&E specialist, learning M&E will stand you in good stead no matter what your role on a project and especially if you eventually hold a leadership role. It’s truly a critical skill, and project team members with a good understanding of M&E are best positioned to help make it realize its full potential as a management tool that is not only not burdensome but indispensable.
So I say get started, reach out to connect with others in the profession, and, most importantly, start practising even before you’re officially an M&E professional. The practical tips that I provide in some of my blog articles are mostly directed at folks who work on projects in any capacity, not just M&E specialists – and the tips can be applied right away. The idea is to achieve immediate wins for your project’s M&E. Try the tips out and then let me know how you did.
Then for those who have already said yes to M&E and are new to the profession, I say welcome on board, buckle in, and enjoy the ride! I advise that you recognize that M&E ‘advocacy’ is as much a part of your job as the technical M&E work. You’re going to have to wave the M&E flag among your colleagues, sometimes subtly, sometimes not-so-subtly, because not everyone will be as much in love with M&E as you are. You’ll need to make M&E as pain-free of an experience for your colleagues as possible (there are many ways to do this but one critical one is to have M&E mirror the project) and be ready to quietly demonstrate, again and again, how useful M&E can be to project decision-making.
Then rinse and repeat.
If anyone who’s new to M&E would like a free cheat sheet on M&E basics, you can download one that I prepared here.
Are there any books or resource materials on M&E that you would like to recommend to our readers?
There are many great resources out there. There’s TolaData of course – you guys’ articles are great, and I love that you aim to make M&E simple, understandable, and fun –, and I’ve already mentioned SoPact. Your readers probably often get referred to the usual suspects such as BetterEvaluation, so I’ll mention a few others that are somewhat off the beaten path:
- The course Decolonizing Evaluation by WitsX (available on edX);
- Xceval, a great resource for finding out about hundreds of M&E opportunities;
- Articles by the folks behind Khulisa Management Services, such as #EvalTuesdayTip: 7 Lessons from Made in Africa evaluation failures; and
- Zenda Ofir’s blog in which she shares a reimagined view of evaluation. I recently read her article on the power and powerlessness of evaluation in the context of the situation in Afghanistan, and I really appreciate how she breaks things down and distils lessons.
I also think it’s important to broaden one’s horizons when one thinks about ‘M&E resources’ to keep a pulse on the world’s broader needs and then, after that, consider how M&E can serve those needs. Podcasts like the GIIN’s that I mentioned earlier (Next Normal: Re-imagining capitalism for our future) are excellent resources for that.
Any additional advice or final words for our readers?
Regardless of your role on a project, whether as an M&E specialist or not, let the promise of M&E inspire you, and use it to improve your project’s results and make as meaningful and positive of a difference as possible. M&E, if approached wisely and used masterfully, is a powerful tool to help change the world for the better, enhancing the wellbeing of people and the planet!
We hope our 2-part interview series with monitoring and evaluation (M&E) specialist Kandi Shejavali was helpful in sparking some M&E inspiration, answering some of your M&E related questions and providing clarity on what it’s really like to work in the sector. If you have feedback on this interview, please leave us a comment below.
And for more insights from Kandi, don’t miss the first part of this interview >>> Explore the power of M&E w/ specialist Kandi Shejavali – P1 where she shares her journey into M&E, her reflections on the profession and her thoughts on the power of M&E.