The relationship between those who monitor and those who are monitored is described as sensitive in most NGOs. Monitors are often seen as police, spies, and mistake hunters. The truth of this is debatable but the perception exists in most Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and non-NGOs. Luckily, there are many ways to improve relations between M&E departments (the monitors) and program departments (those who are monitored) in any NGO:
- The first step is understanding. Staff in both the M&E and programs departments should be aware of the purposes and functions of M&E. M&E is not political, nor is it spying or
mistake hunting; it is simply describing the situation as it is but from the point of view of all internal and external stakeholders, including programs staff, field staff, local authorities, community leaders, beneficiaries, and non- beneficiaries. In doing so, we know the extent to which the project is implemented as it was planned, to what extent it has achieved its objectives and to what extent it brings about the positive intended impact and whether there are unintended negative or positive impacts, directly or indirectly. Once both M&E and non-M&E staff are aware of the functions and purposes of M&E, it is likely that relations between departments will improve as well as performance. This will help them both to improve performance of their interventions and to provide higher level of quality and accountability to their target groups/ communities.
- The second step is to give equal attention to the positive and negative aspects of a project’s performance. Evidence from different NGOs show that most M&E reports tend to be interested in negative aspects rather than positive ones. When I was working with GOAL in Syria as an M&E field manager, I used to receive a daily report from each member of M&E staff. One day I noticed that there was very positive feedback when the distribution was supervised by one of the program’s staff (distribution is always highly organized, beneficiaries are highly satisfied, and distribution is implemented as it is planned). I reported this to the country director’s assistant and she immediately emailed him a thank you message. The second day he visited the M&E office and distributed sweets to all the M&E staff expressing his pleasure that we captured positive feedback about him. So, reporting positive things about the project is a very important channel to make good relations between those who monitor and those who are monitored. M&E staff should save no time or efforts to look for positive things, even if they are simple!
- The third step is to have joint training with both M&E and non-M&E staff. In doing so, staff have an opportunity to understand each other better as they deal with each other as peers not as monitors and the monitored. In addition, educating all M&E and non-M&E staff about the M&E functions and purposes makes it clear that everyone in the organization has tasks that leads to one objective at the NGO’s level; delivering aid to vulnerable people in the best possible way.
- Fourthly, both M&E and programs staff should understand functions of each other in a practical way. It is good to understand this theoretically, but this is not enough. For example, when I was working for a particular humanitarian NGO as an M&E manager, I agreed with the programs manager to exchange staff for 1-2 weeks. The idea was that the M&E staff would spend 1-2 weeks with programs then return to the M&E department and the programs staff would spend the same period in the M&E. In doing so, the M&E staff would understand the pressure that program staff are under and the program staff would understand that M&E works in such a way to improve quality and accountability. It was a very successful experience and considerably improved relations between M&E and non M&E staff.
To conclude, I would say that the relationship between M&E and programs staff is like the relationship between a coach and his team in a football game. The coach is very happy when his team performs well and sad when it does not. Sometimes he only communicates negative aspects albeit with the intention to push his team to improve. But the coach is in a good position to see both teams’ performance and thus can provide his own team with the suggestions and recommendations to improve.
Author: Youssef Al Mustafa
Youssef Al Mustafa is co founder and Director of Trust Consultancy & Development. He has extensive experience in monitoring & evaluation in Turkey and Syria.