Current Oxford MBA student Samantha Bastian gives her perspective on the Skoll World Forum seminar session ‘The Dark Side of M&E’.
”Impact measurement and scalability have come up in one way or another in every session of the Skoll World Forum. The Dark Side of Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) moderated by Carlos Miranda, Chief Executive of I.G. Advisors, was a timely and lively discussion. Martin Fisher, Co-founder and CEO of Kickstart-International and Andrea Coleman, CEO and Co-Founder of Riders for Health, shared some honest experiences on why they engage in evaluations, and the challenges they’ve faced from donors and partners who don’t fully appreciate the cost and time-intensity involved. Ehren Reed, Director of Evaluation for the Skoll Foundation, brought in the donor perspective, emerging as a self-proclaimed Yoda of the M&E world by balancing the dark side and the bright side.
We came to the consensus that M&E is both essential and useful. Martin Fisher, put it beautifully: “This is hard work we’re doing and it’s important for me to know that we’re getting it right”. He shared an example – Kickstart-International introduced a low cost pump that sold very well, but evaluations showed that the new pump was not achieving the main goal of helping farmers generate more income. They decided to discontinue selling the low cost pump.
The Dark Side of M&E
Andrea Coleman talked about how evaluations have been a source of robust information to convince government partners of the effectiveness of their work. It’s also been helpful in determining the cost of every intervention, and enabled discussions on how to reduce that cost to get more impact for less money. But as pointed out by Rukmini Banerjee from Pratham, this integration of M&E with core activities requires a mind-set of curiosity both among social entrepreneurs and funders.
M&E plans need to be designed around this objective of curiosity to track and make data-driven decisions. Ehren Reed gave some useful guidelines worth spelling out almost like the five commandments of M&E. It is important to:
Connect key metrics with core strategy
Prioritise and identify meaningful metrics
Make use of data collected for decision-making and improving the implementation
Capitalise on existing body of knowledge where possible to develop a robust theory of change
Integrate M&E with the operations of the social enterprise
The reality is that a lot of social entrepreneurs find M&E to be burdensome; a funding requirement to be complied with. At the same time, many funders do not appreciate the effort involved in evaluations and often indiscriminately ask for studies where evidence already exists. Constructive conversation and negotiation emerged as the key solution from the discussion. As Andrea highlighted, the power dynamics between funders and implementers is often flawed. Re-framing the conversation is important in staying away from the dark side.”