All donors require a monitoring framework as part of a project proposal. This helps you (and them) monitor progress towards your project results, objectives, and impact. Very often, monitoring focuses on collecting numbers. So in fact you are measuring quantities produced instead of the quality of your progress. So how can you monitor the quality of your project’s progress?
The starting point is a good monitoring framework. One that includes not only quantitative indicators and targets but also qualitative ones.
Why most nonprofits don’t pick qualitative indicators
First, many people do not know that it is even possible to have qualitative indicators. Another reason why qualitative indicators are not used much is that collecting and analyzing data for these indicators is more time-consuming. It is after all much easier to count items or people or to copy statistics from your website or Facebook.
So what could be qualitative indicators?
Qualitative indicators could be knowledge or awareness, opinions, or experiences. To make this more concrete, you could look for information absorption or retention and understanding from your materials. (In a quiz for instance) You could also look for feedback, in comments on posts or in evaluation forms. Or you could collect stories about the impact of the work you have done. For instance, using a method like Most Significant Change.
What makes this challenging?
As you can see from the examples, collecting data around qualitative indicators is more time-consuming than simply collecting numbers or statistics. Getting a story out of someone, especially digging deep enough to understand the impact, will take not only the time of the interview but also time to build trust to get access to the real story.
Another challenge is that with qualitative information you need to take time to formulate the best possible questions to get the information you are after. This is by the way also a matter of experience and reflection on the answers you got with the questions you asked.
So why go to that trouble?
The secret of a clever monitoring framework is in having a good mix of indicators. Indicators that provide information on reach (quantitative indicators). And indicators that help you understand to what extent the people reached are effectively touched by the work done (qualitative indicators). Combined, such indicators can give you a fair idea of how you are doing toward your objectives and desired impact. (Read more about the importance of monitoring here).
OK but what does that look like in real life then?
Make sure that all your projects have monitoring frameworks with a fair share of qualitative indicators, especially on the level of results, objectives and impact. Especially if you are starting with this, it can feel a bit risky. You may not know to what extent you can collect good data for these indicators. In that case, you can see if your official monitoring framework can focus on quantitative indicators. If your donor is OK with that, why not focus your reporting on these indicators. In the meantime, you can experiment with quantitative indicators that you set for yourself and use behind the scenes.
In your experimenting, test different types of qualitative indicators. Use different sources of information. Sources that you set up (quiz, interview, evaluation form, etc.) and sources where the target group can respond spontaneously (social media comments). Try different formulations of the same question to see which lead to the clearest answers. Test who in your team has the most feeling for this kind of work.
Create a habit
As part of your experimenting, try to create a habit of looking at quality in all the work you and your team do. It helps to take time to reflect with every task on the why of the task and on to what extent that was achieved.
Why did you write this report? What did you want to achieve with that report? Did you want to show the donor they can be proud of what is being achieved with their investment? Or did you want to show them you are a professional and reliable organisation? Maybe you wanted to plant a seed for a future investment? Then look at the report critically: in which sections could your why be seen the best? How could it be better visible? Ask someone else to read your report and tell you what impression they got from it.
You can do the same with all sorts of tasks or activities. If you create a habit with your team of reflecting on each small task this way, you will foster a mindset that is geared toward looking for, breaking down and analyzing quality in everything your organization does.
But is that workable?
I know I know. This sounds almost as if I recommend you spend your whole week talking instead of doing things. That is of course not very practical or workable. Creating a habit in the team can be done by being a role model in reflection and by including a reflection on one task each team weekly team meeting, for instance. You can also inspire sharing in an online platform, maybe an internal Slack channel or WhatsApp group.
My key tips
- Start experimenting with designing and using qualitative indicators in a running project. Reserve time for reflection and learning and for testing what gives you the best data for your purpose.
- Help your team focus on quality in addition to quantity, by being a role model for this.
- Don’t forget that quantitative indicators have value, too!
How I can help
Check out my free Ten Tips for Clever Project Budgets here.
If you would like simple steps to set up and organise your finance & admin foundations guidance by me, you can get a bundle of six simple and short workshops here: https://www.changingtides.eu/financeandadminbundle
Here is how I can help you design better projects, including better budgets, to achieve real impact for the community or cause you serve:
- If you would like a structured approach with easy steps and guidance by me to go from a great idea to an effective project design, that has community support and a workable budget, you can join my Course Project Design for nonprofits here: https://www.changingtides.eu/projectdesign
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