For almost every project proposal nowadays you need to prepare a monitoring framework. This presents how you will monitor implementation for success. Very often this is seen as an exercise that is important for the donor. Something that should be done as simply as possible, in order to not add too much of a burden to the organization. This way of looking at it does not do justice to the importance of monitoring as I see it.
Of course, the monitoring should not become as intensive as your implementation. But I think it is a mistake to see monitoring as something you do to tick a box for your donor only. It should be something that helps you improve your implementation. Monitoring can help you collect data you can learn from. To get better at what you do.
COVID-19 restrictions can be a boost for experimenting
Restrictions caused by the fight against the spread of COVID-19 may make it necessary for you to change or adjust your approach, your activities or even your target groups (see also here). This may mean you will be doing new things or doing things in a new way. Or you may work with new groups. You will not necessarily know how to do all that, obviously. You will be experimenting. To learn from your experiments, you need to collect some data about how it is going. And you need to sit down and look at these data, make sense of them. You will want to make sure you are not creating any nasty side effects. And you may have a few question marks to figure out. In short, you need to decide on a monitoring framework.
What you need to monitor depends of course on what you will be doing and what you want to achieve. What you do, defines what kind of data you might collect. If you can move your activities to online, you might suddenly be able to collect much more data than before, depending on the systems you use. Of course, the key is not to monitor everything you can technically monitor by collecting data. You need to figure out which of the data that you can collect will give you relevant information. Information that can be helpful in understanding whether you are on the way to achieving your version of success. So, what you want to achieve, helps you select the data you need to collect and follow.
My use of the word data makes it seem as if monitoring should be based on numbers only. That is of course not true at all. Especially when you want to look at your impact, numbers do not always cut it. It is good to know how many girls were able to take part in your classes, how many sat for their exams, how many passed the exams, how many went on to attend higher education… etc. But it does not tell you enough about the impact of the work you did for you to know whether you are successful on that level.
The role of your project
You can gain real insight into the impact of your work if you are able to understand what motivated these girls to take these steps, what helped them along the way, and what held them back. Knowing more about that, will help you understand which of your actions (if any) actually helped them achieve these steps. And knowing how they see their lives after all this, will help you see what the impact of those maybe very small actions on your part was.
How can we collect information to build such insights?
In order to gain insight into these questions, you will need to do more than collect numbers. You need to collect stories, interpretations and feelings from your target group. You can do this through individual interviews, focus group discussions, case studies or surveys with open-ended questions. This is the kind of research work that you might engage students to do in the frame of their university or polytechnic curriculum. Two in my experience powerful ways of structuring the collection and analysis of relevant stories are Most Significant Change and Outcome Harvesting. Both these processes focus on what you might learn from the stories you collect.
As you know, online you can gather a great deal of data, mostly free of charge or as part of the (paid or free) tool you use. Google Analytics for instance can tell you how many people have visited your website, where they are from, what device they used, and how long they stayed. Among many other data. Facebook insights provide information about who liked your page and about the engagement of your followers with your content, along with other data.
Metrics in perspective
Each platform has its own metrics. You will need to learn about the meaning of these data before you can choose which data are relevant for you. Again, this depends on your activities and your objectives. See if you can get information about similar organizations. That can give you a perspective on what ‘good’ numbers are. For instance, in some industries an open rate of newsletters of 20% is considered very good, while you might be upset about the 80% who do not even open your stuff.
As an increasing amount of information is becoming available online, it is becoming clear that just having your article out there is not enough to be sure you were successful in raising awareness. The number of subscribers to your newsletter is not insightful information, because it may be that 80% is not reading your message. Counting the visitors to your post is not helpful, because a visit may have lasted 2 seconds instead of the expected 2 minutes reading time. The focus of those looking at metrics is moving to engagement. What do people do with your content? Do they take the time to read it, do they share it, do they comment? Do they send you a message about it?
It’s not marketing or is it
This may sound awfully marketing-y to you. But really it isn’t relevant for selling products or services only. Many not-for-profits are carrying out activities for awareness raising, campaigning, lobby & advocacy, prevention of disaster, mitigation of the impact of disaster, providing space for petitions, etc. To be successful in raising awareness, you need to be sure that people are reading your message. That they understand it. That they agree with you that it is important, and that they share it among their network. Before taking action in real life. Much of the work is done online nowadays, as is much of the interaction with your target group. To monitor your success here, you need to understand the marketing laws and metrics that prevail online.
Especially if you are focused on experimenting and learning, you can use monitoring to find out more about uncertainties you may have. For instance, maybe you do not know if your target group is able to go online, can be mobilized online or knows how to study online. You can run a few small experiments, collect data and see what they tell you about this uncertainty.
The same way, you can use monitoring to identify any new side effects that your new approach may have. Maybe your class of girls is able to follow your lectures and workshops online from home. But maybe they feel uncomfortable contributing to the discussion with their family within earshot. Or maybe they feel unsafe at home and cannot focus on your classes in the same way they could in school. If you monitor what is happening, you collect data that can help you find out and understand these dynamics.
In a short (or long) post I cannot begin to explain all about monitoring, as you can see. The key takeaways I want to leave you with for now are: Think about your activities and your goals. Define what data you might collect. Decide which data are most relevant to you to learn from about efficiency, effectiveness, success, impact, etc. of your work. Find out what information can help you look into uncertainties and side effects. Determine which methods you can use to collect the information you need. Make sure you understand how you can interpret these data and how to put them into perspective. Put all this in a monitoring framework for yourself. Above all, be clear that you are collecting these data, whether metrics or stories, to learn from so that you can become better at whatever it is you do. So that you can grow your impact in this world.
How I can help
If you want to learn more about how you can design a successful project including a monitoring framework, join my course Project Design for nonprofits. You can learn at your own pace and ask me anything in our live sessions and in our members only community. Find out more and enroll via this link: https://bit.ly/courseprojectdesign
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