Technology and M&E: Getting it right

11 December 2015 | Amira Elibiary | Opinion

Technology-enabled tools (for example, iFormBuilder, CEGA’s remote sensors and micro-satellites, PoiMapper and CommCare) have transformed both the monitoring and evaluation (M&E) field and programme delivery. They have enabled programmes to be adaptive, responsive and impactful. Real-time data allows for early, continual evaluation and learning; improved data quality; and has also facilitated participatory M&E where communities report directly, as well as allowing for feedback loops to communities. However, to integrate them effectively one has to address the following key points.

1. Privacy

Always keep the end-user in mind. Photo courtesy of Jan Truter

Responsible data management is not new to development. However, with the use of technology-enabled tools for M&E, it has raised a few challenges related to the privacy of individuals. These include the growing use of biometric data for tracking and sensors to monitor daily habits. The collection of personal financial information and affiliation has also made it vital to consider data security when setting up an M&E framework. This can be addressed through data encryption, ensuring that individual data is not easily identifiable, and developing a policy that ensures responsible data practices. Furthermore, organisations need to be aware of the ethical implication of collecting data on people and the necessity to secure all the permissions and consents required. It is also important to be transparent about the methods of collection, why data is collected and how will it be used with the respective individuals. Finally, ownership has to be explicit when information is shared and a plan should be in place on what happens to data collected once a project ends. In South Africa, the Protection of Personal Information Act, 4 of 2013 also lends a relevant and interesting dynamic.

2. The end-user in mind

To select the most suitable technology-enabled tool(s), taking a human-centred design approach to the selection process will ensure that the organisation does not end up with an irrelevant or unnecessary tool. The approach starts with identifying what is desirable (one should consider project managers as well as community members, i.e. the people who will be using the tool), then viewing the solution through a feasibility and viability lens. This ensures and increases the usability of the tool as well as ensuring that no segment of the community is “ignored” as result of the selected tool, i.e. thinking of the accessibility of the tool and the training that would be required. Once identified, the tool should be piloted on one project before rolling it out.

3. Getting the right balance

Technology facilitates, but does not replace, M&E methodologies such as a well-thought out theory of change and quality M&E plan. So it may be tempting to fall into the habit of selecting or collecting data based on the easiest tool rather than what really matters to your programme. Furthermore, technology can lead to overdependence on digital data and missing the opportunity to observe and interact with communities in order to get a comprehensive picture of an intervention. To get the right balance, one must be very clear on the value the tool will add.

Although there are other factors to contemplate, the above three points offer a good guide to anyone considering the use of technology-enabled tools in their programmes. With the ever-growing need to understand and measure impact, the integration of technology from delivery of services and monitoring of interventions to the evaluation of programmes will continue as it offers possibilities and innovation to increasing reach, moving to scale and improving the efficiency and effectiveness of interventions.

i. This article is influenced by participation in a course offered by TechChange, Washington DC, on Technology for Monitoring and Evaluation, May 2015
ii. IDEO, global design company, Human Centered Design toolkit 2nd edition
iii. Bamberger, M., and Raftree, L., September 2014. Emerging opportunities: monitoring and evaluation in a tech-enabled world. The Rockefeller Foundation