M&E for improved decision making and project planning

In our previous article, we spoke about the importance of transparency and accountability when applying monitoring and evaluation (M&E) principles to public administration. In this article, we will talk about how M&E can benefit decision-making and project planning.

Without good planning, a project can be doomed to fail. This might not be too serious when it is just a home DIY project, but when large-scale government projects are poorly planned, the damage can be extensive. As well as wasting large amounts of money, failed public projects can also be damaging to society and the communities they are meant to benefit.

Next we will talk about the challenges in implementing an effective M&E process, the different approaches to M&E and then go into a bit more detail on the different types of monitoring and evaluation approaches that can be used. We’ll also show how to set up an M&E plan and touch on the increasingly popular field of data management.


Wits offers a fully online Post Graduate Diploma in Public Administration specialising in Monitoring and Evaluation.

  • Duration: 18 months
  • Admission requirements: Bachelors plus two years of work experience
  • Course fees payable in instalments with financial assistance available
  • The course consists of eight modules

Similar Wits online courses:

Apply Now


Challenges in the M&E process


Ideally, there should be plenty of time to fully plan a project and set up an M&E strategy and process before anything gets started. Often, however, this is not the case and M&E plans need to be integrated into existing operations that are ongoing.

This can be a big challenge to set up an effective M&E process and could be compared to the difference between working on a car engine when it is off and working on an engine while it is still running.

In their case study of the HIV monitoring and evaluation system in South Africa, Mary Kawonga, Duane Blaauw and Sharon Fonn noted that planning> was in fact top-down and uncoordinated. They termed this a “silo” approach while noting that it is a common problem experienced across the globe and not just in South Africa.

They noted several challenges to South Africa’s HIV M&E system, including poor integration with existing systems, unnecessary duplication of information and a lack of coordination or sharing of information between those working in different districts.

Knowing that there can often be a disconnect between a theoretical plan and the actual practical experience in real life, it is important to be pragmatic in setting up an M&E process that is both adaptable and appropriate to the setting.



Different approaches to monitoring and evaluation


When planning a new project, it is best to monitor and evaluate the progress from early on in the project timeline. The plan should be flexible enough that it can be adjusted based upon the information gleaned from the M&A process.

M&E can be implemented across a very wide range of projects, organisations and activities, each with its own specific nuances and needs. As a result, there is not one single, one-size-fits-all approach to setting up an M&E plan and process.

While certain basic principles and aims tend to remain the same across projects, careful consideration should be given to determine the most appropriate and practical approach to the particular project at hand.

M&E is itself a two-stage process. There is the monitoring element used to obtain the information and then there is the evaluation element to process, interpret and assess the information. We will take a look at some of the different ways that each of these can be implemented.



Very broadly speaking, there are three different approaches to monitoring. These are result-oriented, constructivist and reflexive. When looking into the different types of monitoring approaches in more detail, however, there are seven different ways to approach the monitoring process.

  • Process monitoring
  • Compliance monitoring
  • Context monitoring
  • Beneficiary monitoring
  • Financial monitoring
  • Organisational monitoring
  • Results monitoring



The evaluation process makes up the second stage of the M&E process. It makes use of all the data gathered in the monitoring process to determine how effectively the project was carried out. A good evaluation process will not just report on the success of a project, but will also provide insights and suggestions on how to improve efficiency.

  • Formative evaluation
  • Process evaluation
  • Impact evaluation
  • Outcome evaluation
  • Meta-evaluation


How to set up a monitoring and evaluation plan

The OECD published a handbook for development practitioners that it developed together with the World Bank, Ten Steps to a Results-Based Monitoring and Evaluation System. The guide goes into far more detail over its 263 pages, but it breaks down the 10 steps as follows:

  1. Conducting a readiness assessment
  2. Agreeing on outcomes to monitor and evaluate
  3. Selecting key performance indicators to monitor outcomes
  4. Setting baselines and gathering data on indicators
  5. Planning for improvement — selecting results targets
  6. Monitoring for results
  7. Using evaluation information to support a results-based management system
  8. Reporting the findings
  9. Using the findings
  10. Sustaining the M&E system within the organisation

Intrac, an NGO that itself supports the work of civil society groups, notes in their guide to setting up M&E plans that there is no set process for developing an M&E plan. Drawing from their extensive experience in M&E since 1992, they do however stress the importance of communicating with all stakeholders and those who will carry out the plan. They also stress the importance of adaptability and that a plan should be able to change if new information emerges or the project changes.


What is data management

The concept of data management arose in the 1980s as computers came into wider use by businesses and organisations. The terms information management and knowledge management have also come into wide use and generally refer to the same thing.

Where information management and knowledge management do sometimes differ from data management is that they can include an element of analysis of the data or information that is being managed, while the original term data management tends to be limited to the technical process of storing and retrieving that information.

In recent years, the term “big data” has come into common usage, referring to data management on a mass scale.

When carrying out an M&E plan, you will likely engage with data management to at least some degree. At its most simple, any M&E plan entails the collection of data through the monitoring process, followed by the analysis of that data in the evaluation process.


How to study M&E further

If you would like to become involved in planning and executing M&E campaigns, the Wits School of Governance has a news Postgraduate Diploma in Public Management in the field of Monitoring and Evaluation (PDMPM in M&E) that is offered fully online and can be studied in your spare time.

If you meet all of the admission criteria, you can apply now. Once you’ve applied and paid the first instalment of your course fees, you can begin your studies within no more than two months as there are multiple starting dates throughout the year.

If you’re interested in studying a Postgraduate Diploma in Public Management without specialising in M&E, you can read more about the Wits online Post Graduate Diploma in Public Management. Alternatively, you might instead be interested in the Post Graduate Diploma in Business Administration course.

Improved transparency and accountability with monitoring and evaluation

When dealing with public finances and public administration, it is very important that there is both transparency and accountability. Although they may have been ignored in years gone by, both transparency and accountability are increasingly important within public finance and administration. As part of best practice, both should also play large roles in the monitoring and evaluation (M&E) process, which we covered in this article.

In this article, we will cover how transparency and accountability are legally required by government departments, international trends in monitoring and evaluation and show some examples of organisations putting it into action.


Why transparency and accountability are needed

As we have seen within South Africa’s government, through the interim findings of the Zondo commission on state capture, a lack of transparency and accountability can be incredibly costly. Without transparency, it is far too easy for people to make decisions and take actions that are personally beneficial, but that comes at a cost to the public.

By implementing effective M&E processes and improving transparency and accountability, the idea is that there will be no (or at least far less) corruption. The need for this goes beyond governments and state budgets, as it also applies to other public sector and civil society organisations. Large charity organisations can also be prone to corruption, or the more euphemistic term, inappropriate spending.

People who donate to a charity want to know that the money they have donated actually goes to the cause they want to support and is not, instead, mostly spent on staff salaries and top-heavy administrative costs. This is even more so the case for large organisational donors or state donors, some of which include a transparency rating in the scorecards by which they rate potential recipients.


South African legal requirements

Before South Africa entered democracy in 1994, there was little to no transparency and accountability within the government. When the South African Constitution was drawn up to become what many consider the most progressive in the world, it included several sections relating to transparency and accountability.

As the Treasury’s Framework for Managing Programme Performance information states in its chapter on the publishing of performance information, all government institutions are required to publish administrative and performance information to:

  • Account to Parliament and provincial legislatures
  • Be transparent and accountable to the public
  • Provide private individuals and the private sector access to information held by the government that they can use in decision-making
  • Provide researchers access to information.


With this having been written into the Constitution all those years ago, you’d be forgiven for thinking that these processes and guidelines have been followed ever since. Unfortunately, the gap between policy and actual practice is often big and it can take a long time for huge institutions to adapt and adjust. On the plus side, this means there is still a need across much of the government for skilled and ethical professionals who can carry out M&E in a transparent and accountable way.


Watching the watchdogs

Earlier we spoke of how there are many opportunities for skilled M&E professionals within the government. There are also many other work opportunities in the non-governmental space.

In South Africa, we have the Parliamentary Monitoring Group (PMG), which was set up as a partnership between the Black Sash, Human Rights Committee and the Institute for Democracy in South Africa. Its aim is to provide information on the proceedings of more than 50 South African parliamentary committees.

As the PMG notes, there is no official public record available of the committee proceedings. This valuable information is needed by social justice organisations to lobby Parliament on legislation, matters of democratic processes and parliamentary oversight.

If you would like to read more, the PMG put together a detailed case study showing the areas in which they are involved, as well as giving some other comparative services around the world. Looking at what these different agencies cover gives a good idea of the many important applications of quality M&E across all spheres of society.

One interesting example is opensecrets.org, which is a US group that monitors the funding of political groups. This is important information for the democratic process as it exposes, at least to a degree, the large impact that corporations and the lobbying establishment can have on political decisions.

Over the years many people, including a character played by comedian Robin Williams, have suggested that politicians should wear jackets with the badges of their sponsors on them so that we know who is funding them, much like race car drivers do with their sponsors. While that is very unlikely to ever happen, Open Secrets does at least provide similar information.


International trends in monitoring and evaluation

So far we have spoken mostly of South Africa’s growing need for good monitoring and evaluation, but the increased focus on transparency and accountability is in fact a global trend.

As the world’s countries become better connected, there is improved cooperation between countries. There is now far greater sharing of information on matters such as tax records and financial transfers. Some of this has been driven by an effort to clamp down on crime and, in more extreme circumstances, on things like terrorist funding.

One example of this is recent changes to banking legislation in Switzerland. As you may know from older movies or TV shows, a Swiss bank account was a popular choice for people wanting to keep their ill-gotten wealth safe (such as money from undeclared profits, bribes or drugs and arms deals). Until recently, Swiss privacy laws meant that banks were not required to disclose their holdings or any client information. This however has changed as part of a crackdown to recoup missing tax revenue and clamp down on illegal activity.

Late last year saw the publishing of the Pandora Papers, which were described as an “offshore asset data tsunami” and which exposed the secret financial dealings of many wealthy and prominent people. According to the report, it included 330 politicians and 130 Forbes billionaires, as well as celebrities, royalty, religious leaders and, of course, outright criminals.

Before the Pandora Papers, there was the Panama Papers leak, which exposed similar dealings by a wide collection of the super-wealthy a few years earlier. While tax havens continue to exist, the net is certainly closing in on tax avoidance. Both global business and society are placing increasing importance on ethical behaviour and putting increasing pressure on those who refuse to be transparent or accountable.


How to start your M&E career

If the idea of increasing the accountability of organisations and helping prevent important and far-reaching decisions being made behind closed doors, then you may want to consider a career in monitoring and evaluation.

The Wits School of Governance offers a specialised Postgraduate Diploma in Public Management in the field of Monitoring and Evaluation (PDMPM in M&E) that will equip you with all the skills you need to work in this important field. You can read more about the 18-month course’s modules, fees and admission requirements as well as our blog article on what monitoring and evaluation covers.

Should you decide the course is right for you, you can begin your application right away and get started with your course within the next two months.

What you will learn with Monitoring and Evaluation

In response to the growing need to better monitor and track the progress of public projects, the Wits School of Governance now offers an online Postgraduate Diploma in Public Management in the field of Monitoring and Evaluation (PDMPM in M&E). Studying this course will give you the skills needed for senior and managerial roles in public administration and management, with special attention paid to the monitoring and evaluation (M&E) process.

This is a specialised version of the Post Graduate Diploma in Public Management (PDPM) course already offered online at Wits. It is aimed at those who have completed a Bachelor’s degree and have at least two years of relevant work experience. It can be done in just 18 months and you can do all eight of the seven-week modules in your own time.

As with that more general PDPM, this is a post-experience diploma that provides you with key skills in public management. Both courses cover all the relevant areas needed for senior roles in public management, such as governance, development, public policy, ethics and leadership. The PDMPM in M&E has an extra focus on M&E-related modules, with an emphasis on data management and data management systems.

In this article, we’ll look at the importance of monitoring and evaluation in ensuring the efficiency of public programmes and how it can have a large impact on society. We’ll also cover examples of M&E in action and go into a bit of detail about what is covered in the PDMPM in M&E course.


The importance of monitoring and evaluation

Having a reliable M&E process is critical for effective public administration. As the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) states, policy monitoring and evaluation has “a critical role to play in the effective design, implementation and delivery of public policies and services”. Many large international groups such as the United Nations and the World Bank have been making use of this process for many years.

Without having reliable ways of tracking the progress of a public project or policy, it is impossible to really know if it has been effective in achieving its goal. This is where M&E plays a key role. When the M&E process has been well thought out, it provides decision-makers and planners with reliable data that can be used to plan further or to adjust and improve current policy.


Ensuring efficiency

By monitoring and analysing ongoing projects, those responsible for them can determine how successful their policies are in achieving their goals. An important element of this is that it places the focus on actual outcomes. This forces decision-makers to ensure they don’t merely “throw money at the problem”, which both government departments and private businesses have been guilty of. Although there’s now a big shift away from this, both in South Africa and internationally, the problem still occurs.

Businesses are offered incentives to spend money on corporate social responsibility, but this is often just been seen as a box-ticking exercise. So long as the business can say that it spent a certain amount, there is little concern over what is done with that money. However, those companies that take their corporate social responsibility more seriously want to ensure that their money gets results. Within government and the public sector, there is also an increasing awareness of this, along with growing pressure for more transparency and accountability.


Social impact

One example of throwing money at a problem, is South Africa’s education system. As a country, we spend a relatively large portion of our national budget on education, but the quality of the government education system lags that of many countries spending less. For comparison, in 2018 we spent 6.16% of our gross domestic product on education, nearly double the 3.33% that Hong Kong spent.

Despite having a large budget, the Department of Basic Education has regularly failed to deliver school textbooks to learners in some parts of the country, among other failures, which has landed it in a landmark court case and brought it to blows with the SA Human Rights Commission in past years.

While monitoring and evaluating public policy might seem like it is mostly theoretical, the work done can have very real consequences. As shown by the above example of education, any improvements brought by better M&E can better the lives and future prospects of an entire generation.


M&E in action: real examples

As a clear indication of the importance of M&E in public administration, South Africa has a department almost entirely dedicated to this, the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation (DPME). Previously called the Department of Performance Monitoring and Evaluation, the name change reflects the trend that sees M&E as a vital part of the planning process and not something separate.

Part of the department’s work is guided by the National Evaluation Policy Framework, which was signed into law in November 2011. Although more than 10 years old, this is still a relatively new piece of legislation. There is still much work to be done across departments, meaning there is an ongoing need for skilled M&E professionals.

Although there has been criticism of the way that governments around the world have handled their response to the Covid-19 pandemic, many countries including South Africa have sought a scientific approach to policy. This means they have had to continually monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of lockdowns and other measures and have had to adjust policy appropriately as new information emerges. In South Africa, we’ve moved through different levels of lockdown as the government has applied what it called a risk-adjusted strategy based on the latest data on infections, deaths and hospitalisations.


Civil society and NGOs

Outside of government, there are also civil society groups that monitor and evaluate government policy. The Parliamentary Monitoring Group (PMG) makes use of this process to evaluate the effectiveness of government policies. Recent examples of policies that are being monitored and evaluated include the Covid-19 public health policies, land reform policy and provincial budgets.

We earlier mentioned the World Bank as one institution that has already been applying M&E principles for many years. Drawing on experience in many projects around the world, they have put together a collection of case studies that you can read for more examples: World Bank Resilience M&E: Good practice case studies.


About the PDMPM in M&E course

The course runs over 18 months and is made up of eight separate modules that run for seven weeks each. In order to qualify for this course, you will need to have completed a Bachelor’s level degree and have done two years of relevant work experience. If you pass the course with at least 65%, you may go on to study a Master’s level qualification at Wits.

We’ll cover each course briefly below and you can click on the name to jump to that section. Alternatively, have a look in more detail on the PDMPM course page.


What is covered in the PDMPM in M&E

These are the eight modules that make up the PDMPM. The selection of modules covers general issues of public administration while placing a focus on M&E, with theory and real-world practical advice.


Governance, leadership and public value

This module gives a thorough understanding of government functions and interaction within the private sector and civil society on local, regional and national levels. It also looks at challenges around public administration and how different models of governance and leadership impact the spread of economic and other resources across society. Students will also learn how this contributes to the creation of public value.


Public policy

The public policy module examines the concepts and theoretical frameworks of public policy. It also looks at models of public policy-making and analysis with real-world examples in South Africa, Africa and globally. The course will provide students with the technical skills required to evaluate policy, manage vested interests, maintain relations and coordinate projects across multiple departments. M&E, consultation and public relations are also included.


Public finance and performance-based budgeting

Here students will be introduced to key concepts in public finance and public sector economics. Topics include the role of the state in the economy, public expenditure, taxation and fiscal policy. Key areas of social policy are also investigated such as education, health and social security,



Different concepts and current debates about development are covered in this module, as well as the role of both the state and markets in development. It deals with the role of local communities, global actors, private and NGO sectors as well as the impacts of opening up of markets and economic deregulation. Students will also address challenges to managing development in emerging economies like South Africa, including ways to tackle many forms of inequality.


Analytical methods

To effectively assess and measure policy requires good analytical skills. This module covers the analysis and interpretation of quantitative data relevant to public policy. Students will learn how to make decisions and communicate findings based on the statistical interpretation of data.



This module looks at the application of evaluation in a range of public and development management contexts, as well as various forms and approaches to evaluation. Coverage is given to debates around evaluation theory and practice and issues in evaluation faced by sub-Saharan Africa.


Monitoring systems

Whether commissioning, managing, designing or implementing a monitoring system, large amounts of information need to be handled. This module focuses on routine data monitoring, data management and data reporting. It covers a range of monitoring systems used in different contexts in the public sector and civil society.


Monitoring and evaluation evidence in policy management

This module addresses crucial questions on the use of research in public policy, teaching students methods to strengthen the link between research and public policy. It also provides a solid grounding in theoretical and conceptual debates around M&E and its use for public policy.


Apply now

If you would like to study the PDMPM in M&E and you meet all of the admission criteria, you can apply now. Once you’ve applied and paid the first instalment of your course fees, you can begin your studies within no more than two months.

If you’re interested in studying a Postgraduate Diploma in Public Management without specialising in M&E, you can read more about the Wits online Post Graduate Diploma in Public Management. Alternatively, you might instead be interested in the Post Graduate Diploma in Business Administration course.