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

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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.