Monitoring and evaluation are often used interchangeably, yet they are different concepts. As a result, evaluation may be being compromised. Here is the difference between the two terms and their different purposes.
Monitoring is an ongoing activity of systematic and routine collection of information. Monitoring checks on the progress of a program or initiative often to take remedial action. Many organisations have complex monitoring systems that are used for reporting and accountability. It’s not uncommon, however, for those managing monitoring systems to be unclear as to why they’re doing it.
Evaluation, however, may use data that has been collected and monitored, but it is about assessing––as systematically as possible––a project or program. The evaluative process delves deeper into the relationships between the components that make up the initiative, the effects produced by it, and the overall impact of the program or service. Evaluation takes place at one or more specific points in time. It is about learning broad lessons that may be applicable to other programs and projects. It also provides assurance and accountability to stakeholders, and recommendation for the improvement of current and future projects.
June Davidson and Patricia Rogers are well respected evaluation practitioners who summarise the differences very succinctly with some examples of questions that relate to monitoring or evaluation.
Example of monitoring question:
How many people or communities were reached or served? Were the targeted numbers reached?
Example of evaluation question:
How adequate was the program reach? Did we reach the right people? Did we reach enough people?
You can see that the difference is that monitoring questions involve descriptive accounts of what happened, whereas evaluative questions make informed judgements, based on the monitoring information available. whereas evaluative questions are judgemental.
Why do you need to know this?
If you run programs, services or activities that you intend to evaluate, it is important to know what you can expect to get out of both monitoring and evaluation. Remember, effective monitoring provides information on emerging issues and provides the facts that feed into evaluation. Evaluation, on the other hand, tells you if you are on the path to success and when you’ve arrived. It is advisable to plan from the start what you intend to measure, monitor and evaluate, for what purpose and who will receive the information. Then, you will spend you budget wisely, allocate the right resources to the job and find the answers to your questions in a clear and meaningful way.
How to implement useful monitoring systems
There are a few key things you can do to ensure that you your monitoring systems are set up well, and that the data they collect may be useful to you.
- Keep your monitoring systems simple and at a manageable scale.
- Decide what you are going to do if you uncover negative results. Will you report on those?
- Learn how to make changes to your reporting systems.
- Decide what evidence you’re looking for before you start collecting data. Use evaluation questions to make your data monitoring more meaningful.
- Set up your monitoring systems for subsequent evaluation.
If you understand the difference between monitoring and evaluation you will be able to set up these systems early, and well. This will ensure good quality reporting, and a seamless transition between monitoring and evaluation. Because, although monitoring ISN’T evaluation, it sure it closely related to it!