How to create a monitoring and evaluation (M&E) system – step-by-step guide

Know your program
Before you start work on the M&E system it’s important that you understand as much as possible about the program itself. You need to know why the program was created, what the goals are, and how the goals will be achieved. You also need to know what all the activities, outputs and outcomes are. This information should be available in documents such as the program logframe, problem tree and/or theory of change.

Choose your indicators

The first step is to decide which indicators you will use to measure the success of your program. This is a very important step, so you should try to involve as many people as possible to get different perspectives.

You need to choose indicators for each level of your program – outputs, outcomes and goals. There can be more than one indicator for each level, although you should try to keep the total number of indicators manageable.

Each indicator should be:

Directly related to the output, outcome or goal listed on the problem tree or log frame.
Something that you can measure accurately using either qualitative or quantitative methods, and your available resources.
If possible, a standard indicator that is commonly used for this type of program. Using standard indicators can be better because they are already well defined, there are tools available to measure them, and you will be able to compare your results to other programs or national statistics.
Something that will be useful for decision making to improve the program. There is no point measuring an indicator if the results won’t make any difference to your decisions.

Some organisations have very strict rules about how the indicators must be written (for example, it must always start with a number, or must always contain an adjective). In my experience these rules usually lead to indicators that are convoluted or don’t make sense. My advice is just to make sure the indicators are written in a way where everyone involved in the project (including the donor) can understand them.

Define how your indicators will be measured
Once you have chosen your indicators you need to write a definition for each one. The definition describes exactly how the indicator is calculated. If you don’t have definitions there is a serious risk that indicators might be calculated differently at different times, which means the results can’t be compared.

Put everything into the M&E plan template
Once you have completed all the previous steps you need to write up everything in one document. This document is often called the M&E plan, but it can also be called the M&E procedures, M&E standard operating procedures (SOP), or M&E system documentation. Regardless of the name the content is usually similar. If you prefer to have it all available online then you could also upload it to an Aid Information Management System (AIMS).

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