Measuring the difference

Corporates and non-profit organisations can take some simple steps to improve the measurement of their activities and the results thereof. Monitoring and evaluation (M&E) has been topical in the CSI arena for a number of years. Monitoring refers to the ongoing collection of data to assess progress and evaluation refers to the periodic assessment of impact.

Survey results from Trialogue's 15th CSI Handbook show that M&E practices are widespread.

In 2012, almost 100% of corporates and non-profit organisations claimed they checked that their funding was spent as intended. Site visits were also undertaken by more than 90% of corporates for some of their projects.

Over 60% of corporates and non-profits claimed to have commissioned external evaluations and baseline studies on some of their projects. Despite this, however, less than half of corporates reported on project performance and just over 20% of corporates and non-profits reported on project impact.

Measurement benefits
Strategy is ultimately about making tough resource allocation decisions. These decisions are more difficult when there are seemingly unending development needs.

The most fundamental benefit of M&E is that it provides the information to make sound strategic decisions. Resources can be allocated to projects that are achieving measurable results. In this way, impact can be amplified.

Proper M&E will identify where the issues lie in activities and projects that are not yet having an impact and decisions can be made about addressing the challenges or exiting.

M&E should be used as a learning tool throughout the life of a project, constantly providing information that allows for adjustments that will enhance meeting the project's objectives and achieving its impact. A further benefit is that regular M&E facilitates the sharing of information and alignment of interests between all project stakeholders including donors, non-profits and beneficiaries.

Sharing of lessons beyond the immediate stakeholders in the project can greatly assist other donors and non-profits in their endeavours. Importantly, non-profits that clearly articulate the impact their projects are having will find it easier to attract funding.

Making a start internally
Almost all corporates and non-profits monitor their expenditure on different activities and projects.

This widespread practice should be extended to include a number of other metrics. The outputs of each project should be regularly captured alongside expenditure. Outputs are the short-term, direct results of the projects — usually the number of beneficiaries that were supported during the measurement period.

To go beyond this, organisations must clearly identify the objectives of each of their projects, and then determine how they will know if the objectives are met and how this will be measured. These objectives and indicators of success may be quantitative (test results, number of jobs for example) or qualitative (case studies and quotes).

This exercise is ideally done in the planning phases of the project, but can be done at any point. It should be done in collaboration with project partners, so that there is agreement on who will collect the information and how often.

Once the metrics have been determined, they can be built into existing processes. For example, CSI practitioners can collect specific data at each site visit. Non-profits can include data for each of the agreed indicators in their reports to donors. Simply agreeing a set of straightforward indicators is an important first step to internal monitoring.

Seeking external support
Determining the impact of development projects is not always as straightforward. Impact refers to the longer term changes that have come about as a result of a project, including changes in behaviours or access to opportunities.

They usually require evaluation at more than one point in time as well as primary data collection from beneficiaries.

This is where it makes most sense to engage an external M&E specialist, because there are many different approaches to evaluation and it is unusual for organisations to have this knowledge and experience in-house.

Using external resources is typically more costly and, as such, should be selectively done for those projects with significant expenditure or strategic value. In this era of increased transparency, CSI departments and non-profits need to be accountable for their decisions. They need to clearly articulate their objectives, how their activities contribute to achieving these and why they allocate funds in the way that they do. Without proper M&E systems in place, they will find this difficult to do.

Delegates attending Trialogue's Making CSI Matter 2013 conference will have the chance to explore platforms that can be used to connect with young people, and ways to improve work prospects for young adults on May 28 and 29. For more information visit www.csimatters.co.za

Although this article has been made possible by the Mail & Guardian's advertisers, content and photographs were sourced independently by the M&G supplements editorial team. It forms part of a larger supplement.

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