Attributes you need as an M&E officer

Monitoring and evaluation: an insider’s guide to the skills you’ll need.

In international development, everyone knows that good intentions are simply not enough. It is critical to agree on appropriate aims and then make sure that these can be achieved efficiently.

There are several different ways to achieve development goals. Take malaria, for example approaches might include investing in vector control (reducing numbers of malaria-carrying mosquitoes); ensuring that people can access bednets; providing education on how to avoid contracting the disease; making chemoprophylaxis (prevention medication) more accessible; or treating malaria cases with better drugs, to name just a few.

We know that some ways of dealing with development challenges, such as malaria, will be more successful than others. Some approaches will have unintended consequences, they will vary in cost and will work in certain places but not in others. So how can those designing interventions decide which approaches to choose?

This is where evaluation studies come in: they aim to help development actors make the best choices. Evaluations can be used to improve programmes as they roll out and/or can try to estimate whether and how particular aims were achieved and whether this was better and more cost-effective than other courses of action.

In order to design, run or interpret evaluations, budding development professionals need an understanding of the following.

1. Research study design, outcome measurement, and statistical methods #

Development programmes are often complex, but this does not mean that scientific methods such as experiments and careful analysis can’t aid a better understanding of whether programmes achieve their desired impact.

2. Social science methods #

Development interventions depends on the complex interaction of multiple stakeholders and institutions. People’s goals and incentives differ, power is exercised and resisted in myriad ways, and choices are constrained by poverty or gender inequalities. Social science methods are required to make sense of these complexities to enable more effective implementation.

3. Cost-benefit analysis #

When deciding how best to allocate limited resources, those designing interventions must be able to estimate the costs as well as the consequences of different programmes to ensure they get value for money. Cost-benefit analysis can also be used to compare programmes across different sectors, for instance, comparing health and education interventions.

4. Evidence-based decision making #

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Understanding what is already known is essential to avoid duplication. Synthesizing evidence means pulling together all that has been said about a subject, making judgments about what bits of information are most useful, summarising this evidence, and planning new studies that focus on the most important contributions.

Teams of development professionals will need all these skills to vary degrees. For instance, evaluation experts need to be able to design and implement evaluation studies, while programme managers offer the best perspective on what interventions may be feasible and need to know how to commission and interpret evaluations.

But it is not only development workers who need evaluation skills. Evaluation is about accountability, identifying waste and avoiding harmful effects, and so these skills will also be essential to enable civil society, democratic representatives, and government officials to hold NGOs and other development actors to account.

Where can you learn these skills? #

Over the past few years, evaluation courses have mushroomed in institutions all over the world, ranging from full degrees to short courses, face-to-face or via distance learning, at various levels of difficulty. Some examples are listed below.

Evaluation skills are also developed and championed within organisations through on-the-job and peer-to-peer learning. It is great to see growing commitment within international development organisations and donor agencies to developing key evaluation skills for their staff. After all, as management consultant Peter Drucker said: “What gets measured gets managed”, and development matters too much to not be properly managed.

Some examples of training courses in impact evaluation – the list is not exhaustive.

Short courses #

Degree programmes #

Conferences and seminars #

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Dr James Hargreaves is director of the Centre for Evaluation, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Follow @HargreavesJR on Twitter.

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As an M&E officer, there a few important hard skills worth brushing up on. At the same time, M&E is a great deal about a set of core competencies, relevant to the changing world of work. M&E is really all about strategy and about understanding change. Remaining dynamic and responsive are key as you grow your career in M&E and many of these competencies will ensure that you will always have a place in the market. This list includes some of the more direct skills which will stand you in good stead as an M&E officer, but also includes a range of core competencies which will make your that your M&E career shines.

#1 Design and Strategy #

Good M&E requires an excellent understanding of programmatic design, and a good grasp of strategy. This is not an essential skill as you embark on your first Data Officer role, but if you are the kind of person who is a strategic thinker, someone who thinks in systems, and can hold a bird’s eye view of a challenge and its solution, you then would likely be well placed for a career in impact.

#2 Analytics #

If over analysing things is something you do a great deal, then why not put it to good use! Looking at social systems through an impact lens takes an analytical mind. As an M&E officer, you will find that having an analytical way of thinking will ensure that your practice keeps pace with the programme. M&E is not simply about analysing and presenting data, although this is a critical skill, it is about reflective thinking, and being able to understand the stories behind the data.

#3 Data Skills #

Data skills are critical for any M&E officer. Coupled with strong analytical skills, a knowledge of how to analyse and visualise data is key. This may include having a good command of data analytic and visualisation software. If you enjoy presenting and communicating stories of change using data, then M&E officer is a great position for you. Be sure to always enrich your work by deepening your understanding of social systems and the complexity of development practice.

#4 Report Writing #

Once the numbers have been crunched, being able to explain the insights through clear reporting is a critical part of M&E practice. Report writing is required to keep funders updated, to build advocacy, and most importantly, to provide feedback to programme practitioners as they do their work, to ensure that impact is optimised.

#5 Presentation #

As M&E officer, having good presentation skills will always stand you in good stead and will enable you to progress your career faster.  Analysing the data is only the first step, but communicating and presenting this makes the work real, and is the key to deriving all the benefits from M&E including more informed programming, improved impact and more meaningful advocacy.

#6 Curiosity #

The enquiring mind is well suited to M&E, in a craft where the only constant is change. Asking the right questions is key, and a desire to explore more contest, to better understand issue areas and solution sets will ensure that your practice is always well informed. If you enjoy learning, and find that in all other jobs, you stayed curious, then this will be a great fit for you.

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#7 Creativity #

Creativity and ingenuity are great skills in M&E. Although data might seem as if it fits more squarely in the left-brain court, combining this with data visualisation skills, and conceptualising presentations of impact in inherently a creative process. If you love building, crafting and telling stories, then you’d be a great fit for a position as impact officer.

#8 Attention to detail #

Much M&E work takes meticulous attention to detail. Working with data requires a special kind of focus, and in M&E accurate and clean data is critical. If you have excellent focus, and an abbreviation for perfection, then you’d make a great M&E officer.

#9 Resilience #

M&E work is challenging, filled with challengers. With fierce competition for funding and high standards for rigour when it comes to impact reporting, it is important to have the skills of being able to try-try-again.

#10 Purpose Driven #

The more the work you undertake matches your own purpose the more motivated you will be to uncover the real learnings, and to assist in achieving impact. Find your Dharma, your calling, that thing that keeps you up at night, the solution that just keeps you asking questions. If you operate to serve, heal, solve and build- then this and your purpose will keep driving you to greater heights in your development career.

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10 Online Courses to Develop the Skills You Need #

One easily accessible way to hone your skills as M&E officer are online courses. Below we have added several free and paid courses you may want to consider: