Since my arrival to Vietnam, my work has focused on assessing the impacts and effectiveness of microfinance and client satisfaction. This has led me to reading a multitude of articles and commentaries on monitoring and evaluation (M&E) tools in development. No matter the project, the NGO, or the size of the budget, the big dilemma or question to be answered is how in-depth should an evaluation go, how much money and time should be spent, and what are we really exploring? While the monitoring and evaluation of development projects are crucial to the growth, success, and sustainability of a project, it is often hard to justify spending large sums of money on evaluation when money could be better applied or is needed elsewhere in development programming. The key is balance.
My struggles here first began when I was researching effective ways to evaluate the impact of microfinance on the surrounding community. In my research I have come across many articles tearing down the research of others, claiming it was not explicit enough to draw the conclusions that had been made. I do not want to make this mistake. Then I found RCT, randomized control trials. Many articles praised this as the Holy Grail for measuring the impact of microfinance. This is the answer I thought. Little did I know how improbable this type of trial is for an organization with a small budget and an approaching deadline. The dilemma: solid research and evidence or just enough to expose areas needing improvements?
Then I stumbled upon an OXFAM blog post on the matter. This post recognizes the need to demonstrate the impact of programming without going bankrupt or becoming what the author calls a ‘development lab’. He says what Oxfam is attempting to do is to “mimic what RCTs do by statistically controlling for measured differences between intervention and comparison populations”. This is reassuring, as our current plan of attack is to survey two communities, one where TDF’s programming is present and the control community where no microfinance opportunities are present. We are also hoping to mimic RCTs on a smaller scale; however, with financial restrictions we are still out to lunch on the final decision of implementation and size of sample populations.
There is a multitude of M&E tools, each with their own benefits, but in a time where organizations are strapped for both time and money with a growing demand to report, it is important to find the most efficient and effective way of project evaluation. However, as a student I am conscious of collecting accurate data. I am consistently at odds with what is academically preferred and what is best for the organization, or more important, the client. Ultimately monitoring and evaluation is intended to improve programming, get better results, and further help the vulnerable people for whom the project was designed. We should keep this in mind.
If you have any ideas or comments on M&E tools in development or suggestions for my dilemma, I would love to hear them.