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Design Monitoring & Evaluation: An Inside Look on SFCG Programs

October 27, 2009

By Alisa Albee

Search for Common Ground is one of the largest peacebuilding organizations worldwide. We are often asked how do we do what we do? Integral to our operations and success is our Design, Monitoring, and Evaluation team.

Fondly known as DM&E, our specialists provide essential information to our many programs. Below are answers to some frequently asked questions regarding DM&E. It’s a compilation of responses from Search’s Washington-based DM&E specialist Jerome Helfft, Regional DM&E Advisor in Guinea Patrick Masuba, and my own research as intern for SFCG’s Children & Youth Department.

What is the role of DM&E in Search for Common Ground programs?

DM&E is the backbone of SFCG programs. It develops a framework for SFCG to create programs and projects but is also a way to examine the their impact. DM&E provides an opportunity for programs to reflect, learn and improve the effectiveness of their work and pave the way for future projects.

What are Design, Monitoring and Evaluation?

Design is the process of transforming an idea into a tangible program. The key to design is creating a framework of prioritized objectives that will achieve the overall goal of the project. Each objective is, thus, a step towards the goal. Design also involves the creation of indicators that allow a program to gage the success of its project. For example, if a project goal were to facilitate the participation of marginalized groups into a country’s democratic process, then an indicator of the project’s success would be the percentage of people from the marginalized group who report participating in democratic decision-making. These clear statistics can help a program assess whether or not it’s on target for reaching its goal.

Monitoring is an ongoing process that tracks project implementation by evaluating the immediate results of accomplished activities. For instance, monitoring can involve surveying participants immediately after training to determine what they learned.

Evaluations are conducted at the onset and conclusion of a project in order to assess the project’s impact on the targeted population. Occasionally, a program may conduct an evaluation long after a project has ended to appraise its long-term effects. The evaluation results are used to improve the effectiveness of current programs and fuel concepts for newer ones.

How are evaluations conducted?

There are multiple tools that can be used to evaluate a project including; surveys, questionnaires, interviews and discussion groups. Each tool has a unique purpose and its use depends on the type of information a program is trying to gather.

According to Patrick Masuba, focus group discussions and key informant interviews are useful for capturing qualitative data—which helps to “describe situations or issues, before, during and after the life span of the project.” Surveys and questionnaires, on the other hand, are ideal for quantitative data—concise, hard statistics such as the number of people who experienced positive attitude changes as a result of the project.

Is DM&E a universal process for all Search programs?

The same general process and techniques of DM&E are used for each SFCG programs but for some, there are differences. For the Children and Youth Program, DM&E must be altered to effectively reach that target group.

Children have shorter attention spans then adults, so it is important to ensure that questionnaires and surveys are short and concise and that interviews are not lengthy. In addition, questions are simplified so that surveys are easily understood by youth.

When conducting focus group discussions, the size should be limited between 7 (ideal) to 10 youth. And, it is advisable to obtain parent permission and/or go through the structure (office, community, facilitators) established within the community.

What challenges does DM&E experience when working with Children and Youth?

Most children and youth are willing to participate in evaluations, but there are several challenges to collecting data. First, surveys and other tools of evaluation take time to administer, and does not easily fit into the schedule of the project. Working with project facilitators to choose an evaluation tool that fits their schedule is key to achieving both the goal of DM&E and the SFCG program.

A second challenge is though children are typically enthusiastic about partaking in the evaluation, they often do not fully understand the importance or duties of their role as an evaluee. Lastly, it can be difficult to obtain authentic, reliable answers about topics that are considered taboo, such as sexual violence.

Although, children and youth typically give more genuine answers then adults, most feel they need to give a politically correct answer. For example, in a patriarchal society, when asked, “do you think women participating in government is an asset to your country?” a majority of participants may answer “Yes” simply because they think that’s the answer project facilitators would like to hear. For this reason, it’s important to use multiple tools of evaluation, in hopes of uncovering the superficial answers and revealing participants’ actual beliefs.

Alisa Albee is an intern for SFCG’s Children and Youth

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