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Measurement Print E-mail
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Written by Administrator   
Thursday, 27 February 2014 00:00

Measurement by itself has little value.  It is only when it is teamed up with evaluation on defined indicators that it becomes a powerful tool to measure your action or intervention.  A simple example can illustrate this truth.  Imagine that you have a table with a broken leg and you decide to fix it.   You make your measurements, cut the lumber and fix it into place.   However, no matter how precise your measurement it is of no use if you do not evaluate whether it does the job once you have finished.  To evaluate the situation you need to know the indicators that you will use to determine whether you have been successful.  In this case the indicators might be that the table top is horizontal and the table does not wobble.  If one or more of the indicators are not fulfilled then your intervention has failed.  Even if the table is now stable and flat you still need to determine whether you could have accomplished your goal spending less time and money. Maybe a thinner piece of lumber or one made of a cheaper wood would have done the job just as well at a lower cost.

As you can see the ideas behind the new science of monitoring and evaluation are pretty obvious, even simple-minded and have been in use in the physical sciences and in business from the very beginning of these disciplines.  We cannot imagine scientists publishing their raw measurement data without explaining what they were trying to find and evaluating whether or not their results prove their hypothesis.  No business person of any sense would authorize a marketing campaign without knowing what results the investment might bring and evaluating whether it had been successful when it was completed.  This evaluation would include a detailed cost analysis to determine if profits had improved by more than the cost of the campaign.

It is therefore odd that the concept of monitoring and evaluation (M&E) has been absent from the social sector until recently.  Often just wanting to do “good” was thought to be enough and no-one ever defined what that good was or if it had been done.  More money has probably been lost in the social sector through lack of monitoring and evaluation than through corruption. Unwise allocation of resources is not a crime but it may well do as much damage as theft.  Pouring more money into education without evaluating whether our children are learning or if what they are learning is serving them well is of no value.  Social welfare schemes that dish out benefits without measuring its effects can sometimes have perverse unintended consequences.  Public health interventions intended to change behaviour are of no use if they do not in fact lead to behaviour change.

The movement to better monitoring and evaluation in the social sector has been steadily gaining ground and has been vastly helped by the entry of successful business persons into the field.  Most donors and funding agencies now follow the lead of Bill Gates where funding is concerned.  It is not enough for recipients to produce receipts to prove that the money was spent according to budget.  To even be considered for funding recipients must have a clear idea of what they are trying to achieve with clear indicators to measure whether their interventions have been successful.  They must also show that the method they propose is cost effective in terms of the impact it will have.  Nowadays it is almost impossible to get funding from a reputable international source for a march, candlelight vigil, rally, convention or motivational speaker because such events usually have no clear and measurable objectives and there is no evidence that such activities have even a generalized lasting effect. 

Why is there still resistance to proper monitoring and evaluation in this age of mass communication? Part of the reason has to be a lack of trained personnel who understand the importance of carefully targeting interventions to get the most out of the time, money and effort involved. The current M&E course, accredited through San Carlos University of Guatemala, and sponsored by USAID/PASCA is a step in the right direction as are other scholarships and courses in this field.  However, there are also elements of lazy-mindedness and self promotion involved. It is relatively easy to conceive and plan an event with a large visible presence while it is extremely difficult to devise effective interventions and the indicators that validate their success.  Large visible mass events are often promoted by people who are very good at selling their ideas and may do wonders for the image of the person or organization that coordinates them but they are far less useful than many small targeted interventions at the grass roots level.  As an example, small well-run outreach and rehabilitation programmes for substance abusers have been shown to change the lives of many addicts while there are no known examples of persons beating their addiction through attendance at a mass rally or a religious campaign. It does not matter how good the used car salesman is if the car does not work! 

It is no excuse that someone else funded the event since that funding was diverted from other more productive efforts.  It is time to seriously question not only corruption but also wasteful spending in our efforts to improve the quality of life for all Belizeans.  The only way to do that is to give serious thought to the unexciting but vital effort of monitoring and evaluation.