Step 1: Get an undergraduate degree
If you have an analytical mind, and a passion for working in development, you can pivot to M&E from a broad range of undergraduate degrees. On the one hand, a subject specialisation helps, such as ecology, for example, or perhaps sociology. But a more general field of study such as economics, or development practice can also be great to carve out your career as an M&E consultant. You might wish to focus your studies on MEL, or data analytics. Whichever pathway you choose, work to your strengths. There are many pieces to any consultancy project, and you’ll need to be a cut above in your particular niche to succeed as an M&E consultant.
Step 2: Your first job
Once you have completed your studies, it’s time to get to work! In general, it helps to specialise in an area in which you hold a particular interest. For example, you might be interested in education, or hold a particular passion for making an impact on climate change. Aim to situate yourself within an organisation in line with your own driving purpose. There are exceptions to this, of course, where you might have a keen interest in conducting evaluations, regardless of the focus area, in which case, it would be good to situate yourself within a consultancy, perhaps as an intern, which conducts evaluations. Your first job may very well pave the way for your future, so don’t choose the first the first thing that comes along, unless you’re sure its right for you. Follow your passion, and work to your strengths. Take a position that aims to solve a problem that keeps you up at night, and you’ll surely do your best work.
Step 3: Do your Reading
As you progress through your career, be sure to explore the literature around M&E and develop as rich an understanding of your interest area as possible. If it is health programmes that interest you, make sure you understand different approaches to evaluating health programmes, from epidemiological to behavioural approaches. It its early literacy, aim to read up about the how approaches to early literacy have changed over the years, to current, prevailing schools of thought, and how they assume change takes place. If your passion is environment, read voraciously about every best- and worst-case scenario, about global benchmarks and targets. It’s also a great ides to educate yourself broadly on the literature around M&E and Impact. From technical M&E approaches, and research methods, to crafting impact investment funds and deal structuring – all this knowledge will stand you in good stead, and there is so much you won’t get in a standard undergraduate degree in development practice!
Step 4: Track your progress, document your journey
As you build your consultancy, you will want to be effectively building your brand. This is possibly the biggest hurdle as your transition out of employment into your new independent life. Keeping a record of your work, things you learnt, reflections you had – these are key to have as you one day launch your website. Thinking in this way, you will be building a portfolio of work – ask stakeholders what they would be willing to share openly and find your authentic voice.
Step 5: Experience, experience and more experience
As you move through your career, try to secure as much varied experience as you can. Consulting is substantial and complex work, and the more you understand from business development to project management, to programmatic implementation, the more you will be able to define your particular service offering. In order to keep things growing, you will also want to be able to do a range of varied work. Build you research capabilities, do courses, and MOOCs, and take the time to network. Meet with others working in the space to learn from their experiences as you grow yours.
Step 6: Launch
Don’t wait. Build a website, save and publish your blogs, and grow your presence. It is unlikely that a day will come when you can announce your independence, never to return to anything like formal employment. It is more likely you will grow through a series of contracts and posts, all the while learning and building your independent presence as an esteemed consultant. Sharing your insights will enable you to engage more deeply with others on issues that will come to define your work. Aim to dedicate a fair proportion of your time to this. As you explore and present your work, you will slowly begin to define your product offering. This will make bidding easier, as you’ll know quickly, from reflecting on your tangible outputs whether this is something you’d be able to do.
Ready…. Set…. Let the bidding begin!