There is no doubt that M&E is a rapidly evolving space. This article outlines some of the key trends in the field, which could help to inform and position your own M&E work. This article draws from a range of sources on current trends in M&E from the past several years to provide a high-level overview of areas seeing change, and areas seeing increased focus.
#1 The Sustainable Development Goals
The SDGs appear more and more frequently as a North Star for M&E across the available literature. This is positive as this shared focus increases the potential for collective impact, and this in itself shows that the process of creating these goals and associated indicators is having an impact on development practice globally.
#2 The rise of approaches which properly consider complexity
Realist and developmental evaluation are rising in prominence. This falls in step with a move away from the consideration of ‘attribution’ to ‘contribution’, and the studies around influence rather than direct cause and effect. Indeed, considering complexity (and reality) is critical to all M&E, but this should not be at the expense of rigour. While this shift allows for a wider scope of methods to hold validity in explaining changes taking place, the use of counterfactuals, accepted indicators where applicable, and systematic measurement remains key. Understanding complex systems and how to grapple with these is key, as is the importance on research questions and instrument design.
#3 From Purely Evaluating Impact to Evaluative Thinking
Evaluative thinking takes evaluation outside of the purely technical, to seek sense and meaning in the work under review. More and more organisations are embracing evaluation as an opportunity for learning, and programmatic strengthening, rather than simply a system of taking account. While evaluation is a process of doing and undertaking a set of activities to show certain information, evaluative thinking is a way of thinking about one’s work that is reflective, and meaningful. Evaluative thinking has been defined as a practice of critical reflection, which integrates systematic modes of enquiry, and the use of data, into the way an organisation works. It is the difference between finding evidence, and becoming evidence driven.
#4 Developing globally comparable datasets
Recent years have seen a number of organisations mapping uncharted terrain and developing new sources of globally comparable data. This is critical when seeking to address challenges with inequality at the global level. Apart from the immense value of shared learning from improved global datasets, this provides a normative view of global population needs and challenges, removing often complex value judgements. One example is the World bank’s global dataset on Education Quality.
#5 From Open Data Sharing to Responsible Data Sharing
Although the Open Data idea was an important part of changing the narrative around accountability globally, more recently, this has shifted to the concept of responsible data sharing. The commoditisation of data has become a key challenge facing all development practitioners, the potential loss of equity in information. Even more fundamentally, questions around the protection of personal information are critical to safeguarding the vulnerable. As the value of information increases, so too should our imperative to protect it. It is, after all, one of our most valuable assets in the Knowledge Economy.
#6 The rise of Impact Investment leading to impact being considered simultaneously through social and financial lenses
As the use of financial instruments to fund Social Impact is bringing more funding to the development sector, there is a requirement to be able to communicate positive change in development outcomes in the investment language. Over time, this means thinking about M&E practice from a value-for-money perspective and combining financial and social modelling. Although this has, to some extent, always taken place through conventional project management, this is no longer just about accountability, but about strategic investment strategies driving implementation.
#7 Tech Solutions
With the rise of digital data collection, analysis and visualisation, comes the rise of companies offering these digital data services. Other organisations make use of online forms and surveys for gathering information from programme beneficiaries and staff. This is a promising space, as new developments are improving each day, and along with this comes a greater volume of higher quality data which can be more easily transformed into visual information about programme learning.