Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) is a growing field, filled with opportunities for development practitioners and researchers to grow and expand their skills and experience. If you’re a problem solver, frustrated with the slow pace of change in the projects around you, studying M&E can equip you with the skills and language to bring evidence meaningfully into building solutions. With an increase in interest from funders and philanthropists for ‘what really works and why’, sound M&E skills have become an invaluable aspect of any development implementation toolkit or team, and are highly marketable for independent practitioners.
In this article, we compile a list of the most useful courses available online to enrich your understanding of M&E, and to equip you to use these skills and methods in your work. Perhaps you just want to improve the relevance of what you do, within the current development dialogue, or perhaps its time for a career move. Either way, this list is sure to set you on course to explore this riveting field of social systems analysis for monitoring and evaluation.
If you’re new to the field, a start from basic first principles in the field is highly recommended. Gaining a basic understanding of the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of M&E is important in this changing field. With links across all facets of an organisation or project, from strategy to implementation, beginning with an overview of the full M&E function will help to position your work, and enable the M&E function to have the most impact on the broader programme. This course enables participants to gain a sound introduction to the practice, and to understand how to identify and measure indicators, using data collected.
Another comprehensive starter course for Monitoring and Evaluation is the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) International Training Centre (ITC) course. This is a more comprehensive and technical course designed for Monitoring and Evaluation specialists, managers and evaluators. This course enables participants to apply the relevant theories to their practice, and to know how to use these to build monitoring and evaluation systems. The course explores the positioning of the Monitoring and Evaluation function, and how this links to associated areas of planning, reporting, auditing and research from a technical perspective.
Large and complex development programmes can tend to develop a life of their own, particularly in distressed contexts, where the challenges at the level of implementation, and the need of communities seem to loom larger than what any team can address. This is a reality for many development practitioners. This is also why adhering to a shared vision of the change a team hopes to achieve is so critical to ensuring that lasting impact is realised. The key is strategy, and nothing contains strategy in development more succinctly for a multi-faceted team than a Theory of Change. Even the process of building one (particularly as a group) can do wonders for problems solvers in development. This course will provide practitioners with a toolkit to assess a describe change as a process, and to link this to real development challenges and the activities undertaken to solve them.
Sometimes, even with a good grasp of theory, the technical application of, and the actual building and running of a system of measurement can be challenging. This is a comprehensive course about designing frameworks for results. Good M&E begins with a clear understanding of the strategy of a programme or organisation, focusing on what the work intends to achieve, and mapping the logic of how to get there. This project management course equips participants with the skills of implementation to achieve results, and with this, the tools and skills to monitor this implementation, and evaluate its success against an agreed results framework.
For a really comprehensive and academically rigorous course which covers the current approaches to Monitoring and Evaluation, and when to apply them, try this course in Project Monitoring and Evaluation. This course includes a section on the importance of evidence in decision making and how to communicate findings for strategy from M&E practice, to important stakeholders. This course covers the importance of the qualitative as well as the quantitative aspects of M&E practice; when to focus on the hard numbers, and when stories about subjective experiences of transformation can be most effectively used to show impact, and everything between. This course includes an option of one elective from a tantalising list including Project Cost-Benefit (key if you’re moving in the M&E for social impact funding space), Intercultural Communication or Innovation.
Any Monitoring and Evaluation system or product is really only as good as its data. Where the courses above may teach participants what indicators are important and therefore what data to collect, the key question of how to collect it and at what cost is just as critical for successful practice. This seven course specialisation will help participants learn everything there is to know about how to effectively gather data, what survey technique is best suited to the task, how to design questionnaires, how to sample, and how to analyze and present data. If this is a little too much to take on, however, these courses are each available separately.
Impact Evaluation Methods with Applications in Low and Middle Income Countries – Georgetown University
This course begins to explore the appropriate statistical techniques in evaluating for impact. This is a more advanced aspect of M&E, but even having a basic understanding will enable practitioners to design indicator frameworks, and data collection strategies with this end-line analysis in mind. Although much of evaluation practice is moving toward more developmental approaches, rather than being tied to the finish from the start, understanding these subtleties and knowing how and when to apply statistical methods with uncertainty in mind is what will enable really powerful evidence based social practice, and create real change.
When it comes to evaluating social programmes, one methodology, the Randomized Control Trial (RCT) is considered by many to be the pinnacle of quantitative analysis of social systems. By randomizing sufficiently large samples, the model works with the complexity of social systems, to provide what is considered to be a really rigorous result. Understanding this method, tried and tested by The Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) is important for practitioners looking for answers to the challenges of how to evaluate complex social programmes, especially on the global playing field.
Effective Monitoring and Evaluation requires an understanding of how to model social systems, and how to map human and social behaviour using logic. As development projects focus increasingly on behavioural change for sustained development modelling around the nexus between economics and sociology is a key skill for advanced Monitoring and Evaluation practice. Similarly, as the importance of evidence-based approaches is coming to the fore, learning how to handle and model data is equally critical. The course in Model Thinking offered by the University of Michigan provides this important strategic foundation for a comprehensive M&E toolkit. Participants will learn various types of models, and will begin to understand how to reflect what they see in reality as a logical data model for strategic planning, monitoring and evaluation.
In advanced Monitoring and Evaluation practice, you’ll want to compare your project impact against global indices, or write about how your programme contributes to important global development goals such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Sound M&E helps to build a case for the work you do, to garner support, and raise funds, whilst most importantly, monitoring that change you are making and ensuring that it is strategically on track with organisational goals. This course enables participants to understand and use these global indices, allowing project and organisational visions to dovetail with international development progress.