When people learn that I co-authored a book with Brad Cousins on monitoring and valuation (M&E) training, I am typically asked two related and understandable questions: What’s it about and why did we write it? Thus, that is the topic of my first blog.
As a professional working in M&E and results-based management (RBM) for over a decade, a good part of my job has not simply been the practice of M&E, but helping people understand M&E so they can practice, support and use it themselves for RBM. This included community members who wanted to be involved in the design and monitoring of projects that affected their lives, program managers and teams who needed to meet performance accountability requirements, and CEOs who wanted to better understand how to use M&E information to inform strategic planning and decision making.
I discovered that I was not alone, and many of my M&E colleagues and the organizations they worked with were also increasing needing to develop and deliver M&E training. In short, with the increasing demand for M&E and RBM, there has been a parallel demand for M&E training, (as well as other related capacity building and development initiatives).
One would expect with the rising demand for M&E training and practice, there would also be an increase in the resources available to help prepare for and deliver M&E training. Being an educator at heart, I began to investigate and collect many of the available resources for M&E training and learning. However, I found that while there is a surplus of books, guidelines, websites, learning platforms, blogs and other resources on how to do good M&E, there are relatively few resources available for providing M&E training.
Don’t get me wrong. There is a long tradition and wealth of resources on adult learning, professional development and training. But they are more general and not specifically targeted on M&E training. There is also an increasing number of guidelines and manuals from various nonprofit and public organizations for M&E training. But for the most part I found them tailored to specific organizational contexts and program areas.
There has also been a steady increase in the scholarship and research on evaluation capacity building (ECB) and development (ECD). However, I felt this literature was more geared toward academic audiences, rather than people seeking practical guidance to design and deliver M&E training. As one article in the American Journal of Evaluation observed: “The existing literature provides some information concerning a practical application component; however, there is almost no discussion of pedagogy or, more specifically, the selection of teaching strategies for a program evaluation course” (Oliver, Casiraghi, Henderson, Brooks & Mulsow, 2008). The same holds for M&E training.
Thus, Brad and I wrote this book to help address what we felt was a gap in the literature for M&E training. It provides a systematic approach to M&E training, bridging theoretical concepts with practical, how-to knowledge. You can read more about the contents of the book on this website, or the website for Sage Publications.
For the remainder of this blog, I want to highlight some key messages or underlying premises that underpin the book. Rather than reiterate the contents, I think this will help be a more useful way to elaborate answers to the “what” and “why” questions we began with…
- The more training helps people understand M&E, the more capable they are to participate in, own and sustain useful M&E practice. M&E is not the specialized pursuit of professionals or technical specialists, but increasing involves an assortment of stakeholders. Therefore, our book is written to support M&E training for a broad range of people, varying in M&E knowledge and experience from beginner to advanced, and in motivation and purpose from people participating in M&E to those supporting others to practice M&E.
- Training is more likely to make a positive difference when it is systematically planned, implemented and evaluated with attention to training transfer and use. Training transfer refers to the ability of trainees to apply learning after training has been completed. If training is to have a return on investment, it is not enough to ensure that learning occurs, but to practically plan for longer-term outcomes.
- In addition to a “systematic” approach, M&E training is best planned “systemically”, with attention to the larger context in which training occurs. M&E training does not happen in isolation, and will have a unique configuration of different factors that change over time and should be carefully considered to achieve and sustain training results. This includes other source of learning (formal, non-formal and informal), as well as organizational and environmental factors and actors that can enable or hinder training outcomes.
- M&E training can be delivered in an enjoyable and meaningful way that engages leaners, helping to demystify M&E so it can be better understood, appreciated and used. Research shows that many people are reluctant to participate in M&E training, finding it technically intimidating, or associating M&E as overly bureaucratic or controlling. More often than not, resistance to M&E training is heightened for the very reason people need it; they do not understand and value M&E. Our book aims to show how M&E training can be delivered in an enjoyable and meaningful way that engages leaners, helping to address these barriers.
- M&E training design and delivery should be grounded on principles of adult learning. Adults are self-directed learners, bringing to training past experiences, values, opinions, expectations and priorities. Principles for adult learning stress a learner-centered approach that is applied, experiential, participatory and builds upon prior experience so that trainees are motivated to take responsibility for their own learning. They also include the use of mixed-methods, structured progression, repetition, and feedback, reinforcing M&E training so it is better understood, appreciated and used. We highlight in our book 14 adult learning principles that we carefully researched and selected for effective M&E (or any) training.
- M&E training should be adapted and tailored to its specific training context, including the individual learners, their culture, and the trainers’ themselves. Therefore, we encourage readers to keep an open mind, and use the book according to their particular needs. Rather than providing a “definitive” answer for all M&E training needs, it is hoped the book serves as a springboard for readers to further explore and innovate M&E training that makes a positive difference.