Indicators Planning for M&E

Indicators: choose the right angle

Once we have agreed on a clever, limited set of indicators, all seems good. However, we are not yet there. For most indicators, we can choose a specific ‘angle’.

What do I mean?

For example, we are considering the “Number of female members of Parliament” as an indicator. Which may be fine. However, we may prefer the “Proportion of parliamentarians that are women” instead (and often is preferable). On the other hand, we may want to compare it with the % of voters that are women. Or we want to capture the change over time – or even the funds invested in political leadership by women.

Soooo many options. But we need to get the angle right.

Data collection Measurement

The Age of Data

Data, information and knowledge

Professional Monitoring and Evaluation is based on hard facts: data, information, knowledge and understanding. Let us take a closer look at these concepts:

Hierarchy of data (know what) that can lead to information (know what), knowledge (know how) and understanding (know why)


As you will know, data is a collection of objective facts, such as numbers, words, images, measurements, observations or even just descriptions of things. In other words: Data is chunks of raw facts about the state of the world.

For example: crime rates, unemployment statistics, but also handwritten notes of interviews, or a recorded description of an observation.

Data is raw, unorganized and lacks context. To be useful, it needs to be turned into information.


Information is data that has meaning and purpose. It can help us understand what is happening.

For example: the noises that I hear are data. The meaning of these noises – for example a running car engine – is information.


Information can serve to create knowledge. Knowledge can instruct how to do something.

And finally, knowledge can be turned into understanding that explains why it is happening.

Data collection

Our toolbox for primary data collection

To collect primary data (data that we need to collect first ourselves), we can rely on a rather sophisticated tool box– largely from social sciences – that has been developed over decades.

There are tools for quantitative and qualitative data collection. Here is a list of some of the important tools available to us:

Monitoring and Evaluation

Monitoring? Evaluation? Isn’t it the same?

Don’t be fooled. 

The fact that the terms Monitoring and Evaluation often goes together and is called “M&E” is somewhat misleading.

When governments or development organisations use the term “Monitoring & Evaluation”, however, they mean something very specific: Monitoring & Evaluation is about collecting and analysing data and reporting on findings on how well a programme, a policy, a service or an organisation is performing, and making a judgement about its value.

It is true that Monitoring & Evaluation frequently share similar tools and methods. While they are interrelated, Monitoring & Evaluation are clearly separate activities.

So no, it’s NOT the same – it’s actually quite different. Monitoring and Evaluations are usually carried out by different people and differ in how often they are carried out.

Ok. So what is monitoring?

In a nutshell: Monitoring is like the dashboard of your car when you are driving: It tells you have fast you go, how much petrol you have left, or maybe if one of the car’s door has been left open.

In governments and development organisations, monitoring is he regular and systematic collectionanalysisreporting and use of information about programmes, policies or services.

Monitoring is concerned with the performance of a programme, a policy or a service. Unlike an evaluation, it is typically conducted internally. That means monitoring is typically carried out by staff that works inside an organisation. And unlike evaluations, it is a continuous process. That means it is carried out non-stop during – and sometimes after – an activity. Monitoring typically supports the management of programmes, policies or services, and helps to manage its risks.

…and what is evaluation?

Evaluations are like the occasional check-up of your car: Evaluations are a systematic and impartial assessment of expected and achieved accomplishments.

Evaluations take a step back to look – as the term suggests – at the overall value of a programme, a policy or a service. Evaluations are usually conducted externally. That means evaluations are typically carried out by evaluators or specialists with no link to a programme, policy, service or organisation. Having independent, external evaluators should insure a more unbiased judgement. Unlike monitoring, an evaluation is not carried out all the time, but is a one-off activity. Typically, evaluations are carried out during or at the end of an activity.

And evaluations are more systematic than monitoring: Here are some typical questions an evaluation attempts to answer:

  • Is a programme, a policy, a service or an organization relevant? Does it suit the priorities and policies of the target group?
  • Is it effective? Does it achieve results?
  • Is it efficient? Does it achieve results at reasonable costs?
  • Does it have impact? What real difference has a programme, a policy or a service made to for beneficiaries?
  • Is it sustainable? Will positive changes continue once funding is cut?

That is why evaluations tend to be broader in scope then monitoring.