Monitoring is the process of establishing checkpoints to make sure that you are on the right track. This means that you must establish a system for recording, on a regular basis, useful information for keeping track of the activities and progress being made towards the set objectives. Whenever something is going wrong, monitoring should provide basis for taking the best course of action to correct the situation. Monitoring is complementary to the organisation of the work plan since it is supposed to identify indicators for measuring the success of the activities and determining the checkpoints to assess the project progress.
The main purpose of monitoring is that of checking and verifying that the planned activities are progressing in a satisfactory way. Monitoring is supposed to provide the necessary instruments for checking the process while it progresses, rather than wait until the evaluation of the final result. An effective monitoring system allows you to have the situation always under control and to take corrective action as soon as it is needed thus optimising time and resources.
What should you monitor? Monitoring should begin as soon as the project is being originated and it should occur in all the phases of the communication process. During the research phase monitoring ensures that the identified community NOPS will be analysed and prioritised appropriately. During the planning phase monitoring provides indicators to closely check the feasibility and the way the project is supposed to progress. During the implementation phase monitoring measures the effectiveness and the relevance of the activities being carried out. It is important that the indicators for monitoring the process be established and agreed upon with the community. This ensures the participatory nature of the programme and avoids differences and misunderstandings in the expected outputs.
The following steps should assist you in planning and conducting the monitoring of the project activities:
How does monitoring occur? First and foremost you need to identify indicators that will serve as checkpoints throughout the whole process. As usual indicators can be easily defined for activities resulting in physical outputs, but they are not so easy to define when dealing with other aspects not physically quantifiable. If in the work plan one of the outputs is to conduct a series of training workshops for at least, 80% of the farmers in the district an indicator is going to be the percentage of people trained. By getting statistical data on the farmers' population and counting the number of participants attending your workshops, you can easily monitor if you are achieving the intended result.
Things are not so easy if you include another aspect dealing with the expected output of the training, such as that of ensuring that all participants get the necessary skills to implement new farming techniques. It is not easy to establish indicators in such circumstances since indicators should somehow measure the level of competence in the new skill acquired by the participants during the workshop.
Similarly monitoring, or evaluating something like the degree of participation in the decision-making process is very difficult? Which indicators can provide an accurate representation of the degree of people's participation in a campaign aimed at reducing the incidence of malaria through meetings and public discussions? Head counting at weekly meetings can be one way, but a very limited one as it does not truly reflect people's level of participation, but rather their presence.
A more appropriate way could be to measure how many people attending the meetings are changing their attitudes, and taking actions to prevent malaria. Establishing indicators often requires identifying criteria for measuring the progress and direction the communication programme is moving to. This is obtained by operationalising the relevant terms or concepts.
Operationalisation is the concrete and specific definition of something in terms that can be measured. It refers to the specifications of the steps (procedures, or operations) needed to identify and measure a certain variable. For instance delinquency can be operationalised as committing an act that violates the criminal law. Cultural differences play a critical part in this aspect. The operationalisation of the term family in most western countries, where the father, the mother and maybe one or two children, compose a typical family is likely to be different from, say, that of most African societies where the extended family, includes father, mother, children, grandfather, grandmother and often uncles and aunts.
When you operationalise a term you are basically answering three questions: what are you going to observe, how are you going to do it, what interpretations are you going to give to what has been observed, or measured. When you put these three questions together, you have your operational definition.
To make sure this concept is clear let's operationalise together the term “economic growth” following the suggestions above.
The example above is hypothetical but it should help you to see that by operationalising a term you are actually defining it as it is and as it can be observed, hence measured. Once this has been achieved you need to identify the indicators. An indicator can be defined as a unit of measurement that provides the needed frame of reference to judge and assess a given situation. In the previous example an indicator could be the financial transactions actually taking place in the community in a certain period of time. A good indicator should have the following characteristics:
Monitoring the planning phase requires indicators for checking the timing of the activities and for verifying the consistency of the actions planned and the logical linkage to each other. Indicators should be identified and defined at the beginning of the communication process, as soon as possible, in order to establish an effective monitoring system. It would be difficult and impractical to monitor every single step of the process. You are thus advised to identify relevant checkpoints that should be assessed to provide the needed monitoring feedback. If everything appears to be going as planned then you can proceed. If not, you should consider the best course of action to correct the situation.
From what has been discussed above you can see that there are two types of measurement: the quantitative and the qualitative. The former is concerned with monitoring the visible, tangible outcome while the latter is concerned with the quality of that outcome. These two types can be used to monitor each phase of the process, namely the research, the communication planning and design, the materials development and the implementation of the activities. At the end of the process the same two types of measurement must be applied to measure the impact of the communication.
Since every indicator needs to be easily measured you have to think of how it can be done. Means of verification have the purpose of ensuring that you can measure objectively the checkpoints you have established, either in the planning or implementation phase. Your task here is that of determining which are the sources from which you can obtain information regarding the set indicators. If you cannot find reliable means of verification you should reconsider your indicators. For instance if you want to monitor the effectiveness of a vaccination campaign and your indicator is the number of people being vaccinated, your means of verification can include clinic reports and statistics from the mobile teams of the Ministry of Health.
In the case of a campaign to increase awareness on AIDS, choosing correct indicators may be more tricky than the vaccination case above, since if you define an indicator as the number of people aware of AIDS you will have firstly to operationalise the term “AIDS awareness” and secondly, you will need to know who was not aware of AIDS before the campaign.
Establishing means of verification involves defining how you intend to measure your indicators. While going through this phase you should ask yourself the following questions:
These questions will help you to define the means of verification necessary to efficiently, and effectively, monitor the whole programming process.
External factors are situations or conditions largely, or completely, outside the project's control that could however negatively affect the final result of the project activities. Do you think it is possible for a project that has been properly designed and accurately implemented to fail completely? Yes, it is. How? By a concurrence of factors outside the project's control. One of the most classic examples is that of a project training a number of people on certain technical skills and once they have been successfully trained most of them resign from the project and accept better paid jobs in the private sector. Another example could be that of a community-based project growing a variety of crops for income generating purposes. Everything seems to go smoothly until a major unexpected flood occurs causing the destruction of all the crops.
External factors could also be formulated in terms of assumptions (necessary conditions or situations needed for the project to succeed) or risks. Assessing possible risks in the beginning of the process helps to minimise those risks or at least to be ready to consider and take into account possible countermeasures should negative external factors occur. A clear definition of external factors is also useful to the management of the project since it helps to clarify the area and limits of responsibility of the project. External factors should be identified and analysed during the assessment and planning phase. If they are very likely to occur, the project should then be redesigned in order to take them into account. For instance, you would not plan to build a hospital in a frequently flooded area. In summary, external factors are very important since they assist management in understanding the boundaries and limits within which the project operates and also because they allow you to prepare a contingency plan should they occur.
So far we have been talking about the purpose of monitoring and the procedures required to establish an effective monitoring system. The Worksheet below is a useful tool that can assist you in this task.
Communication Strategy: Monitoring the Work Plan.
|Topics/Results to be measured||Indicators||Means of Verification (for each indicator)||External Factors|
When you develop your work plan make sure you have a complete list of expected outputs, activities and inputs (the Objectives will be assessed in the Evaluation Phase). The worksheet on this previous page, assisted by the list presented at the end of section 4.2.1 (Purpose and Rationale of Monitoring) will assist you in compiling a detailed checklist. For each single output of your communication strategy you need indicators to enable you to measure and monitor both the quantitative and qualitative component. You do not need to monitor every activity and every input included in your work plan closely.
However, it does help to monitor some of the most crucial activities as they progress (for instance a training workshop) or some of the inputs (like the timely delivery of needed materials). In some cases, when dealing with the development of communication materials, you need to monitor a number of issues related to the outputs. For instance, if you are developing a series of posters you need to monitor and measure a number of issues such as:
All of the above aspects are part of designing an effective monitoring system, whose main function is to make sure you are on the right track. Remember that involving the community in identifying and defining specific checkpoints in the planning phase will make sure you are considering relevant issues and it will assist you throughout all the subsequent steps of this crucial task.