Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Why Monitoring and Evaluation Matters in Everything

By Orrin Tiberi, Global Health Corps Fellow at Uganda Village Project

Hello from the sunny Iganga, Uganda! For those of you who have not heard of me before, I am the recently arrived Global Health Corps volunteer who will be working in Monitoring and Evaluation for our favorite NGO here in Uganda!! (That would be Uganda Village Project, in case you forgot.) Tuesday the 26th of August marks five weeks that I have been in country, and what an incredible five weeks it has been! I have participated in shallow well clean-ups, malaria sensitizations (which I came to learn was a presentation, not a method of making malaria more sensible), spent a night in the communities, and learned a TON about Uganda Village Project (UVP). You all have participated/supported/championed/been part of an organization that really is having an impact in the Iganga District of Uganda and I am here to help show that impact. We have 8 main goals for the coming year, and probably time for 6 of them, so it is going to be a busy, yet amazing, year here!

This brings me to the topic of Monitoring and Evaluation. I thought in the interests of clarity I would go back to our beloved Oxford Dictionary and define both of these words so we can have a collective understanding of what they mean. According to the Oxford Dictionary, Monitoring is to “observe and check the progress or quality of (something) over a period of time; keep under systematic review”. Uganda Village Project, as many of you know, has been great about keeping track of all their health programs. They can tell you exactly how many hand-washing presentations have been done in a village or what percentage of malaria nets are hung correctly. This is the first step to monitoring: reliably collecting the outputs of an intervention. What Julius and I will be working towards in the coming year is being able to more reliably monitor the current programs of UVP, as well as creating a method for the continuous monitoring of the outcomes of their work. It is great that UVP knows that 70% of the households in the Healthy Villages program have bed nets and have been sensitized to malaria, but how does that affect their health? Are there decreases in symptoms of malaria? Is there an increase in the knowledge base of signs and symptoms of malaria for children? These questions are the type that we aim to be able to measure after this year. By answering these questions, UVP can more accurately represent its work to local partners, international friends of the organization, and in grant applications. Reliable data on these indicators will also allow UVP to continue to make informed decisions about what programs are effective, an essential step if we hope to continue growing in the coming years.

Evaluation is “the making of a judgment about the amount, number, or value of something; assessment”. Whereas monitoring is to make sure the process of an intervention is sound, and to measure some proximal outcomes and outputs of work, evaluation is a measurement of the outcomes and behaviors that may have been influenced by the intervention. This is incredibly important when showing the impact that an organization has had. A thorough evaluation is the way that any organization can say for sure that they have changed the situation for the better.  Monitoring helps with this of course, but as it is run concurrently with the intervention, it is hard to say for certain if the changes seen in the data are going to be long-term changes or just a blip in their behavior.

Uganda Village Project has been very proactive in this area as well. One of the main tasks that Julius and I will be working in this coming year is an evaluation of the impact of UVP’s work on the 88 villages that had been selected to be a part of the Healthy Villages Initiative. Currently UVP has intervened, or is currently in the process of working with 24 of these villages. We will use the rest of the villages as a comparison to evaluate the impact on overall health that UVP has precipitated. Currently we are in the proposal stages of this evaluation, gathering the necessary documents that are needed to receive Institutional Review Board approval for working with community members. After this is achieved, we plan to start with data collection in early 2015. As I said before, it is going to be a busy year!

Monitoring and Evaluation are sometimes criticized upon for not valuing the individual. It is easy for a single person to get lost in numbers, but with numbers we are able to tell so much more than what can be seen on an individual level. This year Julius and I hope to be able to bring the bigger picture into clarity, while not forgetting the amazing people and stories that are present in our analysis. We both look forward to a life changing year, and hope to share more of it with you in the upcoming months.

If you want to see more of the day to day life in Iganga, please follow me on Twitter @otiber or on Instagram @ofteted. Any questions or comments you may have can be directed to my email orrin@ugandavillageproject.org.

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