Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Monitoring without SMART objectives

Just returned from an energising workshop on monitoring the We Can (End All Violence against Women) Campaign in East and Central Africa. The campaign objectives - causing a shift in social attitudes, getting people to take a visible stand against VAW (violence against women), building and strengthening popular movements and alliances against VAW - are not really what project planners call SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, time-bound). Does that mean that no meaningful monitoring can take place?

Brainstorming through the WHY, WHAT and HOW of monitoring the campaign, some 25 participants from Kenya, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo have concluded that there is plenty of meaningful monitoring to be done, even without baselines or control groups. People are not inanimate objects, you don't need a thermometer or scales to determine whether they have changed: you can simply ask them and observe what they're doing! When you ask, make sure you remember WHY you ask - the purpose of your monitoring - and WHAT it is that you are looking for.
The WHAT can be quite abstract, e.g. an intangible concept like "greater awareness", "campaign ownership". When you come to the HOW - the ways in which you use indicators, i.e. pointers that show what kind of change has happened - then you must be concrete. An indicator for commitment? Check whether people show up for meetings. An indicator for attitude change? Ask people to tell you precisely what has changed in their thinking and actions. For campaign visibility? Record in which places you see the logo, or find out whether preachers and other opinion leaders mention the campaign messages...

Of course, using these indicators is not as straightforward as applying a tape measure to assess the length of an object. A tape measure shows one dimension. Social change has millions of dimensions. By making deliberate decisions as to WHAT aspects of change we look for, WHY and HOW, by combining different kinds of indicators (e.g. qualitative and quantitative), different methods of data gathering (e.g. interviews and direct observation), different view-points (e.g. testimonies from campaign participants and from external observers) and by recording our data systematically, we can obtain reasonably reliable information on how we are doing with a campaign and what outcomes it produces.