Indicators and data collection instruments are just one aspect of a good monitoring system. Most importantly, early in (or ideally before) the actual project, people should sit down and think:
- What is the information / are the types of data that we need most to make sure we implement our project as well as we can with the resources we have mobilised/ can mobilise?
- What is the information that we must share with project participants/ beneficiaries, so that they can participate fully and be empowered through the project?
- What ist the information our donors need from us, at what moments?
When these questions are answered, the logical next step is to determine:
- Where can we find the information?
- Who gathers it, at what intervals? To maximise capacity building, I would encourage a maximum of participatory monitoring, i.e. project participants/ "beneficiaries" check whether the project progresses as planned and what its results are. One can even gather robust statistics in a highly participatory manner - Jeremy Holland has just published a book on the topic.
- How will we do it? Ideally, there should be some counting ("quantitative" data collection and analysis, using well-defined indicators) and some narrating ("qualitative" data collection and analysis, which looks more into the specific people and situations you work with).
- How will the information be discussed, stored and shared with others? (Also called "knowledge management".)
When all that is reasonably clear, it is time to make a concrete monitoring plan, for example with the use of a calendar that covers the full project duration. It should show:
- Who collects what information, how and at what moments?
- What are the routine moments where information is shared and discussed within the project (for example, monthly monitoring meetings among key staff; quarterly feed-back meetings with representatives of project participants/ "beneficiaries")?
- Which specific events which warrant specific monitoring, for example major campaign events that could be discussed in "after action reviews" to make sure fresh impressions are recorded?
- How knowledge generated in these discussions will be shared (a report? a blog post?)
- How knowledge will be shared with people outside the project ?
- Who makes sure this monitoring plan is implemented?
The last bullet point is important - monitoring systems need to be monitored, too.