The Purpose of Monitoring – Are we Making a Difference?

By Karen Kammeraat, project manager and Tendayi Matimba, financial manager WageIndicator, with special thanks to Civicus and Eutropia Ngido

Monitoring is the systematic and continuous collection, analysis and use of information for the purpose of management control and decision-making. But why do it at all? Well, the question in our type of work is: ‘Are we making a difference?’ If you don’t care about how well you are doing or about what impact you are having, why bother to do it at all? Monitoring enables you to assess the quality and impact of your work, in comparison with your action plans and your strategic plan.

Monitoring is Not a Burden

In many organisations, monitoring is something that is seen as a donor requirement rather than a management tool. Funders should definitely be informed whether their money is being properly and well spent. But the primary and most important use of monitoring should be for the organisation or project itself to see how it is doing against objectives, whether it is having an impact, whether it is working efficiently, and to learn how to do it better.

Projects in Changing Environments

Planned activities are essential but they are not completely fixed and set in stone. Getting it wrong is not a catastrophe. However, failing to learn from past mistakes because you are not monitoring is. The problem analysis, the vision and the values of a project or organization are constant, everything else can change!

The picture below demonstrates the importance of monitoring clearly:


Monitoring may also be compared to riding a bicycle: you will have to steer as you go along in order not to fall and to stay on the right track.

Monitoring is an Early Warning System

If activities or strategies are not working, or if circumstances change, plans need to change too. Monitoring is a tool that helps a project or organisation to know when plans are not working, and when circumstances have changed. They give project coordinators and management the information they need to make timely decisions about the project or organisation, about changes that are necessary in strategy or plans.

What kind of information does monitoring give you and what can you do with it? Monitoring gives the opportunity to:

  • Learn from experiences to improve practices and activities in the future
  • Have internal and external accountability of the resources used and the results obtained
  • Take informed decisions for future implementation of the project
  • Promote empowerment of beneficiaries of the initiative.

Monitoring Helps to ‘Make a Difference’

Through monitoring and evaluation, you can:

  • Review progress
  • Identify problems in planning and/or implementation
  • Make adjustments so that you are more likely to ‘make a difference’.

Monitoring is the systematic collection and analysis of information as a project progresses. It is aimed at improving the efficiency and effectiveness of a project or organisation. It is based on targets set and activities planned during the initial phase. It helps to keep the work on track, and alerts the management when things go wrong. If applied properly, it is an invaluable tool for good management. It enables you to determine whether the available resources are sufficient and well used, whether the capacity you have is sufficient and appropriate, and whether you are doing what you planned to do.

Monitoring Makes You Focus

Monitoring is geared towards learning from what you are doing and how you are doing it, by focusing on:

  • Efficiency
  • Effectiveness
  • Impact.



Efficiency tells you that the work input is appropriate in terms of the output. This could be input of money, time, staff, equipment and so on. When you run a project and are concerned about its replicability or about scaling up, it is very important to get the efficiency element right.


Effectiveness is a measure of the extent to which a development program or project achieves the specific objectives set. If, for example, we intended to improve the qualifications of all the high school teachers in a particular area, did we succeed?


Impact tells you whether or not what you did made a difference to the problem situation you were trying to address. In other words, was your strategy useful? Did better qualified teachers improve the pass rate in the final year of school? Before you decide to get bigger, or to replicate the project elsewhere, you need to make sure that what you are doing makes sense in terms of the impact you want to achieve.

It is important to recognise however that monitoring is not a magic wand that can be waved to make problems disappear, or to cure them, or to miraculously make changes without a lot of hard work being put in by the project or organisation. Monitoring is not a solution in itself, but a valuable tool. It can:

  • Help to identify problems and their causes
  • Suggest possible solutions to problems
  • Raise questions about assumptions and strategy
  • Make one reflect on where they are going and how to get there
  • Provide one with information and insight;
  • Encourage to act on the information and insight;
  • Make a positive development difference more likely.