A picture of water flowing from a new well is a beginning, not an end. It's the beginning of a new way of life for a community and it's the beginning of our measuring the outcomes of what we do.
Most simply, monitoring and evaluation is about making sure that the work we do is the best we can do. It is vital that people involved in development have ways of finding out the impact of their work from the communities they serve. This can only happen through interviews, questionnaires, and by observing the communities in which we work. This happens at all stages of a project, and helps to identify improvements for the future as well as things that are going well.
We expect the dialog that was opened in the beginning of each project to serve as the catalyst to open and honest discussions of the outcomes.
Monitoring can be as simple as going back to a well periodically to be sure it still works. It sounds easy, but it requires time and money (for things like fuel to travel from site to site). We believe it's essential to plan for and fund this work. Without it, we have no way of knowing if our investments ever pay off.
It's easy to dig and run. It's harder to come back and learn where you've failed so you can improve. The good news is that most often, we get to see lives changed when our teams go back and check up on water projects.
Finally, at an agreed time from when water first flowed, projects need to be assessed with some set of measures to find out the real impact of the work. This phase is about research, and is similar to monitoring and evaluation. However, it is crucially about sustainability, and the changes in impact over time. In order to assess the impact of a project we need to know things like; the number of cases of water related diseases before and after the project, and over time; or, the number of children who no longer have to walk many miles to fetch water, and therefore are attending school.
This work is always done in collaboration with the community, and involves discussion, workshops and many community visits. By doing this type of follow up over an extended length of time it is then possible to assess how our projects are changing people's lives for the better in the communities we work in.