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Susan Hahn and Guy Sharrock on How to Establish a Robust Project M&E System

Hello! This post is by Susan Hahn and Guy Sharrock. Susan works as a Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) consultant to Catholic Relief Services (CRS), a Baltimore-based international humanitarian assistance and development agency, with whom Guy is a Senior M&E Advisor. Evaluations are an important part of our project activities, but they must be linked with good monitoring systems. This Tip is focused on how to establish a robust project M&E system.

Don’t forget: Reviewing data collected and analyzed in the project’s monitoring system gives the evaluator important information on project management, progress and achievements on lower level indicators. This information can be the basis of a scope of work for the evaluation.

CRS has developed an approach to setting up an M&E system for projects, called SMILER: Simple Measurement of Indicators for Learning and Evidence-based Reporting. While M&E is rarely thought of as simple, SMILER breaks down the development of an M&E system into easily understood parts. SMILER is an innovative, comprehensive, coherent and practical approach to making an M&E system operational; the objectives and their indicators are linked to a system to collect, analyze and report on data. The approach enables staff to turn the M&E planning documents in the proposal into a useful M&E system that can benefit all staff. The resulting system is documented in a project M&E Operating Manual.

The graphic below shows the documents included in the SMILER M&E system.

Hot Tips:

  • Set up your project M&E system in the early stage of project implementation.
  • Set aside a week to collaborate with a few project and M&E staff in developing a first draft of the SMILER M&E system; these staff should be very familiar with the details of the project.
  • Use all steps in the SMILER process for all projects; the size of the M&E system will depend on the size of the project.
  • Review the SMILER draft with other agency and partner staff who will be implementing the project and contributing to M&E. These stakeholders will have valuable comments and can help finalize the M&E system for use.
  • Develop a communication and training plan to roll out the M&E system, and review its operation on a regular basis.
  • Delegate a staff member to maintain the M&E Operating Manual that you should treat as a “living’ resource.

Rad Resource: the CRS Guide to creating a SMILER M&E system can be found at:

Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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