Monitoring and Evaluation: Definition, Process, Objectives, Differences

Monitoring and evaluation are both tools and strategy which help a project know when plans are not working, and when circumstances have changed.

They give the management the information it needs to make decisions about the project, and about the changes that are necessary for strategy or plans. In this sense, monitoring and evaluation are iterative.

What is Monitoring and Evaluation?

Although the term “monitoring and evaluation” tends to get run together as if it is only one thing, monitoring and evaluation are, in fact, two distinct sets of organizational activities.

Monitoring is the periodic assessment of programmed activities to determine whether they are proceeding as planned.

At the same time, evaluation involves the assessment of the programs towards the achievement of results, milestones, and impact of the outcomes based on the use of performance indicators.

Both activities require dedicated funds, trained personnel, monitoring and evaluation tools, effective data collection and storage facilities, and time for effective inspection visits in the field.

What it follows from the discussion is that both monitoring and evaluation are necessary management tools to inform decision-making and demonstrate accountability.

Evaluation is not a substitute for monitoring, nor is monitoring a substitute for evaluation. Systematically generated monitoring data are essential for a successful evaluation.

Monitoring Definition

Monitoring Definition

Monitoring is the continuous and systematic assessment of project implementation based on targets set and activities planned during the planning phases of the work and the use of inputs, infrastructure, and services by project beneficiaries.

It is about collecting information that will help answer questions about a project, usually about the way it is progressing towards its original goals, and how the objectives and approaches are taken may need to be modified.

It provides managers and other stakeholders with continuous feedback on implementation, identifies actual or potential successes and early indications of the progress, problems, or lack thereof as early as possible to facilitate timely adjustments and modification to project operation as and when necessary.

Monitoring tracks the actual performance against what was planned or expected by collecting and analyzing data on the indicators according to pre-determined standards.

If done properly, it is an invaluable tool for the good management and provides a useful base for evaluation. It also identifies strengths and weaknesses in a program.

The performance information generated from monitoring enhances learning from experience and improves decision-making.

It enables you to determine whether the resources available are sufficient and are being well used, whether the capacity you have is sufficient and appropriate, and whether you are doing what you planned to do.

Monitoring information is collected in a planned, organized, and routine way at specific times, for example, daily, monthly, or quarterly.

At some point, this information is needed to be collated, brought together, and analyzed so that it can answer questions such as:

  • How well are we doing?
  • Are we doing the right things?
  • What differences are we making?
  • Does the approach need to be modified, and if so, how?


This example is drawn from the World Bank Technical paper entitled “Monitoring and Evaluating Urban Development Programs: A Handbook for Program Managers and Researchers” by Michael Bamberger.

The author describes a monitoring study that, by way of rapid survey, was able to determine that the amount of credit in a micro-credit scheme for artisans in Brazil was too small.

The potential beneficiaries were not participating due to the inadequacy of the loan size for their needs. This information was then used to make some important changes in the project.

Bamberger defines it as: “an internal project activity designed to provide constant feedback on the progress of a project, the problems it is facing, and the efficiency with which it is being implemented.”

Evaluation Definition

Evaluation Definition

Evaluation, on the other hand, is a periodic in-depth time-bound analysis that attempts to assess systematically and objectively the relevance, performance, impact, success, or the lack thereof and sustainability of the on-going and completed projects about stated objectives.

It studies the outcome of a project (changes in income, better housing quality, distribution of the benefits between different groups, the cost-effectiveness of the projects as compared with other options, etc.) to inform the design of future projects.

Evaluation relies on data generated through monitoring activities as well as information obtained from other sources such as studies, research, in-depth interviews, focus group discussions, etc.

Project managers undertake interim evaluations during the implementation as the first review of progress, a prognosis of a project’s likely effects, and as a way to identify necessary adjustments in project design.

In essence, evaluation is the comparison of actual project impacts against the agreed-upon strategic plans.

It is essentially undertaken to look at what you set out to do, at what you could accomplish, and how you accomplished it.


Once again, we refer to Bamberger, who describes an evaluation of a co-operative program in El Salvador that determined that the co-operatives improved the lives of the few families involved but did not have a significant impact on overall employment.

Formative and Summative Evaluation

The task of evaluation is two-fold: formative and summative.

Formative evaluation is undertaken to improve the strategy, design, and performance or way of functioning of an on-going program/project.

The summative evaluation, on the other hand, is undertaken to make an overall judgment about the effectiveness of a completed project that is no longer functioning, often to ensure accountability.

We usually seek to answer the following questions informative evaluation:

  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of the program?
  • What is the progress towards achieving the desired outputs and outcomes
  • Are the selected indicators pertinent and specific enough to measure the outputs?
  • What is happening, that was not expected?
  • How are staff and clients interacting?
  • What are implementers’ and target groups’ perceptions of the program?
  • How are the funds being utilized? How is the external environment affecting the internal operations of the program?
  • What new ideas are emerging that can be tried out and tested?

Questions that one asks in the summative evaluation are:

  • Did the program work? Did it contribute towards the stated goals and outcomes? Were the desired outputs achieved?
  • Was implementation in compliance with funding mandates? Were funds used appropriately for the intended purposes?
  • Should the program be continued or terminated? Expanded? Replicated?

Apart from the questions raised above in formative and summative evaluation, more often, we raise the following questions in the evaluation process to gain knowledge and a better understanding of the mechanisms through which the program results have been achieved.

  • What is the assumed logic through which it is expected that inputs and activities will produce outputs conducive to bring ultimate change in the status of the target population or situation?
  • What types of interventions are successful under what conditions?
  • How can outputs/outcomes best be measured?
  • What lessons were learned?
  • What are policy options available as a result of program activities?

Conventional and Participatory Evaluation

Evaluation can broadly be viewed as being participatory and conventional.

A participatory approach is a broad concept focusing on the involvement of primary and other stakeholders in an undertaking such as program planning, design implementation, monitoring, and evaluation.

This approach differs from what we know as a conventional approach in several ways. The following section adapted from Estrella (J997) is designed to compare these two approaches of evaluation.

Conventional Evaluation

  • It aims at making a judgment on the program for accountability purposes rather than empowering program stakeholders.
  • It strives for the scientific objectivity of Monitoring and Evaluation findings, thereby distancing the external evaluators from stakeholders.
  • It tends to emphasize the need for information on program funding agencies and policymakers rather than program implementers and people affected by the program.
  • It focuses on the measurement of success according to predetermined indicators.

Participatory Evaluation

It is a process of individuals and collective learning and capacity development through which people become more aware and conscious of their strengths and weaknesses, their wider social realities, and their visions and perspectives of development outcomes.

This learning process creates conditions conducive to change and action.

  • It emphasizes varying degrees of participation from low to high of different types of stakeholders in initiating, defining the parameters for, and conducting Monitoring and Evaluation.
  • It is a social process negotiation between people’s different needs, expectations, and worldviews. It is a highly political process that addresses the issues of an entity, power, and social transformation.
  • It is a flexible process, continuously evolving and adapting to the program-specific circumstances and needs.

Core Objectives of Monitoring and Evaluation

While monitoring and evaluation are two distinct elements, they are decidedly geared towards learning from what you are doing and how you are doing it by focusing on many essential and common objectives:

  1. Relevance
  2. Efficiency
  3. Effectiveness
  4. Impact
  5. Sustainability
  6. Causality
  7. Alternative strategy

These elements may be referred to as core objectives of monitoring and evaluation.

Types of Evaluation

There are several ways of doing an evaluation. Some of the more common methods you may have come across are;

Types of Evaluation

  1. Self-evaluation
  2. Internal evaluation
  3. Rapid participatory appraisal
  4. External evaluation
  5. Interactive evaluation

Differences between Monitoring and Evaluation

The important differential characteristics of monitoring and evaluation are;

Continuous processPeriodic: at essential milestones, such as the mid-terms of the program implementation; at the end or a substantial period after program conclusion
Keeps track; oversight; analyzes and documents progressIn-depth analysis; Compares planned with actual achievements.
Focuses on inputs, activities, outputs, implementation processes, continued relevance, likely results at outcome levelFocuses on outputs to inputs; results to cost; processes used to achieve results; overall relevance; impact, and sustainability.
Answers what activities were implemented and the results achieved.Answers why and how results were achieved. Contributes to building theories and models for change.
Alerts managers to problems and provides options for corrective measures.Provides managers with strategy and policy options.
Self-assessment by program managers, supervisors, community stakeholders, and donors.Internal and/external analysis by program managers, supervisors, community stakeholders, donors, and/or external evaluators.

Monitoring and Evaluation Process

Monitoring and evaluation enable us to check the bottom line of development work.

In development work, the term bottom line means whether we are making a difference in the problem or not, while in business, the terms refer to whether we are making a profit or not in doing the business.

In monitoring and evaluation, we do not look for a profit; rather, we want to see whether we are making a difference from what we had earlier. Monitoring and evaluation systems can be an effective way to

  1. Provide constant feedback on the extent to which the projects are achieving their goals;
  2. Identify potential problems and their causes at an early stage and suggest possible solutions to problems;
  3. Monitor the efficiency with which the different components of the project are being implemented and suggest improvement;
  4. Evaluate the extent to which the project can achieve its general objectives;
  5. Provide guidelines for the planning of future projects;
  6. Improve project design and show the need for mid-course corrections;
  7. Incorporate the views of the stakeholders;
  8. Show need for mid-course corrections.

The process inherent in the monitoring and evaluation system can be seen in the following schematic flow chart;

monitoring and evaluation process

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