To demonstrate how CTA projects are matching the Centre’s corporate targets and to enhance project data integrity, consistency and accuracy, a results data management initiative has been launched.
From a strategic perspective, the goals for investing in a strong monitoring and evaluation (M&E) system for CTA, or any development agency, whether operating at local, national, regional or international level, are four-fold; to promote accountability, learning, decision-making and visibility. While, in principle, there is overwhelming support for M&E in the development community, most, if not all organisations still find it challenging to build and maintain a fully functioning M&E system that fulfils these ambitious goals.
Until recently, one of CTA’s main M&E challenges has revolved around the need to demonstrate precisely how a sizeable number of projects contribute to its corporate logframe targets; the solution has been data visualisation. The adoption of Microsoft’s Business Intelligence (Power BI) package for data visualisation has been one element of CTA’s recently-developed Results Data Management System (RDMS), which focuses primarily on M&E. The RDMS initiative, which was launched in January 2019, has also refined and coded project-specific logframe indicators, and adapted the project monitoring functionalities in CTA’s main project management database (known as DELTA).
Refining and coding of project-specific logframe indicators
CTA’s Learning, Monitoring and Evaluation (LME) Unit embarked on a centre-wide exercise in February 2019, with the aim of updating 35 project-specific logframes and promoting stronger alignment between project-level indicators and the indicators in the corporate logframe – which had been updated in 2018 with approval from the European Commission. This involved several measures (depicted by the components in top left segment of Figure 1), including:
- Making sure that project-specific indicators comply fully with SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound) criteria, and are allowed a degree of flexibility in designing logframes to make sure that the indicators reflected each project’s theory of change;
- Assigning a unique code to each project-specific indicator to facilitate the aggregation of values at corporate level; and
- Specifying whether each project-level indicator had a direct or indirect relationship with a corresponding indicator in the corporate logframe.
Adapting project monitoring functionalities in DELTA
While logframe indicators were being aligned and coded, CTA’s internal IT service facilitated several changes to the monitoring functionality within DELTA to allow the systematic inputting of results data via standardised data collection forms (top right segment of Figure 1).
DELTA’s updated data entry form now contains 20 fields that are applied separately for impact, outcome and output data. The main fields that support data visualisation include the project code, indicator statement, the code that links the indicator to the corresponding corporate indicator, the target, and the actual value of the indicator. Where appropriate, data are differentiated by gender, age and geographical location (country and region). Additional fields are included (e.g. source of verification and confirmation of input validation) to enhance data integrity, consistency and accuracy.
Intensifying data visualisation
One of the strengths of RDMS’s data visualisation component, Power BI (bottom right of Figure 1), is the functionality to pull data in from multiple databases, rather than relying only on DELTA. As a result, datasets can be imported into Power BI from data available in Excel files and other sources on topics not sufficiently catered for in DELTA (e.g. financial information and data on participants and events).
Power BI reports, which have been available since August 2019, have enabled CTA to track impact, outcome and output targets for all of the logframes in DELTA. Figure 2 provides a graphical overview of the levels of achievement for each logframe targets at impact, outcome and output levels for CTA’s Data4Ag project. Figure 3, on the other hand, shows how numerical data is presented as a ‘traffic light’ to indicate the relative degrees of progress towards achieving the outcome target for CTA’s Transforming Africa’s agriculture: Eyes in the sky, smart techs on the ground project.
Both illustrations show that it is possible to observe a project’s performance from data visualised on a single slide. They also demonstrate how data can be projected in different formats and with different levels of detail. Visualising M&E data through Power BI reports and dashboards has many additional advantages, including being able refresh data and publish reports automatically to provide users with accurate and up-to-date information. The emergence of a common reference point for results data on the performance of individual projects is enabling CTA to precisely demonstrate how specific projects are contributing to its corporate logframe targets. Improvements in the quantity and quality of data, used for project management oversight and decision-making, means that CTA is now much better placed to use M&E for accountability, learning, decision-making and visibility. The tool is also relatively easy to master, both as a developer and a user.
The human factor
If we were to compare CTA’s RDMS to a machine, adding the visualisation component has helped to elevate the machine’s performance. The machine runs on data as its main fuel, which enters the RDMS via M&E feedback and reports (bottom left segment of Figure 1). Like most machines, be it a car or a computer, humans do not only create the finished product, but they are also responsible for its use and maintenance. This explains why, in addition to the four main components, Figure 1 is littered with references to CTA units and project teams, as well as project implementing partners. These various groups of people continue to play a significant role in building the RDMS, and without their ongoing contributions it would be impossible to maintain such a system.