Ask M&E professionals about technology in M&E and you will get a mix of excitement and uncertainty. There is excitement about the possibilities that technology can offer, but uncertainty about which technologies to use. Before we wade into this, let’s actually define what we mean by technology. I mean software programs, such as Excel, Tableau and Open Data Kit and the associated hardware, such as laptops and mobile phones.

Now you may ask what the fuss is all about, we use technology in M&E all the time. We collect data through Survey Monkey, analyse it in Excel, NVivo or SPSS and visualise the results through Microsoft Illustrator or Power Bi. Technology is very much mainstreamed throughout our work.

However, we are also faced with a technology landscape in constant flux. Moore’s Law hypothesises that computing power will double every two years and this hypothesis has held true since it was formulated in 1975. As a result, more technology options are available than at any time before. How do you choose the most appropriate technology from the options available? There are four questions that you should ask yourself when deciding on technology.


What is my need?

Do you need to collect data remotely? Do you need a management information system? Do you need to develop engaging visualisations? Being clear about your need will allow you to sift through the multitude of options to find potential solutions. You may have multiple needs. While some of your needs may be equally important, try to prioritise your needs. If you are in an organisation, engage with your colleagues to get a clear picture on what the priorities are.  


Can I afford it?

Each solution has its own costs. Open source software such as the statistical package R is free. Similar statistical packages such as SPSS require a licence and may limit the number of users. There may also be extra hardware costs, such as upgrades in computing power and storage, as well as bandwidth, particularly if you are using cloud-based technologies.   

 

Can I use it?

Along with different costs, each solution has its own learning curve. For example, you may want a dashboard that enables you to upload and visualise monitoring data. Off the shelf options such as Tableau or bespoke dashboards are not cheap but are user friendly and come with support. Options such as a combination of Microsoft Access, Share Point and Power Bi are cheaper but take time to master and maintain. The technology solution’s learning curve needs to be aligned to not only your, but your organisation’s capacities, particularly if there are multiple users.  People can be trained to use new technology or partnerships formed with organisations that have the necessary capacities. But weigh up these costs with the expected benefits. Do the benefits outweigh what other solutions can provide?


Can my audience use it?

Lastly, how will external audiences engage with what you develop? For instance, you may want to build and share a theory of change (Toc) model. There are programs that allow you to develop interactive ToC models, but require your audience to have the program if they want to interact with and change the model. Go back to your need. If you just want to develop a visually appealing ToC then less interactive, but more accessible and cheaper solutions such as Microsoft Illustrator or PowerPoint may be more appropriate. Also ask yourself if your partners will actually use the technology solution. For instance, you may be asking partners to upload data to a dashboard. If this is not embedded into their M&E system than it likely won’t be sustained.   


There is a chance that by asking these questions you may just end up with the same technology that you started with. Relax. You’re no Luddite. Technology needs to be fit for purpose. Otherwise it will just be an expensive, and unused, desktop shortcut. By asking these questions, hopefully you can make sense of all the options out there and identify your technology solution.