The Role of M&E in Peace Corps: A Volunteer’s Perspective

Sean Lundy, a former Stomp Out Malaria Boot Camp Alumni, was a Community Health and Malaria Prevention specialist in Togo.  After finishing his 2 year Peace Corps service, he decided to extend his time there for a new position in his host country.  We asked him to write a piece on his experience:

The Role of M&E in Peace Corps: A Volunteer’s Perspective

By Sean Lundy

George Bernard Shaw once said that, “The only man who behaves sensibly is my tailor; he takes my measurements anew every time he sees me, while all the rest go on with their old measurements and expect me to fit them.” It is with this spirit that monitoring and evaluation (M&E) specialists approach their work, providing an essential function to any government, non-government or private sector organization that prioritizes a continuous data feedback loop, realistic project expectations, and results-based frameworks that seeks improved efficiency and efficacy. As the first Monitoring and Evaluation Peace Corps Volunteer Leader (M&E PCVL) in Togo, it is my job to interpret the work Volunteers are doing in the field to create recurring data-driven deliverables to Peace Corps administrative officials.

Monitoring and evaluation can be explained as two separate, yet symbiotic, functions. Monitoring, as described by the World Bank (2007), can be defined as a continuing function that aims primarily to provide the management and main stakeholders of an ongoing intervention with early indications of progress, or lack thereof, in the achievement of results. Monitoring helps organizations track achievements by a regular collection of information to assist timely decision making, ensure accountability, and provide the basis for evaluation and learning. Evaluation is the systematic and objective assessment of an on-going or completed project, program, or policy, and its design, implementation and results. The aim is to determine the relevance and fulfillment of objectives, development efficiency, effectiveness, impact, and sustainability (World Bank, 2007). While institutions and funding agencies are the ones enforcing M&E standards, the greatest beneficiaries of this work are the target communities. The basic question M&E seeks to answer is, are development interventions actually working and how can we be more effective?

For the past fifty years, Peace Corps has relied on qualitative and anecdotal information to convey the overall impact of our work in the field. Photos, memoirs, letters, blog posts and presentations on the home front have historically been the main vehicle for communicating our work to one of our primary stakeholders: the American taxpayers. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but the reality is that qualitative analysis alone does little to promote institutional memory or build the capacity to make informed, data-driven decisions as an organization.

Peace Corps Headquarters in Washington, D.C., began prioritizing M&E at the end of 2014 with an institutional push to hire additional M&E Specialists to cover every post. Peace Corps Togo was on the front end of this push by bringing on a Monitoring and Evaluation Specialist, and Returned Peace Corps Volunteer from Togo, in February of 2015. By June of 2015, the Peace Corps Togo Monitoring and Evaluation Task Force (METF) was up and running in an effort to enlist currently serving Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) to actively participate in data collection and feedback loops, and to train their peers in improved reporting behavior and techniques. The METF holds quarterly meetings, attended by 13 PCVs, to discuss tasks ranging from aggregating and assessing baseline food security, health, and education questionnaires to collecting project failure reports to using OpenStreetMapping to digitally represent Volunteer outputs across location and time. Our ultimate goal is to tether Peace Corps Volunteer resource allocation directly to the expressed needs of our host communities through a more organic and informed feedback loop.

While living and working in a rural village, I saw how effective Volunteer projects were on target populations and how tangible the outcomes could be if there was an improved assessment process in place. As my interest in impact analytics grew more concentrated, Peace Corps Togo identified the need for an M&E PCVL to support and assist the M&E Specialist working in the office. After first serving as a Community Health and Malaria Prevention (CHAMP) specialist from 2014 to 2016, I elected to extend my Peace Corps service in Togo, West Africa as the M&E PCVL based out of the capital, Lomé. As a result, I now focus on improving the training volunteers receive in M&E, strengthening the communication between Volunteers and staff during the evaluation phase (data cleaning), strengthening strategic partnerships and leading the Peace Corps Togo Monitoring and Evaluation Task Force.

Having traded in my Chaco’s sandals, water collection basins and a position at a rural clinic for a desk and computer, there is a stark difference from the daily grind of a typical Peace Corps Volunteer life. But I am now looking to help push the institution into a data-driven age with a results-oriented framework. Applying culturally sensitive, informed and consistently updated solutions, like Shaw’s tailor, will improve our institutional memory and place Peace Corps at the forefront of development efforts.