DM&E Tip: Actionable Measurement in M&E Systems

Cross posted from the Learning Portal for DM&E for Peacebuilding

This DM&E Tip is largely based on “A Guide to Actionable Measurement” by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The framework presented in the Guide has been adapted to M&E systems for international organizations and peacebuilding for this Tip.

Hot Resource! A Guide to Actionable Measurement by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Building off of this week’s blog post, any M&E system developed should seek measurement at multiple organizational and programmatic levels. For the sake of simplicity this has been simplified to three levels: organizational strategy, program, and project.

The type of measurement that is actionable at each of the levels varies depending on how that data will likely be used. Here we turn to the design hierarchy of inputs, activities, outputs, outcomes, and impacts.

Hot Resource! Glossary of Key Terms in Evaluation and Results Based Management by the OECD-DAC

This framework for actionable measurement in M&E systems is formed when design hierarchy measurement is combined with intentional strategy on what should be measured at which organizational level.







Organizational Strategy




Measure changes in populations and systems


Measure progress toward targets, test assumptions, identify what works, how, and why


Track implementation and progress toward targets


Measurement at Organizational Strategy Level

Limit the tracking of inputs, activities and outputs

Much of this will be done at the programmatic and project level. Focus your efforts instead on understanding systemic change.

Measure outcomes more frequently than impact

Strategy level impact is very long-term – how many organizations actually fully achieve in a demonstrable manner their stated mission? So focus your efforts to understand outcomes, and when attribution or strong contribution can be identified, you might be able to extrapolate to the impact level or use the outcome measurement as an impact proxy.

Contribution vs. Attribution

This point is relevant at all organizational levels, but perhaps even more so at the organizational strategy level – strategy is likely to be so large and visionary that it is implausible that a single actor could achieve that strategy. Rather, it is achieved through the combined actions of multiple actors who may not always be so clearly connected – again, the emphasis is on understanding systems.

Measurement at Programmatic Level

Draw on project data to measure progress toward program-level targets

Projects are the means by which a program achieves its goals and objectives. Project-specific data should, therefore, be used to assess the extent to which a program is achieving, or moving towards the achievement, of targets. One way to do this is to aggregate project evaluation budgets into a single, programmatic evaluation that also examines the projects and their contribution to the achievement of programmatic targets.

Capture both intended and unintended consequences

To capture intended and unintended consequences and impacts of your work requires the use of multiple measurement methods: qualitative, quantitative and the appropriate and intentional use of both data sets. Such methods can be supplemented with reflective exercises.

Document Innovation

Many international non-governmental organizations have a degree of decentralization, which often means that innovations in one program may not be known by other programs where such innovation may be applicable. Documenting innovative programming will assist for scaling up, and better understanding the dynamic interaction of the project and the conflict and context systems.

Measurement at Project Level

Align or compliment project level outcomes and impacts with programmatic objectives and goals

This might seem somewhat obvious, but is very important: the alignment of strategies—one might say theories—of change. Just as in design hierarchy, the achievement of project level outcomes contributes to the achievement of programmatic goals, and thus organizational strategy. 

But, of course there are many strategies and approaches to developing actionable measurement in your M&E system. Every organization will do this differently, and what is put forth in this Tip is not meant to be a definitive, one-size-fits-all approach to strategic measurement in an M&E system, but rather one possible approach amongst many.

Jonathan White is the Content Manager for the Learning Portal for DM&E for Peacebuilding at Search for Common Ground. Views expressed herein do not represent SFCG, the Learning Portal or its partners or affiliates.

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Tags: and, cumulative, evaluation, impact, measurement, monitoring, systems


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