The monitoring and implementation phases are often taken as one because they are so intertwined. In any case it is clear you can’t speak of consecutive phases because they go together. Monitoring is about checking whether your project is going as planned, meaning that:
- You’re doing the activities according to plan
- You’re getting the outputs that you want
- You’re spending the budget according to plan
Monitoring is not about the fundamentals of your project, i.e. the question whether you’re doing the right things in the first place.
To monitor the project’s outputs, you’re using the indicators of the logframe. To monitor the progress of the activities, you’re using the project’s planning (updated). To monitor expenses, you’re using the project’s accountancy and compare it with the budget.
In the concept of PCM, monitoring is needed to adapt your project flexibly to the ever changing needs and the ever evolving situation in the field. Monitoring should allow you to take project management decisions on the go:
- Change the activities that you do, or change the order of the activities, or put an end to certain activities because they don’t lead to the results that you expected.
- Verify whether outputs are achieved in time, and change priorities and/or reroute resources (staff, finances, equipment…) to make sure they will be achieved.
- Avoid financial mismanagement, or expending too much or too fast. Maybe the cost of certain activities may have to be reviewed and other solutions may have to be found. In other cases the costs will turn out to be lower than expected, and additional activities may be organised to exceed the original objectives of the project.
- Determine whether you should start up a procedure to re-negotiate parts of your contract: because the situation has changed drastically; because risks have materialised and you can’t handle them as you’d hoped; because you’re spending more than expected; because you want to re-allocate your resources; etc.
In this sense, monitoring does not equal controlling. However, in practice the opposite is often true and monitoring becomes something to satisfy the donor and produce the necessary reports in time.
In any case, the information you get from your monitoring system is not only used to manage the project, but also for accountability. There are two kinds of accountability:
- Downward accountability: you use the information from your monitoring system to show the beneficiaries what they’ve achieved so far and how they and their situation have progressed since the beginning of the project. This is also an element of participation and it is important to create ownership of the project and of its results.
- Upward accountability: the information from the monitoring system is used to report to the partners, to ‘headquarters’ and to the donors.
Again in reality, downward accountability is often forgotten, and the emphasis is on reporting to the donor. A lot of time can go into reporting, also because information has to be poured into the formats provided by the donor. This is especially true for financial reporting: an inordinate amount of time can be spent on making sure all tickets and invoices are there and eligible according to the donor; classified and registered in the accountancy system; verified and verified again; audited internally and externally…