Why I do “this M&E thing”

Two things I remember about my job at the Police HQ in Timor Leste. First, a 25ft live crocodile in the middle of the building. “She’s called Maria: you can feed her if you want.”


Second, the Commander General: ramrod straight in a pale blue shirt, dark blue jacket, gold epaulettes and shiny buttons. “Lucia”, he said, leaning forward.  “Why do you do this M&E thing? I can’t help feeling that you could do something better.”


It all started in 2010. Freetown, Sierra Leone: an assignment to design a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) project. The project aimed to help poor Sierra Leoneans to access justice: a difficult thing to achieve in a country brought to its knees by war. After 11 years of horror—the hacking of limbs, the burning of villages, the destruction of infrastructure, brain drain and economic freefall—Sierra Leone had become the poorest country on earth. Violence was so common that it was considered normal. Many women didn’t know that they had a right not to be raped, and many of the poorest people didn’t know that they had the right to life-improving services like health and education. Our UNDP ‘access to justice’ project aimed to change that: to end the impunity in which injustice flourished by helping victims to win victory in court. To offer people unaware of their rights and afraid of the government help to create a better future by getting their entitlements—like alimony for divorced women, inheritance for orphaned children, pension payments for retirees.


My first task was simple enough: prepare an annual report of the previous project’s results.


The sun shone low in the sky—shades of orange and gold over bright red earth—then sank quickly below the horizon. It was dark in the office: pitch black but for the glow of the computer screen. Outbreak of war in Libya meant a shortage of fuel in Sierra Leone, little oil in the office generator, and a desk pitch black but for the glow of the computer screen. Surrounded by paper—project briefs, meeting reports, newspaper clippings and scrawled notes of interviews with colleagues—I thought to myself: “what the hell am I doing?” I’m a British woman in West Africa, writing a report for donors in Sweden and Switzerland about how their money helps people in Sierra Leone. So why not ask them? Ask people that the project serves what they think? Ask Sierra Leoneans themselves: did we help?


So began an effort that aimed to make the humble task of reporting more honest. Alas, it also made it more sweaty. More sweaty, more expensive, and more time consuming.


After weeks of repeated visits, texts and calls to police stations, court houses and people in remote communities—under the heat of a tropical sun, through the traffic and dust of roads under construction, and with little scratch-cards of credit purchased from Fatima the road-side vendor—we got data to show that the project had led to a 165% increase in prosecutions of crimes for gender-based violence (GBV). This was the highlight among pages of results summarized by one woman’s testimony: “tell God tenki fo sake of UNDP.” (thank God for UNDP).


This is ‘monitoring and evaluation’ (M&E): the process of collecting information to understand what people want, what institutions need, and ‘what works’ to achieve it. It’s a specialism grounded in curiosity, conversation, and careful collection of data. In Sierra Leone, that curiosity and conversation led to me to stories and statistics of lives changed.


It’s a pattern I’ve observed in every duty station since then. Stories and statistics help projects to raise money. They help them to target the right people and needs; identify and incorporate the innovations that change lives and societies. Within two years of the drafting of that report, international law changed to encourage global use of the legal aid innovation responsible for that massive increase in prosecutions for GBV crimes in Sierra Leone.


Money, ideas and motivation: M&E generates all of these drivers of change.


In Sierra Leone, my colleagues were tired. Tired of having to prove their value to senior management. Tired of hustling for funds. And tired of trying to deliver on their workplans while managing the daily challenges of life in the poorest country on the planet: finding water, fixing the toilet, and figuring out how to solve a rat problem that doesn’t involve what neighbours advise: ‘Wap ‘am!”  (Running after the creature and hitting it with a hand).


In the context of this daily struggle to make a difference, the effect of “this M&E thing” was to re-energize colleagues with the knowledge that they were, and why they should keep going: the evidence that it matters.


What we do in service of a better world does matter. And the reason I “do this M&E thing” is to find the stories and statistics that prove it. Imperfect, patchy and non-linear though our progress may be, “without a doubt,” as the Dalai Lama said: “love is increasing on the earth.”  Love is increasing on earth—and there’s data to demonstrate it.   



74 thoughts on “Why I do “this M&E thing””

  1. So cool!! I love your writing so much. Why we don’t see more like this from UN? M0stly not understandable stuffs. This one is clear, exciting, even I enjoy reading. So good. Thank you.

    1. Hi Anna, I’m glad you liked it. I did indeed practice and focus for many years to try to produce good writing that would make the work of the UN interesting, understandable, and worthy of support. I guess it’s like anything, no? Try, learn, improve. . and just keep going!

    1. Hi Janet, thanks for your interest. Yes, I do. I am currently helping governments, civil society organisations, social entrepreneurships and cultrural organisations to do M&E. I also advice some businesses how to integrate the SDGs into their sustainability reporting, collect quality data for those reports, and communicate results effectively. Contact me directly if you’d like to know more – it’s always a pleasure to help organisations to identify and communicate the impact of their work.

  2. Exceptional. I’ve been reading through all the posts and I can’t wait to read your book. The way you see and express things is so rare and beautiful.

  3. Devin Hoffstater

    I had to do an assignment for development econ class on M&E. This is for sure the best thing out there. I actually care about it now. Great job!

  4. How can I learn this? Seems like a perfect career choice for international development. Thanks.

    1. Hi Annie, are you just starting your career? I’d be happy to speak to you about this if you’d like. Please contact me directly to discuss options.

  5. Heard you speak at St. Kate’s – best speaker we had so far. Amazing to hear your experiences. I know you’re busy in your work but hope you’ll write more. Funny, interesting, and so smart.

    1. So kind of you to say – thank you Imelda. I do indeed have alot to write about M&E. If you subscrIbe, you can get new posts right away. Also my book ‘9 Wonder Words’ is about to be launched (next week!) for more fun stories and learning from around the world.

  6. Wow! I just read all the posts here. Love learning all of this; interesting perspective. I hope you write more. THank you.

  7. So cool to read these perspectives and experiences.I love the way you think and write. It’s good that you are sharing. I am a student and I never get to read excellent stuff like this.

  8. Found this through my reading list for development econ class. It’s the best thing I’ve read my entire year. Thanks for writing a non-boring and actually helpful resource and being generous to share it for free. Appreciate your work so much. Also saw you speak a few years ago at NYU. You’re an amazing human being.

  9. I would like to meet you as a result of you seeking the efforts youve got produced in writing this post. I am hoping to see you speaking or releasing your book at a store near me. Thank you. I signed up for information.

  10. Thanks, I’ve been looking for this type of material for a long time. Everything else I’ve read on M&E has been very boring and I think it misses the point tbh. This is human. This is the point!

  11. Now i know why people say reading books is useful because you become smarter. I feel smarter and happier since reading this work!

  12. Vasiliy Azizov

    Hello. If you prepare a course on how to do this work, would be great. I am very fasctinated and wanting to learn more.

  13. Wow that was unusual. I just wrote an incredibly long comment but after I clicked submit my comment didn’t appear. Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over again. Anyway, just wanted to say fantastic blog!

  14. How cool. Can I buy your book in local bookstores? The link is to amazon but i prefer not to shop there.

  15. OMG! Just discovered this site. What hopeful, powerful, writing. Thanks for sharing it. WOW! It’s very uplifting somehoe.

  16. I should be here right now.,
    In this city where the war…
    The reserve of strength has almost completely dried up,
    The one that the Lord gave me.

    I need to save the children,
    From Nazi mines and rockets,
    So that they can continue to grow,
    Where there is no evil.

    It’s scary for me to be in the enemy’s sights,
    I remember my family…
    And I scold myself for being weak,
    And it gets harder for me.

    But clutching the cross to his chest,
    I felt a wave behind my back,
    After all, there is always hope,
    And the Lord will give you more strength.

    That’s really close to my goal,
    Well, let me be weak now,
    I pray, saying to myself: believe!
    And the victorious hour will come

    Thank you for being with us Lucy

  17. Hello! I am very intrested in the solutions you use for this work – like to visualize functions and find useful examples of already constructed graphs.
    I would appreciate it if you share another article about this, so I may learn. I will definitely take into account your feedback and implement useful tips in practice.
    I wish you all good luck in your important work!

  18. James Pappagianni

    Feels like an old friend speaking to me. Or like a friend I wish I had. Thank you Lucy for your writing. I really lke to read more from you.

  19. Amazing writing from an amazing human being. This site and your book especially changed my life. Hope to meet you some day. I am in Minnesota, hope you come there.

  20. Super interesting! The way these ideas are shared pulls the reader in and makes me happy to read. Love it. Thank you Lucy Turner.

  21. You are an amazing human being. Thanks for everything that you do. You are an inspiration. A truly extraordinary woman, and an inspiration. All best wishes from Canada, and thanks for all of this.

  22. Its not my first time to pay a visit this website, i am browsing this site dailly and
    take pleasant data from here every day. Please can you write more please? I know you are busy but I am enjoying too much!

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