Sir Alex Ferguson: leading expert in M&E

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21st Dec 2012



The Manchester United manager may not be your idea of a model for NGO managers, but in the field of M&E his example can teach us a lot.

Monitoring and Evaluation workshops clog up very fast with jargon that people struggle to relate to the real world. Where do ‘activities’ end and ‘outputs’ begin? What is an ‘outcome’? And how do we know we’ve reached the nirvana of ‘impact’?

There are three things that are essential to get across in a basic M&E course:

  1. Monitoring information should be used immediately to improve the project.
  2. Outputs and outcomes are only stepping stones.
  3. What we really care about is impact.

This sounds fine but doesn’t relate to anything real or tangible. So I tried a different approach. Put yourself in Sir Alex’s shoes:

Activities = recruiting players, training, practicing moves (mildly interesting but you’re not going to spend your time measuring this)

Outputs = players can run around, pass accurately, know the team strategy (fairly easy for team coaches to measure and observe)

Outcomes = a good team performance during a game, goals scored (Sir Alex is standing on the sidelines shouting and monitoring every move)

Impact = win or lose the game (this is what Sir Alex will spend a lot of time analysing to make sure the team wins next time).

If you put it like this, a lot more people ‘get’ it right away. We only care about data that helps us get to a ‘win’. And if we wait till the game’s over to use the information, it’s too late. Why do you think Sir Alex is there shouting from the sidelines all the way through? We need to start doing more shouting from the sidelines and use monitoring information to actually shape a project while it still has a chance of ‘winning’.

I’d be interested in other good metaphors that anyone uses. Have some fun with it!


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