History of M&E

Due to the wide application of M&E throughout many fields and practices, it is difficult to determine its exact origins. It can be argued that, as a field of practice, its origin is as old as mankind (Stockmann, 2011; Basheka & Byamugisha, 2015). Even pre-modern societies implemented some form of performance-tracking systems. In giving a more distant historical perspective of the importance and usefulness of M&E practice, Kusek and Rist (2004, p. 11) state: “there is tremendous power in measuring performance. The ancient Egyptians regularly monitored their country’s outputs in grain and livestock production more than 5,000 years ago. In this sense, M&E is certainly not a new phenomenon.”

However, the modern Western usage of the term within academic disciplines varies more significantly. M&E has become an integral part of research and practice, and as such, it is relevant to many different fields, from government and policy, education, natural resource management, and many others. One of the earliest calls for M&E in an environmental context came from C.S. Holling and colleagues (Stem et al., 2005). In the late 1960s the group developed what they called “adaptive environmental assessment and management”, or adaptive management (Stem et al., 2005). Within this context, adaptive management “involves integrating project design, management, and monitoring to provide a framework for testing assumptions, adaptation, and learning” (Margoluis & Salafsky, 1998, p. 8).

Since the late 1960s, there has been growing recognition among scholars and practitioners that “effective project management goes beyond simple implementation, and is integrally linked to well designed monitoring and evaluation systems” (Woodhill, 2000 in Stem et al., 2005, p. 1; see also Hockings et al., 2000; Margoluis & Salafsky, 1998).

In particular, M&E has taken on increased importance in the sustainability domain, as scholars and practitioners struggle to demonstrate progress made towards addressing the contemporary problem domain (covered in Module 3).


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Building Sustainable Communities: Monitoring and Evaluation by Ryan Plummer; Amanda Smits; Samantha Witkowski; Bridget McGlynn; Derek Armitage; Ella-Kari Muhl; and Jodi Johnston is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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