Improving your MERL with Tech

For NGO or nonprofit M&E/MERL officers and executives directors  implementing an intervention having robust Monitoring, Evaluation, Research and Learning is important ensure that:

  1. Projects are meeting set targets so that adjustments can be made accordingly.
  2. The stated goals of your project can be evaluated for actual impact.
  3. Data is used to conduct research on the most effective methods.
  4. Lessons Learned can be reincorporated into regular practices to improve processes.

Additionally, MERL is important for donors who need to assess whether your NGO is a reliable partner. Donors can review targets and access the effectiveness of your executions and make determinations on whether continued partnership is appropriate. Therefore, most people understand that developing a robust M&E plan is of essentially importance.  Given the importance of this data improving the quality, capacity, ethics and security of data collection is paramount.  There are many Open Source tools available that aid in the collection of data, and we’ll discuss some of our favorites here.

Survey Tools

  • LimeSurvey allow NGO to conduct online surveys.  The company allows you to host it yourself, but they all have a SaaS cloud options.

Data Collection Tools

  • Open Data Kit (ODK) is perhaps the most widely used free and open-source data collection software in global development.  The interface isn’t particularly pretty but it gets the job done.  It’s set of tools NGOs author, field, and manage mobile data collection solutions.
  • OpenXdata is another free and open-source option for data collection.  It offers support for low cost mobile phones, visual for complex forms, and it’s multimedia and GPS ready.
  • KoboToolBox is a much more user friendly options for free and open-source data collection.  Developed by Harvard and  supported by USAID, KoboToolBox has easy form creation, support for data collection on multiple devices, and ability the mange and analyze data. 
  • Asterisks is  a free and open source framework for building communications applications and is sponsored by our partner Digium. Asterisks has powerful Interactive Voice Response (IVR) and SMS tools for data collection. It also boast a suite full of other communication tools.
  • Freedom Fone is another free and opensource communication framework. It has great and simple IVR and SMS tools.

Visualization/Mapping Tools

  • QGIS is a free and open-source Geographic Information System allowing users to display GPS and other collected data on maps.  The package is robust with support for several programming languages including python and R.
  • OpenStreet Maps is a community driven mapping platform and a is a repository and online GIS visualization of data about roads, trails, cafés, railway station, and more. According to the maintainers OpenStreetMaps “powers map data on thousands of web sites, mobile apps, and hardware devices.” and acts as a open replacement for google maps.