Most people see M&E as accountants. Beanificiary counting pedants. Detail oriented, structured, systematic; probably inflexible and unpractical too. Others may see us as journalists, getting in the way asking questions all the time, note pad in hand. The reality is that, at our best, we’re both. And more. We’re artists. Stay with me, I’ll make more sense in a minute, whether or not you agree. Yeah, we’re artists. Ultimately it is M&E’s job to paint an accurate, meaningful and representative picture of a project/programme. To do that, we have two paintbrushes:
- Quantitative data – How many? How much? – proportions, scales, broad but often shallow representation
- Qualitative data – How? Why? – motivation, description, narrow but deep representation
Think of it this way. Quant. data, they’re the outlines of our painting. They speak to the scale and shape of things, but without much nuance. Qual. data, that’s the colour, the shading, the sense of things. Without one, the particular perspective and type of representation is lost from the other. No lines and you get a blurry, if interesting composition. All lines and no colour and you have a clear and structured overall image, will little sense of nuance, depth of understanding and therefore engagement.
As Fleur Adcock wrote in her glorious poem, Leaving the Tate:
“Art is whatever you choose to frame”
So, if you don’t mind me suggesting it, frame your analyses to create something more artistic. Make it deliver intersecting perspectives and approaches. The reality is that there are always forces that influence whether we become and behave as sociological accountants, or whether we are incessant journalists. To be really powerful in providing accurate, meaningful and representative insights, we have to insist on being both and more. We have to become artists.