As part of my Columbia SIPA coursework, I’m participating in a capstone workshop that examines the evolving nature of media development monitoring and evaluation (M&E). Media development M&E is, basically, how people try to determine the impact of the millions of dollars that flows into media development worldwide. All of the money spent creating a free press in Russia, developing social media in Egypt, or training journalists in China - what’s the actual impact of that?
One of the issues that comes up time and time again is how effective M&E really is at proving impact. Can you use numbers to measure how free a press is? Can you use data to capture how well-informed a society is? There is a tendency in M&E culture to privilege quantitive data over qualitative. Is that really appropriate for something as qualitative as media? At the same time, what’s the point of spending millions of dollars trying to improve the media if you cant even show that media development works? Budgets are tight; we cant be throwing money away. How do you balance this tension?