Monitoring & Evaluation: A Guide to High-Impact Careers

Monitoring and evaluation (M&E) specialists collect, track, and analyze data to assess the value and impact of different programs and interventions, as well as translate these assessments into actionable insights and strategies to increase the impact of an organization. 

M&E careers might be a promising option for some people. If you’re an exceptional fit, especially if you’re based in a low-or middle-income country where there’s lots of scope for implementing global health and development interventions, then it is worth considering these careers.

However, the impact you’ll be able to have will be determined in large part by the organization you enter, making it particularly important to seek out the best organizations and avoid those that only superficially care about evaluating their impact. Additionally, if you’re a good fit for some of the top roles in this path, it’s likely you’ll also be a good fit for other highly impactful roles, so we’d recommend you consider other paths, too.

It covers a wide range of advice, and is likely to be among the most comprehensive sources you’ll be able to find about this topic from an impact-focused perspective. It’s the result of considerable internal research, as well as consultation with the following domain experts:

Avnish Gungadurdoss

Co-founder & Managing Partner


Dan Stein

Chief Economist


Meghan Mahoney

Director of Monitoring & Evaluation


Sophie Gulliver

Former Policy Analyst

Center for Global Development

Note that the experts we consult don’t necessarily endorse all the views expressed in our content, and all mistakes are our own.

Path Overview

What do we mean by monitoring and evaluation?

Monitoring and evaluation (M&E) is the practice of monitoring and assessing the impact of organizations, programs, and interventions. M&E specialists use tools from the social sciences to form metrics, design data-collection methods, and develop actionable insights to aid organizations in tracking and increasing their effectiveness.

There are some differences between the activities included in monitoring as opposed to evaluation. Monitoring tends to focus on the day-to-day oversight and operations of a program or intervention, using the continuous collection of quantitative and qualitative data. For example, consider a nonprofit that distributed textbooks in low-income regions. They might monitor their program by collecting data on the number of textbooks they distribute per day, or observe lessons to ensure they are used as intended. 

Evaluation, however, focuses on larger-scale assessments of a program’s effectiveness in having a positive impact on the people it’s trying to help, often measured over longer periods of time. Often, evaluations happen after a program has already been implemented. In this example, the nonprofit might conduct an evaluation by investigating whether the textbooks increased students’ grades, improved their employment chances, or increased their earnings.

M&E specialists aren’t just found in nonprofits, though. For instance, they can also work in governments, philanthropic foundations, or multilateral organizations, helping to conduct both monitoring and evaluation tasks for their programs. Alternatively, they may also work in dedicated external consultancies that perform work for other organizations. These organizations typically focus more on conducting evaluations, which tends to be more resource-intensive than monitoring.

M&E also takes place at different levels within an organization. For example, some M&E specialists might work at a more strategic level, setting an organization’s overall goals and developing its theories of change.

Other M&E specialists might be more involved with the day-to-day specifics, creating plans for individual programs and interventions, working out what data needs to be collected for both monitoring and evaluating them, and engaging in field work to collect this data (or managing teams that do this). 

It’s also worth noting that monitoring and evaluation can sometimes come under different names and acronyms for different organizations – some might call it monitoring, learning, and evaluation (MLE) or add additional concepts like accountability (MEAL) or research (MERL) – but they’re all referring to broadly the same kinds of activities, processes, and roles, with some variations.

How promising is this path?

Monitoring and evaluation is important for any organization aiming to have an impact. Without collecting evidence and data, programs may often seem as though they are making a great positive difference, even when they aren’t. With this in minds, here are a few pathways to positive impact for M&E specialists:

  • Discover effective interventions that do a lot of good. For example, rigorous evaluation by J-PAL affiliates and Evidence Action found that placing chlorine-treated water dispensers in rural African villages reduced under-5 child mortality by as much as 63%. Evidence Action has now pledged to double the size of its water-treatment program, reaching 9 million people.
  • Make improvements to known effective interventions. Improving the efficacy of an already-impactful intervention by even a little bit can generate a large impact, especially if the intervention is rolled out on a large scale. Consider this study run by malaria charity TAMTAM, which found that charging even a nominal price for malaria bednets decreased demand by up to 60%, leading a number of large organizations to offer them for free instead.
  • Identify ineffective or harmful interventions so that an organization can change course. A great example of this is animal advocacy organization the Humane League, which determined that their current strategy of performing controversial public stunts was ineffective, and pivoted its strategy towards corporate campaigns. In doing so, they convinced Unilever to stop killing male chicks, saving millions of baby chicks from gruesome deaths.


  • Clear links to effectiveness – Because M&E is explicitly concerned with measuring the impact and efficacy of interventions, there’s a clear case for for how your work might translate into having a positive impact. 
  • Leverage – If you’re working in a large organization, or working on an intervention with a large pool of potential funders and implementers, your work can influence where large amounts of money is spent, or how large amounts of other resources are distributed.
  • Flexible skill set – the skills and qualifications you’ll need for a career in M&E are robustly useful across a range of careers. As such, it’s likely that M&E work will provide you with flexible career capital for pursuing other paths. 

Resource spotlight

How much difference does good monitoring and evaluation make? This article from the Center for Global Development on the efficacy of various World Bank programs suggests that the quality of M&E is a significant predictor of success. Projects that received a “substantial” rating for their M&E processes were 38% more likely to produce better results than projects with a “modest” M&E rating.


  • Narrow range of cause areas – Among the most pressing issues facing the world, there are generally more M&E roles within global health and development than in other cause areas. This means M&E may be a promising career path if you want to work on global health, but there likely fewer opportunities if you prioritize other cause areas, like animal welfare or global catastrophic risks.
  • Varying sensitivity to evidence – The amount of influence M&E work can have is likely to vary significantly across organizations. This is in large part because it can conflict with the incentives and personalities of other people and departments within the organization. For example, some organizations may be unwilling to pull the plug on an ineffective project. This could be for various reasons, like bad PR, damage to fundraising efforts, or because it’s a pet project of someone influential within the organization. These dynamics can be personally frustrating and curtail your impact. Because of this, any career in M&E should prioritize joining organizations that really care about their impact. We’ll talk more about this in the priorities section later on.

Is it a good fit for you?

What is needed to be successful

These are some traits that might mean that a career in M&E could be a particularly good fit for you:

  • You’re comfortable with numbers – Though not all roles within M&E are highly technical, numbers are still important within many aspects of M&E work. If you like working with numbers and datasets, you’ll find yourself in good company in an M&E career, particularly if you find a role that focuses on conducting large-scale evaluations. 
  • You’re a competent communicator – In addition to collecting and analyze data, M&E specialists must also often communicate their insights to both internal and external audiences. This is an essential skill that experts have repeatedly emphasized. 
  • You have (or could gain) geographical familiarity – If you’re in a role that is based in an area where an intervention or evaluation is taking place, or which involves frequent travel, it’s generally an advantage to have familiarity with the area. Because of this, organizations often strongly prefer to hire people with strong knowledge of the local context, rather than outsiders. This means M&E specialists from low- and middle-income countries may have an advantage in both getting into these roles and excelling in them, at least in the context of global health and development (though there are still opportunities for those from high-income countries, either working in government/charities in your own country, or elsewhere!).

M&E contains a broad range of role types, but there are a couple of “dealbreakers” that might mean that you’re not a good fit for careers in this space:

  • You’re not details-oriented – Though not all roles in M&E require a highly technical or quantitative background, the vast majority will require you to engage with complex information. The best M&E workers are those who really want to dig into results and figure out why they show what they show, and be willing to investigate and understand any potential discrepancies.
  • You struggle with difficult conversations – Many roles in M&E require significant external interaction with clients and partners. These conversations can be difficult, especially when your findings might imply that a program should be changed or halted. You may need to communicate this information sensitively to people who are emotionally invested in a project, resistant to perceived criticism, or incentivized to reject critical evidence. Not everyone is suited to these sorts of sensitive (and often political) interpersonal interactions – so avoiding roles with significant interpersonal components might be best if this describes you.

Resource spotlight

The M&E Universe, produced by the nonprofit Intrac, is an interactive site containing a huge number of articles on many components and methods involved in monitoring and evaluation. We highly recommend you take a look if you want a more detailed dive into the concepts discussed in this career profile!

How to test personal fit 

It’s often hard to know how well you’ll suit a career path. Because of this, it’s a great idea to find practical ways to test your personal fit in advance. Here are some suggestions: 

  • Read M&E job descriptions at orgs like IDInsight and J-PAL, or specialist job boards like Evalcommunity. Could you imagine yourself performing these tasks? Is there anything you’ve done in the past that resembles these tasks, and that you’ve enjoyed or excelled in? 
  • You could also consider taking an online course in M&E, like this course from Georgetown University on impact evaluation within low- and middle-income settings. For more, here’s a useful list of a range of both free and paid courses.
  • J-PAL has a list of internship opportunities, many of which are relevant for M&E careers. See also this list of paid M&E internship opportunities at EvalCareers.
  • If you don’t live in a low- or middle-income country, consider spending substantial time in the country or region you’re considering working in (and the more time, the better!). This will be helpful both because understanding the local context is so helpful and because you might not know yet whether you’ll enjoy living there. Some of the internships listed above might facilitate this. 
  • Some relevant master’s programs (which we discuss a little more in the “getting into the field” section) include optional consultancy projects. If you’re in one of these programs, you may be able to volunteer your services at a relevant M&E org to fulfill the conditions of your program and test your fit for this work at the same time.

Priorities within M&E roles

Where can you work in M&E? And where might you have the most impact? Very broadly, there are three categories of organizations that hire M&E staff: implementing organizations, dedicated M&E organizations and consultancies, or multilateral institutions, governments, and foundations.

Work in-house at an implementing organizations that particularly values M&E

An “implementing” organization is one that deploys interventions and programs itself. Implementing organizations often have their own internal M&E staff to track the rollout and efficacy of these programs. However, large project evaluations are likely to be outsourced to external organizations (unless it’s a particularly large nonprofit), meaning that internal M&E officers may find themselves focusing more on monitoring activities as well as conducting smaller evaluations. Internal M&E specialists may also find themselves developing theories of change and communicating these to the rest of the organization, as well as other strategic work – though this will likely depend on the role’s seniority.

An important point to consider here is that there is significant variance in the extent to which implementing nonprofits really value M&E processes. For some, it’s just another box to tick or a way to generate numbers that can be included in marketing materials. In these organizations, you could find that your work is rarely used to inform or actually improve the organization’s actions, substantially reducing your potential impact. 

Because of this, if you pursue an M&E role within an implementing organization, it’s really important to look out for organizations that place an unusual amount of value on gathering data and responding to evidence.

But how can you identify these organizations?

One place to start is to look at whether an organization has collaborated with an external evaluating partner like J-PAL or IDInsight. This would provide some evidence that a nonprofit really cares about the efficacy of their work. 

Resource spotlight

Did you know that nonprofit organizations can differ dramatically in how much impact they make? This article from Giving What We Can highlights how even organizations which work on similar problems can have as much as 100x more impact, per dollar donated, than others. The work of M&E specialists is vital for working out just how much value organizations really produce.

Another promising option is to research which organizations receive funding from foundations and evidence-based funders like the Global Innovation Fund, the Gates Foundation, Instiglio, or GiveWell. Again, this is no guarantee that such organizations are high-impact, but it gives reason to think they have an above-average concern for M&E processes.

A further possibility is to look at resources on the organization’s website, like annual reports and evaluation reports. Some organizations may oversell the impact they’ve had in order to please funders, which can indicate that they don’t take evidence seriously in their decision making. Instead, look to see if they make reasonable claims about the size of their impact, if they’re transparent about their numbers and data collection methods, if they’ve documented times when they’ve changed their activities in response to new evidence, and whether they own up to any mistakes they’ve made – these can be promising indicators. 

As a final note on working in implementing organizations, it may be a particularly promising option to join a new, forward-thinking implementing organization that takes evidence seriously. Experts have shared that such early stage organizations can find it difficult to hire for these positions, compared to larger organizations who tend to draw more candidates, making it more likely you’ll be able to have impact at the margin

We don’t have a clear or confident view on whether you’ll generally have more impact at such organizations than as an M&E specialist in a larger implementing nonprofit. However, we imagine the tradeoff will often work like this: at a smaller organization, you might be able to bring larger marginal improvements to the organization, as you could be the only M&E specialist (or one of very few), but will naturally influence fewer resources and smaller-scale interventions than you might at a larger organization. At a large organization, the reverse is true. You might have less scope on average for large marginal improvements, but the total amount of resources spent by the organization could mean this still yields substantial impact. ​

Multilateral institutions, governments, and foundations

Large multilateral institutions, like the UN or the World Bank, are prolific employers of M&E specialists, as they integrate M&E processes fairly ubiquitously across branches and departments. Some M&E specialists within these organizations will also be responsible for setting high-level goals and strategies for the entire organization, such as developing systems to track and evaluate whether they are meeting the Sustainable Development Goals. There are a large number of opportunities at these institutions, and as such, they are prominent employers within the M&E field.

We’ve heard that incentives within these organizations can sometimes be misaligned with real impact, meaning that M&E activities may sometimes focus on how to make individuals or branches look effective, rather than performing genuinely truth-seeking work (at least in some cases). Because of this, some caution may be warranted when considering careers in these institutions. Though you may be able to help improve these institutions from the inside—and there are likely well-functioning, high-impact pockets within these organizations—this may be quite difficult.

Additionally, these institutions tend to have good talent pipelines in place and are able to hire many talented young people into junior roles. The competition here means it could be less likely you’ll be able to have much counterfactual impact within these roles, though they may still provide strong opportunities for building career capital. However, barring a particularly promising opportunity, they may not be the best opportunities for direct impact.

On the governmental side, we’ve heard that the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office is particularly invested in evidence-based decision making, and specifically the Development Innovation Ventures arm of USAID. Many LMIC governments will also offer M&E roles for domestic programs and interventions, though we’re uncertain about how promising these opportunities tend to be, or which governments might be particularly promising to work in. Our profile on civil service careers within LMICs provides other helpful information and considerations about governmental roles.

Relatedly, large foundations (like the Gates Foundation) may also house employees who support grantees and partners in their M&E processes. Similarly, both Instiglio and the Global Innovation Fund are two organizations that offer funding to start and scale-up programs contingent on strong evidence of effectiveness. These may be promising organizations to work at, though the roles here might not look like “typical” M&E careers. 

Working at top dedicated M&E consultancies

There are a number of organizations that exist to help clients like nonprofits and governments to assess the efficacy of their programs. These consultancies can be broadly divided into two categories: academia-driven & client-driven. Such organizations are generally responsible for running evaluations for partners and clients, rather than focusing on day-to-day monitoring work. Because of this, roles in these organizations are likely to demand a higher level of statistical and quantitative literacy – perhaps particularly so in academia-driven organizations. 

Academia-driven organizations

Academia-driven organizations typically contain a mixture of in-house research staff as well as affiliated academic researchers (often economists) based in universities across the world.  These organizations will partner with a number of implementing organizations to gather data and conduct evaluations (such as RCTs) to test the efficacy of different interventions or programs.

Academia-driven organizations also tend to focus on quite broad questions about interventions, like assessing the effectiveness of cash transfers, or attempting to discover generalizable insights about the efficacy of different interventions which might be implemented by a range of actors. The results of these are also often published as papers in conventional academic journals.

Prestigious organizations in this space include J-PALInnovations for Poverty Action (IPA), and the Center for Global Development (CGD). It’s worth noting that, because of their ties to academia, some of these institutions might be considered to be development economics research institutions rather than M&E organizations as such. Because of this, careers in these institutions may overlap significantly with careers in development economics

Client-driven organizations

Other organizations work with clients like governments and NGOs to deliver useful information (particularly evaluations) in a way that’s more tightly connected to specific organizational needs, generally on shorter timelines and smaller scales than academic-driven consultancies.

Such organizations might evaluate specific programs according to criteria produced in collaboration with the client, rather than attempting to generate highly generalizable insights about the impact of different interventions. Because these organizations are driven by the needs of their clients, rather than broader questions of academic interest, their work is highly likely to be practically applicable. A few well-respected organizations in this space include IDinsightMathematica, and Oxford Policy Management.

So, academia-driven and client-driven M&E consultancies can look quite different to each other. But which type of organization is more promising to work in if you want to increase your positive impact?

It’s hard to give a confident general conclusion, but it’s worth noting a few relevant considerations on either side. One is that you may be more confident that client-driven work is practically useful, since it responds directly to organizational needs. However, the client-directed nature of this work may also constrain impact – you may find yourself helping clients who are working on problems you don’t think are the most important or pressing.

On the academic side, it’s a slightly different story. One potential problem is that academia-driven organizations may be constrained by academic incentives to produce work that is intellectually interesting and cutting edge, but might not always be as aligned with real-world needs as client-driven work. However, when academia-driven work does have an impact, it may do so on a larger scale. For instance, a large evaluation that identifies a promising new intervention, or a better way to implement an existing intervention, could pull a number of impact-inclined organizations toward changing their activities.

Resource spotlight

This article from J-PAL gives a helpful overview of the ins and outs of performing a randomized evaluation. Randomized evaluations are an important experimental method within M&E for determining the cost-effectiveness of programs.

Strategies & next steps

Because of the diversity of role types within M&E careers, and the diversity of organizations, there’s a fair amount of flexibility regarding the backgrounds and experiences of those who might enter this path. Nonetheless, here are a few considerations:

Getting into the field

  • An undergraduate degree in a social science or quantitative subject will generally be an advantage for securing an entry-level position, especially for external evaluation consultancies, multilateral institutions, and large foundations. However, if you can demonstrate sufficient quantitative experience outside of a degree program, this may also suffice. For less quantitative roles undergraduate degrees are still generally highly preferred, but a wider variety of backgrounds are accepted.
  • Advanced degrees, including PhDs in quantitative or social science subjects, can be important for ascending the ladder within academia-driven M&E organizations, multilateral institutions, and large foundations. It can be difficult to progress in many of these organizations without one. However, we’ve heard that client-driven organizations place less weight on these qualifications, and that there’s some regional variance in how much weight is placed on formal credentials. Nonprofits are likely to vary significantly in their requirements and preferences.
  • Examples of common master’s programs for M&E specialists include MPH (Master of Public Health), MPA (Master of Administration), and MPP (Master of Public Policy). Programs based in the US (but teaching on global topics) that we’ve heard recommended include the Harvard Kennedy School’s MPAID, the University of Chicago’s Harris School, Georgetown’s McCourt School, Johns Hopkins SAIS, Columbia’s SIPA, and Princeton’s fully-funded SPIA graduate programs. This blog post by a University of Chicago professor provides a helpful outline of some things to consider when choosing programs. We’ve also heard good things about specialist masters courses in evaluation, like this one, are helpful for providing an overview of various evaluation methods. 
  • Experience in statistical software or a coding language like Python is generally needed for data-focused roles. The particular software used will vary by organization, but SPSSRSAS and STATA seem to be particularly common. 
  • The World Bank Group Young Professionals Program is a particularly prestigious entry-level program that runs globally, and could be a good opportunity for learning the ropes and having an impressive experience on your CV (though it’s highly competitive).

Excelling in the field

Here are a few tips for those within M&E to increase both their success within the field and their impact:

  • Working in promising cause areas – As with all careers, choosing the right cause area is a crucial part of increasing your impact. Though there aren’t many opportunities outside of global health and development within our top cause areas, it’s also important to choose the right problems to tackle within this broader cause area. A great way to work out which problems might allow for the greatest impact is to use the importance, tractability, and neglectedness framework. We find this framework useful when working out how we can do the most good in any given career.
  • Join a regional M&E community – There are a number of specialist monitoring and evaluation communities and associations located around the world. These often host conferences and workshops, and we’ve heard they can be a helpful way to keep up with the latest advances in M&E work. Examples include the American Evaluation Association and African Evaluation Association.
  • Learn management skills – Even at fairly junior levels of M&E work, it’s common to be responsible for coordinating and managing others. For example, data analysts are often responsible for coordinating field teams. See our article on people management for more on how to become a good manager.
  • Practice communicating with different audiences – Communication is repeatedly emphasized as one of the most important skills for in M&E. Because of this, it’s a good idea to practice this as much as you can: take opportunities to write explanatory emails, prepare presentations, and try to visualize data in interesting ways.

Additional resources