Execution of the research project involves both conducting and monitoring the proposed activities, as well as updating and revising the project plan according to emerging lessons and/or conditions. The activities include assembling the research team(s), applying for the logistical needs and allocation of tasks. The choice of research sites, the timeline for each research activity, and the procedures for the data collection must all be well established. The project execution phase should also include the closure and evaluation of the project, as well as reporting and disseminating the processes and findings of the research.
As already emphasised in his module, the project monitoring process should take place continuously throughout the research project. Similarly, regular and effective communication among the team members is crucial throughout the entire process. The research team should meet on a regular basis to discuss project progress and any potential issues and solutions as they emerge. The following section covers the process of starting project execution and monitoring the project.
Once the project work plans are complete, agreed upon by all involved parties and approved by relevant management groups and ethical committees, the execution of the research project can begin. It is recommended that the entire research team (including stakeholders, partners and front-line workers) participate in the launching of the project. Their involvement enhances ownership and promotes accountability. During the launch, the team members can, once again, review the project goal, objectives, indicators and work plans. They may also address any remaining potentially contentious issues and set up mechanisms for communication and conflict resolution, to help enhance teamwork during the execution phase. The team leader must ensure that work begins on time and the agreed standards of performance are followed within the approved budget limits. Related details of developing a budget are discussed in the Proposal development module.
As soon as you begin executing the research project, start using your monitoring plan. As monitoring measures progress and establishes any deviance from the project plan, it is imperative that baseline indicators are established prior to the start of the project. These are used as reference points to gauge progress towards the goal and objectives and also to measure the level and direction of any change. Monitoring activities include data collection, analysis, interpretation, dissemination and use of data for decision making (Figure 9). Furthermore, the research project should be monitored for timeliness, cost effectiveness and quality (Figure 10).
The monitoring process occurs in three stages, namely: i) checking and measuring progress; ii) analysing the situation; and iii) reacting to new events, opportunities and issues. These are described in detail below. Click on each of the headings to see details.
Ideally, monitoring focuses on the three main characteristics of any project: quality, time and cost. The team leader coordinates the project team and should always be aware of the status of the project. When checking and measuring progress, the team leader should communicate with all team members to assess whether planned activities are implemented on time and within the agreed quality standards and budget. The achievement of milestones should be measured as the information will reflect the progress of the project.
The second stage of monitoring consists of analyzing the situation. The status of project progress compared to the original plan – as well as causes and impacts of potential/observed deviations – are identified and analyzed. Actions are identified to address the causes and the impacts.
It is important to anticipate and react quickly to new situations, events, opportunities and issues, and to identify the possible actions to be taken. If appropriate, various options should be considered and discussed within the project team and a decision taken regarding the most appropriate action to take.
The monitoring plan should be seen as a dynamic document that continuously reflects the reality of what is known and understood. Each time a deviation from the original plan is identified – regardless of whether or not it requires any further action – the plan should be revised and changes documented accordingly. The revised plan should reflect the new situation and also demonstrate the potential impact of the deviation on the whole research project.
For effective execution, good communication is essential across the research team, donors and all stakeholders. Ongoing adaptation of the plan also facilitates management of the project finances. The entire project team and other key stakeholders should be involved in updating the plan, revising the work plan (including costs) and decision-making should all be meticulously documented. The revised plan should be circulated to all stakeholders including the relevant Ethics Review Committees/Boards as well as the Institutional Review Board(s), highlighting the changes and their potential impact on the project. The research team must obtain approval for project plan amendments from all relevant parties.
The decision as to whether a final end-of-project evaluation of the research project will be conducted depends on the objectives of the project and the timeframe. Evaluation can be either formative or summative in nature:
In IR projects, formative evaluation is conducted most. The processes for evaluation should be determined during the planning phase of the project, and about 10% of the project budget allocated accordingly. Evaluation can be conducted internally by the project team or independently by external evaluators. Once the project is completed it should be formally closed, including final technical and financial reports, written and submitted to stakeholders and to donors (as required). The final technical report should be distributed to the research team members and all other stakeholders.