MEL for a think tank: test drive or driving test?

1 March 2017

[This post was originally published on Politics & Ideas in September 2015.]

This year our center, Society and Environment, introduced MEL into one of its projects related to green growth indicators and monitoring. To be an environmental think-tank in Ukraine you need to be supra-efficient, reflective and innovative, and MEL seemed like an positive innovation for our institutional development. This encouraged us to take a test drive.

The start

During May and June 2015, our Senior Policy Expert took an online course on MEL on policy influence in Central and Eastern Europe, delivered by Politics & Ideas. With the possibility to receive mentoring after the course, the idea to pilot MEL for a concrete project was well received; it seemed easy, quick and effective. Our intention was to test an MEL system on one project, with the  goal to introduce such a system for the entire organisation.

The first move

First, we created a team of four people who would design a theory of change explanation for the green growth project, and a set of goals and indicators related to this theory. At the same time, our green growth project was under implementation, with a series of policy briefs to be prepared on the basis of a lengthy, technical report with macro-economic data and visualisations. The development of the theory of change logistical frame was the first aspect of MEL which had a direct impact on our work. We had not started monitoring yet, but we realised at this point that adjustments could be made to the ongoing project. To start with, we realised that the draft indicators were really ambitious (as it was pointed out by someone in the group discussion, monitoring would consume 90% of resources allocated to the project). Therefore, the initial set of indicators was reduced and made more practical in terms of information gathering and analysis.

Parallel parking

We agreed from the start that whatever MEL scheme was approved, it had to be tested. Two people were in charge of developing the first MEL report. The very first application of the MEL revealed that monitoring should be a system where every staff person contributes to the monitoring and assessment of data. Regarding web statistics (Facebook and Google Analytics), we realised that we needed to have clear goals established before gathering these: what do we want to know and how can we understand the results? This discussion was significant as we were in the process of developing a new website.

Solo flight

When pilots learn how to operate an airplane, they usually start with a small airplane. The instructor is always on board, explaining, helping, and checking repeatedly. Similarlywe were assisted by Vanesa Weyrauch in testing MEL on a relatively small project. After the first evaluation, we adjusted the monitoring plan, and will continue to conduct periodic evaluations.

The end

Our main takeaway from this experience is that there is no end to monitoring, evaluating and learning. We now know that the key elements of an MEL system for the organisation must be clear, easy, informative and change-oriented. We are positive that MEL will guide us to increase our policy impact.

Want to learn new ways to assess your policy impact? Join the short course Monitoring, evaluation and learning about policy influence: how to get some certainty amidst all the complexity