Mercy Corps AFA: Developing Agile Monitoring, Evaluation & Learning (MEL)
An incremental process to synthesize learnings as they emerge from across a diverse program portfolio, and build learning products over time.
How might we get better at learning and knowledge sharing across our programs over time in a simple, obvious and efficient way?
Build learning incrementally and nimbly
The AgriFin Accelerate program at Mercy Corps supports a wide variety of programs across three markets in East Africa. By the third year of implementation, program investments began to yield results, but the team was challenged to distill key learnings as they emerged across a wide variety of projects and themes such as youth, women, and digital technology. To address this challenge, the team developed an agile approach to Monitoring, Evaluation & Learning (MEL).
In order to shift to an agile MEL model, the team first did a refresh of learning themes and questions to get up to date with current thinking. They then mapped out existing meetings and periodic processes dedicated to learning discussions and activities, to ensure learning conversations were happening on a regular basis and with participation from the right members of the team. The MEL team also introduced new dedicated MEL meetings, and piloted After Action Review sessions to allow for dedicated deep dives into particular learning topics and emerging findings. Findings and insights are regularly consolidated into external knowledge products.
This agile approach was mapped to the existing team structure: the MEL team is responsible for implementing the process and acts as custodians of the tools / processes, while the technical team members are primary content contributors. The participatory nature of content generation improves quality of insights, and the high frequency of meetings enables the emergence of cross-cutting themes or similarities between a diverse set of program investments.
Resources to build capabilities in data analysis and other technical skills that may not be present in the team
Potentially significant up-front time investment to establish tools that can effectively support agile approach to learning (e.g.: question guides, frameworks, facilitation guides, insights dashboard, etc.)
Learning discussions that are carefully and intentionally structured, to avoid focusing on status updates
Staff bandwidth – and incentives – to contribute to learning discussions
Incentives for teams to participate that avoid focusing on outputs only, but rather the culture and rhythm of learning