M&E&L for a think tank: test drive or driving test?
[Editor’s note: This post was written by Andriy Andrusevych, Senior Policy Expert at the Resource & Analysis Center “Society and Environment” from Ukraine. It is part of a series of reflections from participants and facilitators of the Online training to strengthen Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning on policy influence, supported by the Think Tank Fund and the Think Tank Initiative.]
This year our center, Society and Environment, introduced M&E&L 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. M&E&L looked innovative for our institutional development, and that encouraged us to take a test drive of M&E&L.
The start. During May and June 2015, Zoryana, our Senior Policy Expert, took the online course “Monitoring & Evaluation & Learning on policy influence in Central and Eastern Europe” conducted by Politics&Ideas, which required quite some involvement of other staff, including myself. Based on the possibility to receive some mentoring after the course, the idea piloting M&E&L on a concrete project was accepted quite well; it seemed easy, quick and effective. Our main intention was to make a pilot application of the M&E&L with an ultimate goal to introduce such a system for the whole organization.
The first move. First, we created a team of four persons which would design (a) a theory of change explanation for the green growth project, (b) 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 visualizations. Development of the theory of change logistical frame was the first aspect of M&E&L which had a direct impact on our work. We had not started the monitoring yet, but we already realized that some nice adjustments could be made to the on-going project. Draft indicators were really ambitious (as someone put it 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 at the beginning that whatever M&E&L scheme is approved, it needs to be tested. Two persons were put in charge of developing first M&E&L report. The very first application of the M&E&L revealed that monitoring should be a-system-for-all. That means a scheme where every staff person contributes to monitoring and assessment of data. It also started a discussion on web statistics (Facebook and Google Analytics). We realized that clear goals must be put before gathering such statistics (what do we want to know) and understanding them. For example, it led us to have a small research on what is Facebook stats, what kind of information it brings. This discussion also meant a lot as we were just in process of developing a new web-site.
Solo flight. When pilots learn how to operate an airplane, they usually start with a small airplane. The instructor is always on board, of course. Explaining, helping, and checking, and again explaining, helping and checking. So we were assisted by Vanesa Weyrauch from Politics&Ideas with great patience and time commitment to test M&E&L on a relatively small project. Yet, now it’s time for our first solo flight. After the first evaluation we adjusted the monitoring plan, and now need some time to conduct the next periodic evaluation.
The end. There is no end to monitoring, evaluating and learning. This is our main experience and conclusion. We already have sufficient experience to realize the need and key elements of an M&E&L system for the overall organization: clear, easy, informative and change-oriented. We are sure that M&E&L will put us on a track to better impact.