The online course on Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning has been a valuable and in the same time – challenging experience. The challenging character has been provided by questioning the impact that we produce within our societies as think tanks and civil society organizations and as individuals working within those organizations. The questions have not addressed the mere existence or non-existence of such an impact, but the way we define “impact/change”, measure it, register it, share it, the way we formulate the policy goals and consequently, the tools we engage for observing them, etc.
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Many of these questions have found a response during this course while answering others will require systematic individual and collective efforts at the level of the organization. Overall, the course provides an answer to one of the basic dilemmas “Why monitor, evaluate and learn?” and once you figure your own answer to this one, it engages yourself in finding how you do that.
As a think tank providing policy recommendations, policy prioritization, policy research and policy advice at national level, we had established some informal policy goals and sometimes monitored their results, but mainly for meeting grant institutions’ requirements and not as an independent institutional effort. In this context, this course has helped us, as an organization, define the nature of the policy influence we want to monitor and evaluate, set the exact priorities and interests in terms of MEL, and formulate our first MEL system for a research programme.
In addition, this course has coincided with our current efforts on the development of an institutional strategy based on a detailed assessment of each component: image, human resources, financial resources, governance, partners, beneficiaries, operational management, etc. Thus, many monitoring, evaluating and learning mechanisms presented and explained during the course have been emphasized during the institutional evaluation process and some of them have been agreed to be implemented in the future.
As in the case of many other organizations, the main obstacle or weakness in the way of a formalized MEL system has been identified as the lack of human and financial resources. So, in order to attenuate this impediment, we have decided, as a starting point, to implement certain changes that do not require additional financial resources. I will share two of them:
Introduce a budget line within each project (if it is possible) for monitoring and evaluating the influence of public policies or the impact of the project products. For many donors this could prove feasible for two reasons: it measures their input at a wider level (not only through the reports made by the organization), but also through the eyes of the beneficiaries and subsequently, it provides justification for future investments at the national level.
Also, we have decided that the elaboration of a MEL plan or strategy based on a certain approach (to be decided) is necessary to be applied for each project, especially in the planning stage.
Good luck to all of you! Enjoy your MEL experience!