Strenghts of think tanks for MEL: it’s time to make better use of them
[Editor’s note: This post was written by Dena Lomofsky from of Southern Hemisphere. It emerges from reflection from P&I´s online course on Monitoring, evaluating and learning on policy influence, supported by the Think Tank Fund and the Think Tank Initiative.]
While conducting the on-line course for Politics & Ideas on monitoring, evaluation and learning (MEL onwards) for policy influence, we facilitated a brainstorming session about what think tanks already have in place to support MEL. Some participants also completed a SWOT analysis as a tool for analysing their organisational capacity for MEL. (For information on how to use a SWOT analysis for MEL capacity assessment see this handbook by Weyrauch et al).
I analysed the results of the brainstorm and the exercises, and came up with the 9 main categories of strengths, and provided participants with ideas of how they can be used for MEL. This exercise shows that all organisations, even if they think they are not doing MEL, have some tools, processes or people that can help with MEL. Most organisations have formal or informal means of planning, recording and reflecting on their policy influence strategies. For example, most evaluate events to find out if they were well received and if the right people attended; think tanks usually have policy influence objectives which form the basis for the research ideas and funding proposals, and almost all organisations have reporting systems in place. Think tanks, in particular, often have the necessary research skills to design tools and analyse monitoring data. Building MEL systems is about integrating and aligning what organisations are doing already, and then adding other elements as and when necessary.
The summary of the strengths and how they can be used for MEL is provided below:Existing capacities that can help with MELPurpose for MEL (examples)Policy influence objectives and indicators or proposalsTo provide direction for the monitoring and evaluation effortOrganisational policies, documents and procedures, including for planning and reporting e.g. annual reports, strategy documentsThese things provide a supportive institutional environment for MEL. If organisational systems are already in place it is easier to integrate MEL systems e.g. document management system. Plans help with knowing what and when to measure, and reporting is a key part of MEL.Evaluating or reflecting on events (formal and informal)Improve events in terms materials, facilitators, speakers, methods, content, logistics, target audienceSocial media and web page analyticsMeasure reach, network, reputation, popularity of topics, social networkingFormal / external evaluationsFacilitates a culture of asking evaluative questions and learning. Identification of recommendations for improvement.Competent motivated staff and professionals / experts with experience in MELHuman resource capacity for MEL, ensure relevance and effectiveness of MELData collection and analysis skillsGather and analyse monitoring (and evaluation) data)Participatory approaches, facilitation skillsDeveloping MEL in a participatory way helps to build capacity, understanding and buy-in from the people who need to participate in the system by gathering, analysing and reporting on data. It also ensures that the right data is gathered.Active board and / or Research directorCan provide MEL leadership and guidance. A research director is well placed to help coordinate MEL efforts. Both can help with quality control and facilitate learning.Information technology systems (e.g. a shared drive)Essential for storing and sharing information.
If your organisation has any of these aspects, you have a good starting point for strengthening your MEL efforts. Developing an MEL plan is a great way to systematise and coordinate these elements. For more information, you can read my previous blog post on implementing M&E systems.