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Taking monitoring, evaluation, and learning (MEL) to the next level

One of our new year’s resolutions at Just Cause is to take our work on monitoring, evaluation and learning (MEL) to the next level. Over the past five years we have worked with non-profits and funders around the region, establishing frameworks and processes to collect and use data on programme effectiveness and impact. We often see organisations struggling to use data for more than just reporting and marketing. We believe that there is great potential to move beyond this and aim to find better ways of helping funders and non-profits alike truly learn and improve from the data that they collect.

We think the answer lies in three areas:

  1. Ensure that we ask the right questions. Evaluators should not limit themselves to just asking what the outcomes of a particular programme were. They should also seek to understand the mechanism of how these outcomes were achieved, and if we can learn anything in real-time outside of formal reporting. We are exploring approaches such as developmental evaluation, realist evaluation and contribution analysis to tackle this.

  2. Embed the processes and culture for data collection and continuous learning. Here we draw on the likes of David Hunter and the world of non-profit performance management and “impact management”. Kimberley Bowman, former MEL Advisor at Oxfam, has shared with us her takeaways from how Oxfam approached this challenge.

  3. Refine donor reporting frameworks to incentivise and enable learning whilst maintaining due accountability. We are actively working on this delicate question with several of our partners. For example, we are currently testing out thinking and toolsets from venture philanthropy, wherein a donor provides flexible grant funding and other support to a non-profit with a view to supporting it grow and blossom in the longer term.

In the coming months, we are pulling together a compendium of good practice, examples, and insights on this topic. We’ll be sharing and discussing our emerging learnings through a series of breakfast sessions every 2 months throughout 2020. Please get in touch if you’d like to come along or to contribute to this work!


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