Monitoring, evaluation, and learning (MEL) approaches are widely regarded as the most effective mechanism of assessing the impact of philanthropic and for purpose partnerships and complement Theory of Change strategic work.
In essence, MEL enables organizations to track progress towards their goals, identify areas for improvement, and communicate their impact using an agreed and easy to understand framework.
Steps in developing a MEL evaluation framework
1: understand your strategic context
First, partnering organisations must clearly articulate their goals and objectives and develop the conditions, activities, outputs and outcomes that are required to progress towards those goals.
Since the mid-1990s the philanthropic sector has embraced Theory of Change as the default methodology to clearly articulate a funding program’s objectives through a Program Logic.
2: be clear about “Outputs” & “Outcomes”
A successful MEL framework requires philanthropy and for purpose organisations to agree on what both organisation expect to achieve via their partnership. Importantly, outcomes are not considered through a “success” or “failure” paradigm.
Monitoring: Monitoring quantitative outcomes from programs and initiatives. This provides a progress against a benchmark and is a linear assessment of success or failure against a program or initiative’s stated aims.
Evaluation: Evaluation tends to assess the qualitative outcomes from a program or initiative. It will often incorporate end client observations and voice, or a third party perspective of the program or initiative.
Learning: Requires a commitment and agreement from both philanthropy and their for purpose partners to identify best practice, areas for improvement, and critically commit to sharing this with other stakeholder
3: acknowledge the challenges and benefits of using MEL to evaluate your program
Implementing MEL approaches in a philanthropic context can be challenging for a variety of reasons.
Collecting and analysing data can be time-consuming and resource-intensive, especially for organizations with limited staff or capacity.
Measuring impact is also difficult for programs that operate in complex environments or have long-term goals.
When these realities present, the temptation to avoid evaluation and not value of data-driven decision-making is tempting. By monitoring, evaluating, and learning from their work, organizations can increase their impact, build trust with stakeholders, and position themselves as leaders in their field.
Additionally, MEL approaches can help organizations identify new opportunities for collaboration and partnership, which can lead to even greater impact in the future.
We’d love to talk to you about how to develop a MEL framework for your philanthropy or for purpose organisation. Please contact us to discuss further.