Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (MEL) might not sound familiar to some of you. Yet, these three words lie at the heart of CDI, and even, of all international development projects. In a nutshell, a project’s MEL Officer conducts extensive analysis to empirically evaluate a project’s effectiveness, by working closely with the CDI MEL Officer as well as the KITE Dar es Salaam MEL Officer. By the end of the project, the Officer will produce an overall project report regarding the success and the impact of the project. Evaluations are based on previous case studies and analysis of the feedback collected from the local community.
MEL is crucial to CDI’s vision to empower local communities and organisations to drive their own development. We use a technique known as Outcome Mapping, in which we rigorously define what community ownership of projects would look like. Through doing so, we provide a more concrete vision of what handover looks like, be it to community actors such as the Sanitation Users Associations of the WaSH project or to organisations like Bridge For Change for the Education Project.
Furthermore, MEL Officers utilise qualitative data gathering techniques, such as focus groups, to gauge the extent to which CDI’s projects are providing relevant positive change to the lives of beneficiaries. In this way, CDI can further refine our projects to fit the real needs of people and their communities, either by iterating successful project streams with improvements or decommissioning project streams which do not provide tangible benefits at a reasonable cost.
Finally, MEL plays an important role in fundraising – many large charitable granting bodies want to see exactly how a project will go about achieving impact. All MEL Officers define this for their project when they create a Theory of Change, which explains in detail how their project’s activities will lead to various short-, intermediate- and long-term outcomes and, in turn, the ultimate goals of the project.
For these reasons, we strongly believe in the need to equip all incoming MEL Officers with the skills needed to ensure that the projects are evaluated successfully.
There were two MEL training sessions for the volunteers this year. The first one introduced MEL, and went through key points of study designs and other preparation works. The second session introduced basic concepts of statistical analysis and interpretation, and drew attention to ethical concerns.
MEL is an intricate process and involves skills such as the ability to conduct qualitative and qualitative research, statistical interpretation, cultural sensitivity and many more. These skills usually require years of training and cannot necessarily be developed within the span of two months. Our projects often involve large sums of investments from external organisation and require a lot of hard work from all parties. Especially when we are only working onsite for two months, MEL is even more essential for the success of CDI and its individual projects. Therefore, MEL Officers must be equipped with the necessary skills to systematically and objectively examine the effectiveness, relevance and the impact of activities in light of our objectives.
We will continue to improve the MEL training sessions, to better prepare the CDI MEL Officers for the requirements of their work and the challenges they may face during their time in Tanzania.
By Katherine Wong, Volunteer Training Officer 2018/19
Kat is a second-year student studying Psychological and Behavioural Sciences (PBS) at Christ’s College.
By Anand Talwar, Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (MEL) Officer 2018/19
Anand is a second-year student studying Human, Social and Political Sciences (HSPS) at St. Catherine’s College.