Why Every Development Organisation Needs a Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (MEL) Policy
Most institutions are drowning in a sea of publications.
A single organisation can have a Strategy Paper, Business Plan, Operational Procedures, Procurement Manual, Open Data and Disclosure Policy, HIV/AIDS in the Workplace Policy, Annual Plan, Child Protection Policy, Gender Policy, Safety and Security Guidelines, Theory of Change and host of other manuals and handbooks (I wonder how many people actually read all these publications? Anyhow, I digress). To add insult to injury, I am using this blog post to advocate for the drafting of yet another document, a Monitoring, Learning and Evaluation (MEL) policy.
However, for organisations that manage complex development programmes (and by ‘complex’ I mean that there are a multitude of services offered and these interventions are implemented in multiple countries in multiple thematic areas/sectors, and with a wide cross section of donors and partners with varying capacities), having a MEL Policy can make life way easier.
An MEL Policy answers questions such as; ‘When should an external evaluation be conducted?’ ‘Should all programmes/projects be independently evaluated?’, ‘Or only the programmes with budgets exceeding USD 100,000?’, ‘How often should monitoring visits take place’, ‘How much of the programme budget should be earmarked for MEL activities?’, ‘What template should be used for the Terms of Reference (TOR) for an evaluation?’, ‘Should mixed methods be used in the evaluation?’, ‘Do we even have a standard, in-house format for the evaluation report?’
What is a Monitoring, Evaluation (MEL) Policy?
A MEL Policy for an organisation or a programme will give clarity and provide a common understanding with respect to M&E. For example, defining what is meant by ‘monitoring’ and ‘evaluation’ within that specific organisation.
Interestingly, not everyone has the same interpretation of concepts such as ‘monitoring’ and ‘evaluation’. Sometimes these activities are often confused with an inspection, audit, review and research.
An evaluation is NOT the same as an inspection, audit, review of research.
A MEL policy would have explicit definitions for 'monitoring', 'evaluation' and 'learning' .
Additionally, the Policy will give guidance on how the activities will be monitored and evaluated in line with international principles, norms and standards. For example, does the organization apply the OECD DAC Principles for Evaluation of Development Assistance? And/or the United Nations Evaluation Group (UNEG) Norms and Standards for Evaluation?
Other areas covered in the Policy may include if the organization adopts a Human-rights based approach (HRBA), gender equality and social inclusion with respect to its monitoring and evaluation activities.
Practical issues such as the frequency of which programmes or projects are evaluated, the format for evaluation reports, the necessity of a Learning Agenda, templates for a Monitoring Visit Report, composition of evaluation teams, sample Terms of Reference (TOR) and template for a “Management Response” to the evaluation findings are just some of the elements that would be included in a MEL Policy.
There are no standard rules or guidelines for the structure of a M&E Policy. A few examples of actual MEL polices include the UNDP Evaluation Policy, USAID Evaluation Policy, Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs Evaluation Policy and the International Planned Parenthood Federation Monitoring and Evaluation Policy and Handbook.
How a MEL Policy Can Save the Day: A True Story
An organisation I work for decided to enter a long term partnership with another organisation to co-finance several development projects worldwide. Early into the partnership it was apparent that there were different modalities, different set of indicators and different monitoring protocols being used by both the development organisations as well as by their implementing partners in the respective countries. Drafting of a MEL Policy was one of the best ways to ensure that there was a common understanding of the MEL concepts and for aligning the work of both organisations.
Below is a screenshot of the content page of the MEL Policy that I developed for the organisation. It gives a sense of the areas that could be possibly covered with the MEL Policy.
The following screenshot gives an idea of the type of documents that could be in included in the annex of the policy. Once again, there is no uniform or standard way of writing a MEL Policy. I am sharing the way I have done it to serve as a guide to persons to use and improve on.
Anyhow, although the MEL policy is one more document to add to the myriad of others (that people might not even read initially), persons will definitely consult it when the need arises. This actually happened when one of the partners was seeking a sample Terms of Reference (TOR) for an evaluation. He was so relieved to know that there was a TOR template in the annex of the MEL Policy.
I suspect that other other organisations have similar experiences where a MEL Policy actually made things easier or maybe you have different content within your MEL Policy. I am eager to hear your thoughts, so feel free to share in the 'Comments' section below.