Monday Lightning Talks 13.45-14.15 (Bridewell Hall)

An agile MERL manifesto: Calum Handforth, Firetail Limited
The Agile approach has shifted project management to be user-centred, with user-experience at the heart of projects; piloting and iterating to deliver products that customers need, and responding to change instead of trying to specify everything at the outset. We want to bring the same approach to MERL: tools centred around beneficiaries, collecting the right data to answer the right questions, and being responsive to change through iteration of methods and approaches.

Lightning Talk Details:

The development sector is recognising the value of iteration. USAID has committed to ‘collaborating, learning and adapting’, Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation focuses on feedback loops and experimentation, and there are wider approaches such as adaptive management, action research, and human-centred design. In addition, development increasingly aims to leverage technology to improve lives – whether through using mobile phones, software tools, or data to drive decision making.

Many of these tools have been designed in organisations that use Agile – a project management process that aims to meet the needs of users through iterative production and development. Agile is underpinned by a manifesto, which highlights the importance of being responsive, adaptable and user-driven. As we look to measure the impact and outcomes of these Agile-delivered tools through MERL, what could a set of key concepts for agile MERL look like? How can we bring a similarly iterative and experimental approach to MERL, but without sacrificing rigour and replicability? When could such tools be most useful?

This lightning talk will discuss potential key attributes of agile MERL – including the importance of continual refinement of MERL tools, adapting to the challenges of implementation, and the importance of designing beneficiary-centred tools and processes. This needs to be balanced with ensuring that iteration and adaptation still produce datasets that allow for robust, evidence-based assessments of effectiveness and generation of insights.


Calum Handforth is a Monitoring, Learning and Evaluation (MLE) Consultant with a particular interest in the role of technology in MLE and international development more widely. Separately, Calum is also a Churchill Fellow learning how data and technology can best be used to deliver better public services. Prior to joining Firetail, Calum was a civil servant where he managed primary and secondary legislation. He also worked as a policymaker on UK and EU policy, and in HMRC’s Behaviour Change Team where he ran one of government’s largest Randomised Control Trials. Before joining government he worked as a strategy consultant for international development and civil society organisations. Calum has an MSc in Development Studies from the London School of Economics, and a BA in Politics from Queen Mary, University of London. He is also studying for an MSc in Epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. He’s on Twitter: @CalumAH.