Tag Archives: priorities

Takeaways from MERL Tech London

Written by Vera Solutions and originally published here on 16th April 2018.

In March, Zak Kaufman and Aditi Patel attended the second annual MERL Tech London conference to connect with leading thinkers and innovators in the technology for monitoring and evaluation space. In addition to running an Amp Impact demo session, we joined forces with Joanne Trotter of the Aga Khan Foundation as well as Eric Barela and Brian Komar from Salesforce.org to share lessons learned in using Salesforce as a MERL Tech solution. The panel included representatives from Pencils of Promise, the International Youth Foundation, and Economic Change, and was an inspiring showcase of different approaches to and successes with using Salesforce for M&E.

The event packed two days of introspection, demo sessions, debates, and sharing of how technology can drive more efficient program monitoring, stronger evaluation, and a more data-driven social sector. The first day concluded with a (hilarious!) Fail Fest–an open and honest session focused on sharing mistakes in order to learn from them.

At MERL Tech London in 2017, participants identified seven priority areas that the MERL Tech community should focus on:

  1. Responsible data policy and practice
  2. Improving data literacy
  3. Interoperability of data and systems
  4. User-driven, accessible technologies
  5. Participatory MERL/user-centered design
  6. Lean MERL/User-focused MERL
  7. Overcoming “extractive” data approaches

These priorities were revisited this year, and it seemed to us that almost all revolve around a recurrent theme of the two days: focusing on the end user of any MERL technology. The term “end user” was not itself without controversy–after all, most of our MERL tech tools involve more than one kind of user.

When trying to dive into the fourth, fifth, and sixth priorities, we often came back to the issue of who is the proverbial “user” for whom we should be optimizing our technologies. One participant mentioned that regardless of who it is, the key is to maintain a lens of “Do No Harm” when attempting to build user-centered tools.

The discussion around the first and seventh priorities naturally veered into a discussion of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), and how we can do better as a sector by using it as a guideline for data protection beyond Europe.

A heated session with Oxfam, Simprints, and the Engine Room dove into the pros, cons, and considerations of biometrics in international development. The overall sense was that biometrics can offer tremendous value to issues like fraud prevention and healthcare, but also enhance the  sector’s challenges and risks around data protection. This is clearly a topicwhere much movement can be expected in the coming years.

In addition to meeting dozens of NGOs, we connected with numerous tech providers working in the space, including SimPrints, SurveyCTO, Dharma, Social Cops, and DevResults. We’re always energized to learn about others’ tools and to explore integration and collaboration opportunities.

We wrapped up the conference at a happy hour event co-hosted by ICT4D London and Salesforce.org, with three speakers focused on ‘ICT as a catalyst for gender equality’. A highlight from the evening was a passionate talk by Seyi Akiwowo, Founder of Glitch UK, a young organization working to reduce online violence against women and girls. Seyi shared her experience as a victim of online violence and how Glitch is turning the tables to fight back.

We’re looking forward for the first MERL Tech Johannesburg taking place August 1-2, 2018.

 

Six priorities for the MERL Tech community

by Linda Raftree, MERL Tech Co-organizer

IMG_4636Participants at the London MERL Tech conference in February 2017 crowdsourced a MERL Tech History timeline (which I’ve shared in this post). Building on that, we projected out our hopes for a bright MERL Tech Future. Then we prioritized our top goals as a group (see below). We’ll aim to continue building on these as a sector going forward and would love more thoughts on them.

  1. Figure out how to be responsible with digital data and not put people, communities, vulnerable groups at risk. Subtopics included: share data with others responsibly without harming anyone; agree minimum ethical standard for MERL and data collection; agree principles for minimizing data we collect so that only essential data is captured, develop duty of care principles for MERL Tech and digital data; develop ethical data practices and policies at organization levels; shift the power balance so that digital data convenience costs are paid by orgs, not affected populations; develop a set of quality standards for evaluation using tech
  2. Increase data literacy across the sector, at individual level and within the various communities where we are working.
  3. Overcome the extraction challenge and move towards true downward accountability. Do good user/human centered design and planning together, be ‘leaner’ and more user-focused at all stages of planning and MERL. Subtopics included: development of more participatory MERL methods; bringing consensus decision-making to participatory MERL; realizing the potential of tech to shift power and knowledge hierarchies; greater use of appreciative inquiry in participatory MERL; more relevant use of tech in MERL — less data, more empowering, less extractive, more used.
  4. Integrate MERL into our daily opfor blogerations to avoid the thinking that it is something ‘separate;’ move it to the core of operations management and make sure we have the necessary funds to do so; demystify it and make it normal! Subtopics included that: we’ve stopped calling “MERL” a “thing” and the norm is to talk about monitoring as part of operations; data use is enabling real-time coordination; no more paper based surveys.
  5. Improve coordination and interoperability as related to data and tools, both between organizations and within organizations. Subtopics included: more interoperability; more data-sharing platforms; all data with suitable anonymization is open; universal exchange of machine readable M&E Data (e.g., standards? IATI? a platform?); sector-wide IATI compliance; tech solutions that enable sharing of qualitative and quantitative data; systems of use across agencies; e.g., to refer feedback; coordination; organizations sharing more data; interoperability of tools. It was emphasized that donors should incentivize this and ensure that there are resources to manage it.
  6. Enhance user-driven and accessible tech that supports impact and increases efficiency, that is open source and can be built on, and that allows for interoperability and consistent systems of measurement and evaluation approaches.

In order to move on these priorities, participants felt we needed better coordination and sharing of tools and lessons among the NGO community. This could be through a platform where different innovations and tools are appropriately documented so that donors and organizations can more easily find good practice, useful tools and get a sense of ‘what’s out there’ and what it’s being used for. This might help us to focus on implementing what is working where, when, why and how in M&E (based on a particular kind of context) rather than re-inventing the wheel and endlessly pushing for new tools.

Participants also wanted to see MERL Tech as a community that is collaborating to shape the field and to ensure that we are a sector that listens, learns, and adopts good practices. They suggested hosting MERL Tech events and conferences in ‘the South;’ and building out the MERL Tech community to include greater representation of users and developers in order to achieve optimal tools and management processes.

What do you think – have we covered it all? What’s missing?