by Roger Nathanial Ashby, Co-Founder & Principal Consultant, OpenWise.
The universe of MERL Tech solutions has grown exponentially. In 2008 monitoring and evaluating tech within global development could mostly be confined to mobile data collection tools like Open Data Kit (ODK), and Excel spreadsheets to analyze and visualize survey data. In the intervening decade a myriad of tools, companies and NGOs have been created to advance the efficiency and effectiveness of monitoring, evaluation, research and learning (MERL) through the use of technology. Whether it’s M&E platforms or suites, satellite imagery, remote sensors, or chatbots, new innovations are being deployed every day in the field.
However, how do we evaluate the impact when MERL Tech is the intervention itself? That was the question and task put to participants of the “M&E Squared” workshop at MERL Tech 2017.
Workshop participants were separated into three groups that were each given a case study to discuss and analyze. One group was given a case about improving the learning efficiency of health workers in Liberia through the mHero Health Information System (HIS). The system was deployed as a possible remedy to some of the information communication challenges identified during the 2014 West African Ebola outbreak. A second group was given a case about the use of RapidPro to remind women to attend antenatal care (ANC) for preventive malaria medicine in Guinea. The USAID StopPalu project goal was to improve the health of infants by increasing the percent of women attending ANC visits. The final group was given a case about using remote images to assist East African pastoralists. The Satellite Assisted Pastoral Resource Management System (SAPARM) informs pastoralists of vegetation through remote sensing imagery so they can make better decisions about migrating their livestock.
After familiarizing ourselves with the particulars of the case studies, each group was tasked to present their findings to all participants after pondering a series of questions. Some of the issues under discussion included
(1) “How would you assess your MERL Tech’s relevance?”
(2) “How would you evaluate the effectiveness of your MERL Tech?”
(3) “How would you measure efficiency?” and
(4) “How will you access sustainability?”.
Each group came up with some innovative answers to the questions posed and our facilitators and session leads (Alexandra Robinson & Sutyajeet Soneja from USAID and Molly Chen from RTI) will soon synthesize the workshop findings and notes into a concise written brief for the MERL Tech community.
Before the workshop closed we were all introduced to the great work done by SIMLab (Social Impact Lab) in this area through their SIMLab Monitoring and Evaluation Framework. The framework identifies key criteria for evaluating M&E including:
- Relevance – The extent to which the technology choice is appropriately suited to the priorities and capacities of the context of the target group or organization.
- Effectiveness – A measure of the extent to which an information and communication channel, technology tool, technology platform, or a combination of these attains its objectives.
- Efficiency – Measure of the outputs (qualitative and quantitative) in relation to the inputs.
- Impact – The positive and negative changed produced by technology introduction, change in a technology tool, or platform on the overall development intervention (directly or indirectly; intended or unintended).
- Sustainability – Measure of whether the benefits of a technology tool or platform are likely to continue after donor funding has been withdrawn.
- Coherence – How related is the technology to the broader policy context (development, market, communication networks, data standards & interoperability mandates, and national & international law) within which the technology was developed and implemented.
While it’s unfortunate that SIMLab stopped most operations in early September 2017, their exceptional work in this and other areas lives on and you can access the full framework here.
I learned a great deal in this session from the facilitators and my colleagues attending the workshop. I would encourage everyone in the MERL Tech community to take the ideas generated during this workshop and the great work done by SIMLab into their development practice. We certainly intend to integrate much of these insights into our work at OpenWise. Read more about “The Evidence Agenda” here on SIMLab’s blog.