Wrapping up MERL Tech DC

On September 6, we wrapped up three days of learning, reflecting, debating and sharing at MERL Tech DC. The conference kicked off with four pre-workshops on September 4: Big Data and Evaluation; Text Analytics; Spatial Statistics and Responsible Data. Then, on September 5-6, we had our regular two-day conference, including opening talks from Tariq Khokhar, The Rockefeller Foundation; and Yvonne MacPherson, BBC Media Action; one-hour sessions, two-hour sessions, lightning talks, a dashboard contest, a plenary session and two happy hour events.

This year’s theme was “The State of the Field” of MERL Tech and we aimed to explore what we as a field know about our work and what gaps remain in the evidence base. Conference strands included: Tech and Traditional MERL; Data, Data, Data; Emerging Approaches; and The Future of MERL.

Zach Tilton, University of Western Michigan; Kerry Bruce, Clear Outcomes; and Alexandra Robinson, Moonshot Global; update the plenary on the State of the Field Research that MERL Tech has undertaken over the past year. Photo by Christopher Neu.
Tariq Khokhar of The Rockefeller Foundation on “What Next for Data Science in Development? Photo by Christopher Neu.
Participants checking out what session to attend next. Photo by Christopher Neu.
Silvia Salinas, Strategic Director FuturaLab; Veronica Olazabal, The Rockefeller Foundation; and Adeline Sibanda, South to South Evaluation Cooperation; talk in plenary about Decolonizing Data and Technology, whether we are designing evaluations within a colonial mindset, and the need to disrupt our own minds. Photo by Christopher Neu.
What is holding women back from embracing tech in development? Patricia Mechael, HealthEnabled; Carmen Tedesco, DAI; Jaclyn Carlsen, USAID; and Priyanka Pathak, Samaj Studio; speak at their “Confidence not Competence” panel on women in tech. Photo by Christopher Neu.
Reid Porter, DevResults; Vidya Mahadevan, Bluesquare; Christopher Robert, Dobility; and Sherri Haas, Management Sciences for Health; go beyond “Make versus Buy” in a discussion on how to bridge the MERL – Tech gap. Photo by Christopher Neu.
Participants had plenty of comments and questions as well. Photo by Christopher Neu.
Drones, machine learning, text analytics, and more. Ariel Frankel, Clear Outcomes, facilitates a group in the session on Emerging MERL approaches. Photo by Christopher Neu.
The Principles for Digital Development have been heavily adopted by the MERL Tech sector as a standard for Digital Development. Allana Nelson, DIAL, shares thoughts on how the Principles can be used as an evaluative tool. Photo by Christopher Neu.
Kate Sciafe Diaz, TechnoServe; explains the “Marie Kondo” approach to MERL Tech in her Lightning Talk: “Does Your Tech Spark Joy? The Minimalist’s Approach to MERL Tech.” Photo by Christopher Neu.

In addition to learning and sharing, one of our main goals at MERL Tech is to create community. “I didn’t know there were other people working on the same thing as I am!” and “This MERL Tech conference is like therapy!” were some of the things we heard on Friday night as we closed down.

Stay tuned for blog posts about sessions and overall impressions, as well as our conference report once feedback surveys are in!

About Linda Raftree

Linda Raftree supports strategy, program design, research, and technology in international development initiatives. She co-founded MERLTech in 2014 and Kurante in 2013. Linda advises Girl Effect on digital safety, security and privacy and supports the organization with research and strategy. She is involved in developing responsible data policies for both Catholic Relief Services and USAID. Since 2011, she has been advising The Rockefeller Foundation’s Evaluation Office on the use of ICTs in monitoring and evaluation. Prior to becoming an independent consultant, Linda worked for 16 years with Plan International. Linda runs Technology Salons in New York City and advocates for ethical approaches for using ICTs and digital data in the humanitarian and development space. She is the co-author of several publications on technology and development, including Emerging Opportunities: Monitoring and Evaluation in a Tech-Enabled World with Michael Bamberger. Linda blogs at Wait… What? and tweets as @meowtree. See Linda’s full bio on LInkedIn.