MERL Tech London 2017


MERL Tech London will gather 90 thought leaders and decision makers who are using technology for monitoring, evaluation, research, and learning.

PDF version of the agenda.

Day 1: Monday, February 20th, 2017

8:30-9.00 Registration

  • Coffee and Registration
    Wake up, grab coffee and find your friends and your seat before the event begins.

9.00-9.30 Welcome and Opening Talk

  • Welcome to MERL Tech: Linda Raftree, Independent; Emily Tomkys, Oxfam GB; Co-organizers of MERL Tech London.
  • The MERL Space: Where are we coming from and where might we go? Penny Hawkins, Independent
    New technologies are opening immense possibilities for improved monitoring, evaluation research and learning (MERL), yet there’s an urgent need to understand the value, the impact, and the risks of using digital technology for MERL. Where to we expect that info-tech for MERL will take us? Where do we want to go with all this vigorous activity? (Bridewell Hall)

9.30-11.00 The Future of MERL

  • How will emerging technology shape the Future of MERL? Penny Hawkins, Independent (Moderator); Yazeed Sheqem, Souktel; Raphael Mazet,; Emma Prest, DataKind UK; Andi Friedman, Mobenzi
    What new or emerging thinking, approaches and tools will impact MERL? We’ll hear about the potential and challenges of artificial intelligence, blockchain, big data, chat bots, biometrics and other emerging technologies. (Bridewell Hall)

11.00-11.30 Morning Break

11.30-12.30 Morning Sessions (choose 1)

  • Experimenting with new technologies for MERL: Dr. Rebecca Rumbul, My Society;  Maria Jones, World Bank, Simone Lombardini, Oxfam GB: Jan Liebnitzky, Firetail Ltd.
    A series of lightning talks will provide insights into the potentials of new technologies looking at crowdsourcing, satellite data and discrete choice experiments among others. Discussion to follow. (Bridewell Hall)
  • Building capacity or extracting information? Good practices in building technology capacity for MERL: Marta Jagustztyn, Independent; Zak Kaufman, Vera Solutions; Karen Kennedy, Trocaire
    When done right, the introduction of technology to partners has the ability to significantly enhance their MERL capacity, but when done wrong, it can be disempowering, burdensome or extractive. What lessons have we collectively learned in how to help partners leverage technology for data-driven, evidence-based decision making? This interactive session will feature group work focused on identifying best practices and pitfalls at four stages of capacity building efforts: (1) Understanding context, (2) Designing and Planning a Solution, (3) Implementation, and (4) Rollout and Support. The outputs of this session will be shared with the broader MERL Tech community in an effort to drive alignment around good practices and pitfalls. (Passmore Edwards Room)
  • EvalC3: A package of tools for exploring and evaluating complex causal configurations: Hur Hassnain, War Child; Mark Skipper, Aptivate; Rick Davies, Independent Consultant
    EvalC3 is a free Excel-based package of data analysis tools. Users can design and evaluate predictive models either manually or using algorithms. Models can be compared and specific cases identified for follow-up within-case analysis of causes at work. Participants will walk through the work flow and be able to test out models of their own design. They will also hear and discuss lessons from an analysis of data from War Child’s child resettlement program in Afghanistan. (Salisbury Room)

12.30-13.45 Lunch

13.45-14:15 Lightning Talks (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.
  • Using R to produce innovative, quick and reproducible evidence: Claire Benard, Crisis UK
    This presentation shows how R packages, such as clustering and linear modelling can be used to produce and reproduce innovative analysis. Although learning a code-based software can be daunting, we hope that this 5-minute presentation inspires other charities to develop similar skills and share their own successes and challenges.
  • Dropping down your ignorance ratio: Campaigning meets KNIME: Rodrigo Barahona, Oxfam Intermon
    Ignorance is not bliss when you want to be accountable with your constituency and partners, and mostly when you want to learn from experiences and improve your efficiency in campaigns and advocacy. KNIME and other free tech tools have helped us build reliable systems to evaluate complex campaigns, advancing our capacity to know and learn from evidence on what works and what doesn’t. However, as any other tech-lead process, there’s always the cultural factor to be addressed. (Watch the Lightning Talk! Read the blog post.)
  • Using an online job platform to understand gender dynamics in the Mozambican informal labour market: Paul Jasper, Oxford Policy Management
    MUVA is a programme that aims at improving women’s economic empowerment in urban Mozambique. Biscate is an online job platform that connects blue collar workers on the informal market to clients.  We’ll share how we want to bring the two together in order to gain insights into the role of gender in the Mozambican informal labour market and to explore the effectiveness of our projects that try to tackle those.

14.16-14.30 Afternoon Break

14.30-16.30 Afternoon Sessions (choose 1)

  • Story-triggered methodologies: Using technology to make sense of change at scale: Franziska Mager, Oxfam GB; Molly Den Heyer, Coady International Institute; Tom Van den Steen, VECO International
    Have you been wondering how to uncover and quantify complex and often intangible social change? Many development organizations are turning to creative methodologies such as SenseMaker to improve evaluation rigor, including the rigor that comes from hearing people’s experience in their own words at a scale that allows for robust findings. This session will explore the experiences of three organisations using a story-triggered mixed methods approaches, rooted in the respondent’s own interpretations. Join us for an interactive and thoughtful session! (Bridewell Hall)
  • What have we learnt about MIS and dashboards and the people using them? Emma Stewart and Petri Autio, Water Aid; Marten Schoonman, Akvo
    Sometimes data is used for decision making, … often it is not. Akvo will share insights on factors which influence the use of data, and some initiatives to support partners in making data more useful. WaterAid will provide two examples of how they have recently developed their internal systems to ensure that data collected can be analysed, shared and ultimately used to inform decision making and improve future programme quality and impact. (Passmore Edwards Room)
  • What do data and condoms have in common? Amy O’Donnell, Oxfam GB; Tom Walker, The Engine Room; Maliha Khan, Independent; Linda Raftree, Independent; Dama Sathianathan, EmpowerHack
    Ever-increasing amounts of data are opening up exciting possibilities. Who wants to stop and worry about mitigating risk or getting active, informed consent? Power dynamics, cultural norms, communication, resources and excitement of the moment come into play. Sounds a little bit like pre-1980s sex… but now we know better. We need to talk about how we’re using data: join us for practical demos and idea-sharing about how to be more responsible with the data we handle. (Salisbury Room)

16.30-18.00 Reception and Happy Hour

  • MERL Tech marketplace and posters: Welcome from Nissa Ramsay, Comic Relief
    Grab a drink and mingle with new and old friends while visiting MERL Tech demo tables from Mobenzi, Synergy and Survey CTO and checking out posters from Voltaic, Energypedia, Development Gateway, and One World.

Day 2: Tuesday, February 21st, 2017

8:30-9.00 Coffee and Networking

  • Coffee and Networking
    Wake up, grab coffee and find your friends and your seat before the event begins.

9.00-10.30 Morning Panel

  • Humanitarian voices from country programmes: Kitty von Bertele, DFID (Moderator); John Thomas Kinyagu, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies; Francesca Reinhardt, Oxfam DRC Program; Yasmeen Alhusban, Oxfam Za’atari Programme  
    What are the challenges and opportunities of using ICTs for MERL in humanitarian programming? Oxfam and IFRC country programme staff will share their MERL Tech experiences, offer insight about the capacity and training required, and lay out the organisational support elements required for successful humanitarian MERL Tech initiatives. (Bridewell Hall)

10.30-10.45 Morning Break

10.45-12.45 Morning Sessions (choose 1)

  • Real time data for MERL: Joys and challenges of making machines do the work: Sam Moody and Hilary Cornish, Christian Aid, Girija Bahety, Oxford Policy Management
    Are you interested in or already using real time data collection and analysis for programme delivery, monitoring or evaluations? Technology that does your data crunching automatically can take work off our plates and limit the space for human error. The potential uses are myriad but what about the risks? This session gives practical examples, interactive tasks and open discussion to explore some of these. (Bridewell Hall)
  • A lean and agile approach by any other name? Kecia Bertermann, Girl Effect; Caitlin Conners; Lani Jacobs, 2CV
    This session is for anyone who wants to be more user-focused in their work and research, and is looking for great examples of best-practice. Bringing together perspectives on iterative research from development, UK policy and commercial research, the session will focus on core principles to guide user-centred research and service delivery. We’ll also provide space for you to begin to focus on what lean and iterative might look like in your own organisation – even if you don’t go full-tilt ‘Lean and Agile’. (Passmore Edwards Room)
  • Moving data from the dashboard to the driver’s seat: Feedback loops and downward accountability: Emily Tomkys, Oxfam GB; Yasmeen Al Husban, Oxfam; Anne Martin, Akros Global Health
    Too often, M&E data never goes beyond monitoring and evaluation. Too often indicators say “where” we are, but rarely, “why” we are there and “how” we can go further. Too often, program participants are burdened with endless data reporting without opportunity to use this data. Both Akros and Oxfam reject this status quo! How? Simple: by using tools that connect data ownership and data use, creating feedback loops to influence programmatic change. Join us discuss and share how we can be more accountable to communities we serve. (Salisbury Room)

12.45-14.00 Lunch

14:00-14:30 Lightning Talks (Bridewell Hall)

  • App-based self-service data collection for the most vulnerable: Salla Mankinen, Good Return
    When collecting data from the most vulnerable target groups organisations use methods such as guesstimating, interviewing done by enumerators, SMS or IVR. In this presentation we would like share with you an idea for using smart phone/tablet app technology that allows the most vulnerable targets groups to interact with the data collection tool directly, without training or previous exposure to any technology. This creates a direct communication channel to the target audience, without intermediaries or filters and can have positive impact on the data quality. The approach can also have additional benefits of empowering people to use technology and bring them to 21st century, benefits that could even have wider impacts in individuals’ life.
  • Focus on the right users to avoid an M&E apocalypse: George Flatters, Flatters Ltd
    Communities where there are lots of development projects are experiencing ‘survey fatigue’. The ease with which we can now conduct a survey has led to more surveys being conducted. We need to re-focus on making MERL easier for the people who provide the data – rather than just the people who collect the data. We should learn (and extract data) from multinational tech corporations as we look to avoid a situation where people are fed up with giving us their data.
  • Community-led mobile research — What could it look like? Adam Groves, On Our Radar
    How do remote and marginalised communities really experience services? What happens when you enable people to share in-the-moment stories and experiences in their own words, in their own time and on their own terms? Hear about On Our Radar’s ‘mobile ethnography’ initiatives, and how we’re contributing to human-centred research and service delivery.
  • Empowering our staff to be data driven (or trying to!): Emily Tomkys, Oxfam GB
    Imagine a world where at the click of a button staff can access and analyse programme data nationally, regionally and globally across the thematic spectrum. Or has everyone already got this sussed? Oxfam has some data problems. Hear our plans to try and resolve them with our Datahub.

14.30-15.30 Making Connections

  • MERL Tech: Connecting as a community. Maliha Khan, Independent. Using technology to make the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of development initiatives has been happening for decades. In the last 5 years, the ubiquitous and increasingly powerful information and communication technology has led an ever-growing number of professionals to convene and discuss new possibilities, applications and issues. Is this gathering of people a “community” – as yet? When did we start applying technology to social and common concerns? what are its roots? What future direction will it take as a community? What are the main concerns? This will be an active, participatory and engaging session. (Bridewell Hall)

15.30-16.30 Afternoon Sessions (choose 1)

  • Doing data collection better with technology: Dr. Rebecca Rumbul, My Society;  Maria Jones, World Bank, Simone Lombardini, Oxfam GB: Jan Liebnitzky, Firetail Ltd.
    This session will give participants an opportunity to get to know more and discuss in depth one of two topics: ‘Questionnaire Design’ or ‘Data Collection Process’ through group work. The sessions will be practical, with hands-on examples and video demonstrations. (Bridewell Hall)
  • The ultimate IM consortia battle: challenge or opportunity, pick your side!  Maeve de France, CartONG, Lisa Daoud, Solidarités International, Saffi Jones, HelpAge International (ALERT Consortium)
    Consortia usually generate a mix of fantasy and fear: they are seen as a great practice for aid coordination and harmonization and are encouraged by humanitarian organisations’ headquarters and donors, yet they sometimes add additional challenges, especially in terms of information and data management. In this session, three humanitarian workers with experience in IM in consortia will lead an intense battle to answer the burning question: what are the challenges and way forward when working in consortium? (Passmore Edwards Room)
  • The IATI data standard is broken… let’s fix it!  Mike Smith, Wateraid; Sam Moody, Christian Aid; Sarah Johns, Bond

    Many organisations receiving UK or Netherlands government funding are already publishing IATI open data on their projects, including project finance and results data … but did you know our Southern partner organisations will also need to publish their project data in this format? And that donors will use this data to help them make decisions? This one-hour practical workshop will show you how IATI data gets used and discuss the challenges our partners face in publishing reliable, meaningful IATI data. We think there’s parallels with supporting partners to produce and use M&E data. Join us to test out some ideas on how to engage partners and fix the IATI data standard to make it easier and more relevant for us all. (Salisbury Room)

16.30-17.00 Closing Talk and Close Out

  • Highlights of the past two days – and where do we go from here? Maliha Khan, Independent.  (Bridewell Hall)