The MERL Tech Conference explores the intersection of Monitoring, Evaluation, Research and Learning (MERL) and technology. The main goals of “MERL Tech” as an initiative are to:
- Transform and modernize MERL in an intentionally responsible and inclusive way
- Promote ethical and appropriate use of tech (for MERL and more broadly)
- Encourage diversity & inclusion in the sector & its approaches
- Improve development, tech, data & MERL literacy
- Build/strengthen community, convene, help people talk to each other
- Help people find and use evidence & good practices
- Provide a platform for hard and honest talks about MERL and tech and the wider sector
- Spot trends and future-scope for the sector
Our fifth MERL Tech DC conference took place on September 6-7, 2018, with a day of pre-workshops on September 5th. Some 300 people from 160 organizations joined us for the 2-days, and another 70 people attended the pre-workshops.
Attendees came from a wide diversity of professions and disciplines:
An unofficial estimate on speaker racial and gender diversity is here.
At this year’s conference, we focused on 5 themes (See the full agenda here):
- Building bridges, connections, community, and capacity
- Sharing experiences, examples, challenges, and good practice
- Strengthening the evidence base on MERL Tech and ICT4D approaches
- Facing our challenges and shortcomings
- Exploring the future of MERL
As always, sessions were related to: technology for MERL, MERL of ICT4D and Digital Development programs, MERL of MERL Tech, digital data for adaptive decisions/management, ethical and responsible data approaches and cross-disciplinary community building.
Sessions included plenaries, lightning talks and breakout sessions. You can find a list of sessions here, including any presentations that have been shared by speakers and session leads. (Go to the agenda and click on the session of interest. If we have received a copy of the presentation, there will be a link to it in the session description).
One topic that we explored more in-depth over the two days was the need to get better at measuring ourselves and understanding both the impact of technology on MERL (the MERL of MERL Tech) and the impact of technology overall on development and societies.
As Anahi Ayala Iacucci said in her opening talk — “let’s think less about what technology can do for development, and more about what technology does to development.” As another person put it, “We assume that access to tech is a good thing and immediately helps development outcomes — but do we have evidence of that?”
Some 17.5% of participants filled out our post-conference feedback survey, and 70% of them rated their experience either “awesome” or “good”. Another 7% of participants rated individual sessions through the “Sched” app, with an average session satisfaction rating of 8.8 out of 10.
Topics that survey respondents suggested for next time include: more basic tracks and more advanced tracks, more sessions relating to ethics and responsible data and a greater focus on accountability in the sector. Read the full Feedback Report here!
What’s next? State of the Field Research!
In order to arrive at an updated sense of where the field of technology-enabled MERL is, a small team of us is planning to conduct some research over the next year. At our opening session, we did a little crowdsourcing to gather input and ideas about what the most pressing questions are for the “MERL Tech” sector.
We’ll be keeping you informed here on the blog about this research and welcome any further input or support! We’ll also be sharing more about individual sessions here.