Monitoring, learning and evaluation

    How will it monitor its progress?

    It is never too early to start thinking about monitoring, evaluation and learning (MEL).+This section draws on: Lomofsky, D. (2016), Monitoring, evaluation and learning for think tanks Learn more +Lomofsky, D. (2018), Series on MEL for think tanks: Conclusion Learn more Measuring the impact and results of the work of a think tank is challenging, as these things are often intangible (e.g. building relationships with policymakers, playing a key role in debates or networks, etc). The ultimate goal is policy change, but this takes a long time and often cannot be attributed to a specific action, or organisation. Policy change is the result of many factors and actors (Lomofsky, 2016).

    A good starting place is to define what success looks like. For this you must reflect on where you locate yourself in the policy process with any particular issue (Lomofsky, 2016). A think tank should not only focus on ‘driving direct policy change but also try to affect what happens before, throughout and after a new policy is designed. For example, to illuminate the way some policy problems are perceived’.

    Aim for a balance between accountability requirements and honesty about achievements. This can be done by:

    • Clarifying your policy influence objectives (they need to be realistic). These should be drawn from your mission, projects and the problems you are trying to address.
    • Selecting your policy influence strategies and how can this be measured (e.g. advocacy, communications, capacity building, etc.)
    • Ensuring you have the necessary resources to achieve results.

    When think tanks devise good monitoring and evaluation plans, and when they carry out changes and improvements based on the lessons from the MEL exercise, they will be more effective in achieving their objectives (Lomofsky, 2018). A think tank can target this exercise for different areas of work: MEL of research quality, MEL of communications, MEL of governance and MEL of projects.

    You need to reflect on what your organisation is already doing in terms of MEL and consider why you want to invest in monitoring your work + For more on monitoring and evaluation for think tanks read the series MEL for think tanks. Learn more. MEL for think tanks can have three focuses:
    Policy influence (MEL-I): this will be discussed in the second session.
    Communications (MEL-C): focussing on evaluating and learning from comms strategies.
    Management and operations (MEL-M): this is about human resources, finance and internal operations.

    Box. Toolkit: How can we monitor and evaluate policy influence? 

    CIPPEC has prepared a short toolkit that includes the various factors in the monitoring and evaluation of policy influence: organisational assessment, the basis of a MEL system, indicators, data collection methods and knowledge management, and more.

    Based on previous work by Lindsay Rose Mayka (2008), the toolkit explains that there five reasons to conduct evaluations:

    • Accountability: to provide donors and key decision-makers (e.g. board of directors and/or donors) with a measure of the progress made in comparison with the planned results and impact.
    • Support for operational management: producing feedback that can be used to improve the implementation of an organisation’s strategic plan.
    • Support for strategic management: providing information on potential future opportunities and on the strategies to be adjusted against new information.
    • Knowledge creation: expanding an organisation’s knowledge on the strategies that usually function under different conditions, allowing it to develop more efficient strategies for the future.
    • Empowerment: boosting the strategic planning skills of participants, including members of staff engaged in the programme or other interested parties (including beneficiaries).

    Incorporating MEL into the daily life of any organisation is well worth it. A smart and proportionate use of MEL tools, and especially a well-thought-out MEL plan, can help think tanks to:

    •  Reflect on and enhance the influence of their research in public policy.
    •  Satisfy their (and their donors) interest in evidencing the uptake of research in policy.
    •  Build their reputation and visibility and attract more support for their work.
    •  Generate valuable knowledge for all members of the organisation.
    •  Re-organise existing processes for data collection so that they can be useful for real MEL purposes, and discard processes and data that are not useful.

    MEL strategies can be carried out in a variety of ways, but it is important to understand the reasons for the MEL effort to best adapt the strategies and methodologies used to the type of knowledge to be acquired.