By Muhammad Abuyassin, MEAL Manager at Generations For Peace
As the implications of the Coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) are felt around the world, few will escape its economic repercussions. Competition for financial resources is fierce, not only between developing economies but between developing and industrial economies. These effects are felt in every sector and non-profits are also facing several constraints on their ability to implement activities and programmes. As a result of lockdown, physical distancing, and quarantine measures, non-profits have had to adapt how they collect data from beneficiates with little or no in-person contact.
The COVID-19 crisis has further reinforced the fact that a robust Monitoring, Evaluation, Accountability and Learning (MEAL) framework is crucial to ensure programmes improve the lives of the Target Group and Beneficiary Community members most in need. And why does MEAL matter? Designing and implementing a programme without a strong MEAL framework is like launching a spaceship with no tracking system to record the (hopefully) successful landing. It ensures that data is collected and used to improve and build on future space travel and enables learning of new things.
Generations For Peace is committed to robust measurement and evaluation of programmes to support continuous learning and adaptation to promote good practices, as well as demonstrate impact and sustainability. Accordingly, MEAL activities are utilisation-focused, centring on what is important and essential. Our approach takes into consideration the intended use and users and uses alternative means of data collection, tailored processes that may require less mobility and are adapted to online mechanisms to limit contact with beneficiaries. Adaptation of MEAL activities to accommodate the COVID-19 restrictions on physical interactions also include indicators and measurement units to track remote interaction amongst the programme participants where applicable.
It’s important to manage expectations about what is possible to measure under COVID-19 restrictions. First, programme activities need to be adapted to reflect the nature of remote interaction when necessary. The kinds of performance indicators that are expected to be measured from in-person activities will naturally have to be tailored to capture virtual dynamics. For example, indicators related to in-person interaction must change and focus more on actions that can observed online. These indicators could include measuring, online facilitation, satisfaction with online delivery, completion of session, and active participation indicators.
In terms of keeping stakeholders up to speed, since we are working in constantly changing environments, the programme results framework must be agile and constantly reviewed to adapt and fit to the changes in the internal or external environment affecting either the onsite or online modality of programme delivery. Therefore, new ways of monitoring and tracking progress to fit the adapted programme delivery are discussed with donors and/or stakeholders at the same time the new activities are being discussed.
The discussions should focus on what is essential, such as the satisfaction with online delivery and less focus on the indicators related to onsite interaction. If the indicators are critically dependent on onsite interaction (at baseline), a midline survey can be collected taking into consideration the new reality of online interaction and an endline at the end of the programme to capture the changes in attitudes and behaviours.
Finally, when a MEAL framework with alternatives to onsite MEAL activities are in place, we are more confident that not only can we verify that our spaceship landed but we also can account for the investment and learn from the experience for future expeditions.