Clara Hagens, Marianna Hensley and Guy Sharrock on Building MEAL Competencies

Greetings! We’re Clara Hagens, Marianna Hensley and Guy Sharrock, Advisors in the MEAL (Monitoring, Evaluation, Accountability and Learning) team with Catholic Relief Services (CRS). Building on our previous blog dated October 20, Embracing an Organizational Approach to ECB, we’d like to describe the next step in our ongoing MEAL capacity building journey: the development of MEAL competencies.

Having embarked on embedding a set of MEAL policies and procedures (MPP) in agency program operations, our ensuing ambition has been to make explicit the set of defined competencies required to ensure MPP compliance. Policy 5 states that, “CRS supports its staff and partners to advance the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and experiences necessary to implement high quality utilization-focused MEAL systems in a variety of contexts.” Thus, the MEAL procedures require that MEAL and other program staff receive sufficient direction and support to build MEAL competencies in a coherent, directed and structured manner that will enable and equip them to implement the MPP.

What are the expected benefits? The MPP enable staff to know unambiguously the agency’s expectations with regard to quality MEAL; the accompanying MEAL competencies provide a route map that enables colleagues to seek opportunities to learn and grow in their MEAL knowledge and skills, and, ultimately, their careers with CRS. With this greater clarity and structure, our hope is to impact positively on staff retention (see Top 10 Ways to Retain Your Great Employees). Our next challenge will be to develop a MEAL curriculum that supports those staff who wish to acquire the necessary MEAL capacities.

Hot Tips:

  1. MEAL competencies are pertinent to more than just MEAL specialists. It is vital that many non-MEAL colleagues, including program managers and those overseeing higher-level programming acquire at least basic, possibly more advanced, understanding of MEAL. A MEAL competencies model sets different levels of minimum attainment depending on the specific job position.
  2. Creating an ICT-enabled MEAL competencies self-assessment tool works wonders for staff interest! Early experiences from one region indicates that the deployment of an online solution that generated confidential individual reports that could be discussed with supervisors along with aggregate country-level reports, was very popular and boosted staff willingness to engage with the MEAL competencies initiative.

Lessons Learned:

  1. Work with experts. There is a deep body of knowledge around competencies, and how to write them for different levels of attainment (e.g. Blooms Taxonomy Action Verbs), so avoid reinventing the wheel!
  2. MEAL competencies self-assessment data can be anonymized and aggregated at different levels in the organization. This can reveal where agency capacity strengths and gaps exist so as to support recruitment and onboarding processes, and where there may be opportunities for using existing in-house talent as resource personnel.

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