IE TIG Week: Building a Learning Culture via Communities of Practice by Molly Chen and Sarah Frazer

Greetings! We are Molly Chen, Monitoring, Evaluation, Research, Learning, and Adapting (MERLA) Specialist from the International Development Group’s Global Health Division and Sarah Frazer, Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning (MEL) Specialist from the Governance and Economic Development division at RTI International, an independent, nonprofit institute that provides research, development, and technical services to government and commercial clients worldwide.

In our role as internal evaluators for international development projects, we are often faced with the challenge of meaningfully engaging stakeholders, project staff, and even our evaluator colleagues in other divisions to discuss obstacles, best practices, and lessons learned.  In 2017, we created a Monitoring, Evaluation, Research, Learning, and Adapting (MERLA) Community of Practice (CoP) at RTI International to create a space for learning and sharing internally on evaluation related topics. We now have 60+ members across the organization who come together to connect and share what we’re learning from our projects in order to adapt and improve.

Lessons Learned:

“Champions” are critical to the success of a Community of Practice

It was crucial to secure internal funding and leadership support early on. Additionally, our success depended heavily on a few core team members who “championed” our CoP’s goals and activities to their respective divisions. Externally, we reached out to peers in other organizations and our primary funder, USAID, to join us in a panel discussion in Washington DC in May of this year to discuss the critical issue of “From learning to adapting: How do we get to learning, and where do we go from there?”  Bringing together core members, internal leadership, and external support helped take the CoP from an idea to a reality.

Opening the Community of Practice for all to join and share their voices can instill diversity and inclusivity

The MERLA CoP grew from 15 core members to 60+ members in the last year, with representation from across technical divisions at the company (international development, statistical and social sciences and research, program management, and business development). By opening up the CoP beyond evaluators, we benefit from hearing how project managers view their M&E systems, challenges that business development colleagues come across when hiring for and incorporating M&E at the proposal stage, and how researchers can add value to M&E by helping to brainstorm and implement operations research to further fill any evidence gaps that come up during project implementation. This welcoming atmosphere has opened up the conversation and furthered understanding between evaluators and the people we often interact with in our work, both internally and externally.

Rad Resource:

USAID Policy Planning and Learning (PPL) Bureau’s Learning Lab has a ton of great resources on how to incorporate a learning culture in your project, evaluation, and organization.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Internal Evaluation (IE) Topical Interest Group Week. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our IE TIG members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.


1 thought on “IE TIG Week: Building a Learning Culture via Communities of Practice by Molly Chen and Sarah Frazer”

  1. Hello Ms. Chen and Ms. Frazer

    My name is Debbie Rampersad and I am in the process of completing a Masters Degree in Education. My interests lie in developing and maintaining Professional Learning
    Communities (PLC) within my school.
    During this past year we have begun to implement a school wide literacy initiative. We do not have a solid PLC within our school but knew that this literacy initiative had to be implemented.

    Using your approach to evaluation, can you construct a theory of action so that my team can evaluate and implement the changes in our literacy program?
    Although we have sufficient background knowledge in literacy, we seem to be having some difficulty developing and implementing our plans in a collaborative manner.
    How would you suggest we develop the collaborative aspect of our evaluation?
    My thinking is that we missed some systematic steps in creating a balance between the stakeholders and and the need to improve learning for our students.

    Looking forward to your response.

    Debbie Rampersad

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