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Internal Eval TIG Week: Harnessing the Value of an Online Collaborative MEL Platform by Andressa Gutierrez

Andressa Gutierrez

Hi! I am Andressa Gutierrez, a MEL Specialist at WorldFish, an international research institution that works on aquatic food systems. I am an international development professional with over 15 years of experience in country-, regional-, and global-level management, coordination, and monitoring development investments in agriculture and natural resources. 

The CGIAR Research Program on Fish Agri-Food Systems (FISH-CRP), a research program implemented by WorldFish and other partner organizations, is designed to enhance the productivity and resilience of fish agri-food systems to reduce poverty, advance food and nutrition security, and improve natural resource systems. It started in 2018 and is nearing its completion in December 2021.  WorldFish is part of the oneCGIAR, a global partnership of international centers engaged in research to promote food security in developing countries.

The FISH-CRP uses the Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning Platform, or MEL Platform, to monitor, evaluate, and share the results of its research and development investments. It is an open-sourced digital platform that promotes collaboration and group learning when it collects, visualizes, and shares data to be trackable and accessible. It employs a user-driven approach that centralizes data and archives it unto other primary data repositories. Because of the platform’s innovative digital solution that several centers adopted and as one of the outstanding projects in knowledge management and enterprise collaborations it won the silver prize at the 2018 Enterprise Business Collaboration Award in Berlin in ‘Best Collaboration Infrastructure’.  

Strengths of the MEL Platform

The MEL Platform works according to a hierarchy of performance indicators with a clear relationship: milestones on top and deliverables at the bottom. It treats all deliverables on the same level and groups them to form an output, outputs to create a product, and so on. However, we think that this clear order does not suit the reporting needs of all our partners. For instance, administrators and donors are more focused on primary and compelling deliverables and not necessarily on the rest of the output deliverables. 

Customizing the MEL Platform gets tricky with the number of CGIAR centers with diverse needs depending on investment size, staff complement, or geographic location. As one of the smaller research programs of CGIAR, the FISH -CRP has its unique needs, such as generating a progress report on a specific innovation bundle when formulating a policy brief. However, the Platform’s design should always serve the most number of users and organizations to promote collaboration inherent to the MEL Platform.

As the FISH CRP nears its completion, we needed to tag priority deliverables to track them closely and ensure they are completed by December. We also grouped deliverables into “innovation bundles” to highlight FISH-CRP deliverables that can potentially scale in the future. These steps are crucial to ensure maximum reach and impact to beneficiaries, donors, and partners after program completion. The current MEL Platform design cannot accommodate these changes without seeking consensus from our partners and employing backend platform developers to implement these changes, so we supplemented it with the use of different digital tools that are readily available such as PowerBI and MS Sway.

Lesson Learned: 

The MEL Platform is a powerful tool, although sometimes not all reports are available for smaller organizations. Aside from MEL team expertise, we complemented the MEL Platform with available technologies such as PowerBI for customizable data visualizations and MS Sway, an application that packages PowerBI reports in an online newsletter format. 

Rad Resource:

PowerBI and MS Sway are potent tools that come free with Microsoft 365. MS Sway is intuitive to use, similar to MS Word or MS PowerPoint. I recommend learning how to use PowerBI by watching Youtube videos from Curbal and Guy in a Cube.

The American Evaluation Association is hosting 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@eval.org. AEA365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators. The views and opinions expressed on the AEA365 blog are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the American Evaluation Association, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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