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Locally-led MEL Week: Contextual Dive into the Barriers, Gaps, and Levels of MEL Capacity Development Frameworks by Saqib Mehmood Khan, Adeel Iqbal, and Nainan Nawaz

Hi – we are Saqib Khan, Adeel Iqbal, and Nainan Nawaz, a team of monitoring, evaluation, and learning (MEL) professionals working with VTT Global, a boutique consulting firm dedicated to advancing monitoring and evaluation practices across diverse sectors. In this post, we will discuss existing MEL Capacity building practices and their dynamics in Pakistan’s context. Specifically, we’ll address certain shortcomings in sharing MEL knowledge and equitable workshare with international MEL firms. 

Our MEL journey started in 2009 and flourished when an international firm came to Pakistan to execute a large donor-funded Third-Party Monitoring (TPM) project as part of a seven-year-long blanket agreement. They deployed their MEL experts to oversee the projects’ activities and those experts took it as their responsibility to teach us and build our capacity through best practices. That’s one case of learning MEL from the masters. 

MEL models and frameworks are almost always tailored for Western contexts, and are not aligned with the culture, language, beliefs, and environment for each developing country. The current model of implementing development projects and MEL interventions favors global north firms by giving them greater access to contractual mechanisms, allocating them a larger share of resources on each contract, and leaving subcontractors like VTT little to no ownership and leadership within these mechanisms. Typically, implementing partners use local firms only for in-country work, such as obtaining permission for activities from local authorities, collecting and analyzing data, but leave us out of the design and final reporting (including developing conclusions and recommendations) stages. 

Below we share lessons learned from our experience as a local MEL firm.

Lessons Learned and Continued Learning

Participatory model instead of the sub-contractor model: Sub-contracts, the standard model for engaging local firms, generally do not provide for growth. Employing a participatory approach within the sub-contractor mode will empower local firms to develop innovative and contextually informed methodologies. Co-designing evaluation frameworks and instruments is critical to ensuring that nuanced questions are asked, and their implications contextualized.

Focus on local organizations not individuals: The focus of capacity building of local firms needs to be on organizational level learning. Typically, international firms utilize their own resources for design formulation or hire a local expert. However, hiring individuals for the design work creates a market imbalance in wage structures and development. These individual consultants charge more than local firms, and frequently do not engage with the local firms. Local firms then struggle because of the unavailability of expert resources. Thus, for local organizations to thrive, it is vital to build the firms’ capacity. 

We at VTT experienced this where the required resources were unavailable for a certain period at the required rates and this resulted in us losing a long-term monitoring, evaluation, and performance activity by a large donor. This highlights the need for a course of action from the international firms to help the sub-contractors build their capacity and expand their pool of skilled practitioners. We can accomplish this by conducting organizational-level trainings before, during and after the project. It also highlights the need for donors to recognize that capacity building and knowledge sharing are not free, and they need to fund this work if they are serious about locally led MEL.   

Equal workshare:  Workshare between local and international firms needs to be split more beneficially and equally than it is currently. In Pakistan, local firms’ share of contracts is much smaller than international firms. A more balanced share-split process will not only reduce implementation cost but can provide better avenues for evaluators and evaluation firms.

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