[Editor’s note: This post was written by Albana Rexha, Research Fellow at Group for Legal and Political Studies. This post is part of a series of reflections from participants and facilitators of the Online training to strengthen M&E&L on policy influence in Central and Eastern Europe, supported by the Think Tank Fund.]
I believe that influencing policy is central to the work of Think Tanks. However, measuring it can be challenging in terms of both- human and financial resources, particularly in developing countries similar to mine, Kosovo. So, in this context the key tool is the Monitoring and Evaluation and Learning (M&E&L), which barely can get integrated within the organizational strategy due to scarce resources. Also, as a think tanker, I did not put much effort and value in M&E&L before attending the online course in M&E&L organized by Politics and Ideas, and Think Tank Fund-Open Society Institute. Therefore, I find it necessary to share, with all interested readers and think tankers who did not have the opportunity to be part of the course, a short summary of lessons learned framed to showing that M&E&L is at the edge of failing if done only for donor reporting purposes.
Why M&E&L: First, M&E&L is conducted for accountability purposes towards key-decision makers and to donors since it informs decision makers and donors about the progress achieved in respective fields. But, first and foremost it helps the organization evaluate its own progress. Second, support from operational management which refers to strengething the way an organization implements its projects by providing feedback on what worked and what did not during the monitoring and evaluation phase, is another purpose for conducting M&E&L. Third, support from strategic management would help an organization evaluate its operations and shed light on the direction of the new programmes that the organization shall get engaged. Another important benefit is knowledge creation. That refers to more knowledgeable workers in regards to the way of making policy influence. Empowerment should be yet another purpose for organizations to conduct M&E&L, since it would help employers to reach a greater consensus and commitment to the organizational objectives. In a general context, these represent the major purposes and benefits that should drive any organization to implement and integrate such a strategy within the organizational development strategy.
How- The Design of M&E&L Strategy: Everyone should be aware of the four main steps in designing a M&E&L strategy. Thus, I will briefly introduce you to key steps. First, an organization should conduct a situational analysis. This kind of analysis looks at the needs, capacities, and experiences of the organization. Through this analysis you will be able to assess the organizational motivations for such a strategy, who will lead the strategy (since the strategy should be transparent and participatory), key stakeholders and their interests. The second step is the design phase. During this phase the organization should identify adequate indicators and select data collection tools, and also identify the policy influence objectives in place. Particularly, the organization should identify outputs, outcomes, policy goals, and impact. Implementation is the following step. In order to implement this strategy the organization should have in place all the institutional capacity needed including financial resources, and human resources such as leadership. The final phase is the learning and reflection which also brings us back to the main purposes of implementing and incorporating the M&E&L strategy in the organizational strategy. During this phase the organization shall derive the lessons learned and employ them in the strategy of the organization.
In conclusion, it is important to note that throughout the course and after finishing it, we have discussed lessons learned with other employees of the organization. Our purpose was to integrate it within our organizational structure. Therefore, we were divided in groups based on our fields of expertise and we evaluated strategies on monitoring and evaluation of fields including rule of law, economic development, and European Integration. This is helping us a lot in terms of time management; strengthening the way we implement future projects as we can pinpoint our mistakes through evaluation; empowering our employers in terms of being on the same page in regard to our goals and values; facilitating our work in terms of deciding where to direct our future projects; and finally, improving donor reporting.