Research & Evaluation Teams Across the Americas Come Together for the Teach For All MEL Encuentro
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In October, network partners across the Americas region gathered in Bogotá, Colombia for the 2022 Teach For All MEL Encuentro, where they discussed how to support organizational learning cultures using monitoring, evaluation, research, and learning (MERL). The following is a reflection by Anny Julca, MEL Coordinator from Enseña Perú, on her experience during the three-day event connecting and learning with peers from across the region:
We can put a lot of magic into MEL (Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning) activities and turn them into something special!
This phrase sums up the new vision, the sense of possibility, and the desire to work collaboratively that those of us who participated in the Teach For All MEL Encuentro in Latin America took away with us.
Enseñá por Argentina, Enseña por Bolivia, Ensina Brasil, Enseña Chile, Enseña por Colombia, Enseña Ecuador, Enseña por México, Enseña por Panamá, Enseña por Paraguay, Enseña Perú, Enseña Uruguay, Teach For America—12 network partners, 12 hearts, we had the opportunity to meet and connect in the beautiful city of Bogotá that opened its doors to us. For three days, we took a break from our daily work and considered our roles in a more strategic way.
We began the first day with a diagnosis of MERL activities in each of our organizations and then at the regional level. For this, we used the five key components model of MEL as a reference. This diagnostic tool was proposed by Teach For All based on trends across the global network and offers an innovative approach to MEL processes involving:
- Leadership and culture
- Monitoring, measurement, and voice
- Data systems
- Research and evaluation
- External communication
The result of the diagnosis was a dashboard that summarizes our MEL status in the region as well as the primary strengths and challenges of each network partner in each component.
It was very powerful to discover the great diversity in the region. Understanding the successes and pain points of each country allowed us to connect with each other and generate incredible synergies. Today we know which partners to ask for support because we learned that they have already experienced and overcome some of the difficulties we are experiencing. Likewise, we can share our learnings and support partners with challenges that are similar to ours.
It was also a revelation to see our MEL activities through the lens of the Teach For All 5-component model. We discovered that there were aspects that, perhaps, many of us had not considered, such as leadership, communication, culture, reflection, teamwork, partnerships with other functional areas, and more. These are precisely the ingredients that can enhance MEL initiatives and help us to become learning organizations.
On the second day, each participant shared a project aligned to one of the diagnostic components that they have been working on in their organization. How impressive it was to see the effort and achievements of each network partner. It left us with the energy and desire to learn more in order to implement these projects in our countries in the future. It was a time to recognize and celebrate that, despite the moment in which each organization finds itself, we are all moving forward, innovating, and creating new strategies and learnings to share with others.
From Enseña Perú, we shared the initiative we carried out this year to help our staff have a more data-oriented mindset. Our initiative was called "DataPalooza: The best data festival of 2022." With it, we wanted to generate buzz about the development of our annual MEL plan and present it as something fun that everyone will want to participate in. And what better way than a festival? To do so, we teamed up with the Brand team and developed the festival concept, based on the LolaPalooza (Latin American festival).
The results were great. Almost 100% of our staff was involved in the process and it was our first big opportunity to reflect on the organization's data-related pain points. We reinforced the idea that the management and quality of our data is not owned only by the MEL team, but is everyone's responsibility. Based on this, we outlined our MEL plan, which contains eight prioritized data projects that address the main needs of the organization, and it was made clear which data will not be addressed by MEL this year. These eight projects are focused on three areas: systems, training and culture.
Finally, on the third day we worked together to reformulate our 2025 vision as a regional MEL community. We defined our new leadership committee and set an agenda with topics of common interest that we will address over the next year. This was a reminder that this MEL Encuentro is just the beginning of a long road that we will travel together hand in hand.
Undoubtedly, there were many learnings but, above all, there was connection, collaboration, laughter, and generosity. It was amazing how, in so few days, we managed to feel like family and with enough confidence to show our vulnerability and share our challenges without feeling judged. It was nice to feel listened to and to experience the genuine interest of others in learning from our projects and wanting to support us with ideas or suggestions. It was very valuable to see how we can practice collective leadership within our MEL community and how we can work together to mobilize and dream. All of this was only possible because we were able to bring together passionate people who put a lot of love and care into what they do.
The connections, the laughter, the generosity, the learning around leadership, communication, culture, team... All of these elements represent that magic that we can put into our MEL activities to turn them into something special.