Three Lessons From High-Stakes MEL Support in Peru and Ukraine
July 7, 2021 | By EnCompass LLC
LLC – Stop, collaborate, and (really) listen: three lessons from high-stakes
MEL support in Peru and Ukraine
Before you read further,
visualize the best proposal your team has ever submitted. The perfection of the
approach, the compelling sales pitch, the unbeatable personnel. Then, the
letter from the client announcing you won the contract. Can you picture it? Good.
Now jump ahead. Did
implementation go exactly as planned? Or did the team need to pause, reconnect
the dots, or even reframe essential approaches, funding streams, and ways of
working? If the second answer sounds more like your experience, this article is
lessons that are harder than they look
Our story flows from experience implementing two large-scale
monitoring, evaluation, and learning (MEL) platforms for the United States
Agency for International Development (USAID). Peru and Ukraine have distinct
geographies, demographics, and development needs, but share some high-level
complexities, including strategic importance as U.S. partners. Add to that mix a
pandemic that forced one team to rapidly shift to virtual collaboration and the
other to work fully on-screen from day 1.
In Peru, EnCompass and All in for Development implement the
Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning for Sustainability contract. An early task
was helping the USAID mission integrate collaborating, learning, and adapting (CLA)
principles in its Country Development Cooperation Strategy, which lays out the objectives for USAID’s work. The
team had been working for about a year when two things happened—COVID-19, and USAID/Ukraine’s
selection of EnCompass and NORC at the University of Chicago to implement the
five-year Monitoring and Learning Support Contract.
In both cases, for different reasons, we had occasion to
rethink our approaches. Our teams in each country and at headquarters learned—and,
crucially, acted on—three valuable lessons.
Lesson 1 – Stop! Make sure
you’re really fostering a “one team” approach
MEL work is fast-paced, complex, and often implemented by a geographically
dispersed group, and at least two organizations, who must become a single team
for the client. On both contracts, we quickly learned the value of deliberate, early
teambuilding and frequent pauses to revisit our collaboration: What’s working?
What could “better” look like?
The result is that we understand each other’s strengths and share
expectations, allowing us to respond more consistently and with more meaningful
MEL services and products because we really do show up as one team, no matter
where someone sits or who pays their salary.
Lesson 2 – Collaborate! Support
your country teams to grow their capacity
Our in-country staff have the expertise to lead the work.
That’s why we hire them! But we also know the importance of sharing institutional
good practices for MEL. Supporting our colleagues to implement these practices
was a priority.
Capacity development has two components: strengthening
the team’s already strong technical capacity, while building an enabling
environment that nurtures their capacity to adapt. We have made concerted
efforts to create mechanisms and spaces to focus on deep, continuous learning.
This collaboration has a reciprocal effect that transcends
geographies and organizations. Each team’s experience has informed the work of
the other, generating efficiencies and new ideas for putting MEL and CLA into
Lesson 3 – Listen! Empower and
enable your country teams to lead
Our in-country staff brought context-relevant MEL
expertise and established relationships with USAID in both countries. The
lesson here was to recognize that the best position for headquarters was a
supporting role, following the lead of the experts we hired to enact our “perfect
proposals” in the real world. This requires trust and confidence on both sides.
Investing in actions for the first two lessons helps
create the environment for the third—ensuring in-country teams are fully
empowered to deliver value for the client, while knowing they have access, when
they need it, to resources and perspectives from headquarters’ colleagues.
is best when it never ends
Each lesson continues to resonate. We invested in
teambuilding and training on Appreciative Inquiry—a signature approach that
fosters meaningful, energizing collaboration. And we continue to listen deeply,
looking beyond “deliverables” and attending to those essential, behind-the-scenes
actions that nurture effective teams who have the support and capacity to move
Visit encompassworld.com to
learn how things are
going in Peru. And stay tuned for news from
Ukraine, where the team hopes to finally meet in-person sometime soon.
Jonathan Jones, Patricia Mostajo, William Dunworth, Zachariah Falconer-Stout,
Amanda Stek, and Jaime Jarvis work with EnCompass LLC, which implements the
USAID Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning for Sustainability activity in Peru
(in partnership with All in for Development) and the USAID Monitoring and
Learning Support Contract in Ukraine (in partnership with NORC at the
University of Chicago).