Monitoring & Evaluation, Research, and Learning (MERL)
Making Cents International is an innovator in MERL services, harnessing demand-driven knowledge and promoting the application of learning for better design, implementation, and evaluation of development programs. As a trusted partner to USAID and other international development agencies, Fortune 500 companies, foundations, and NGOs, we are called upon to identify knowledge gaps, capture and analyze information, and package and disseminate lessons learned to the right audiences. Our MERL services include:
Identifying research and evaluation questions
Determining methodologies for sampling
Determining methodologies for data collection
Creating data collection instruments, collecting and storing data
Conducting data analysis
Finding innovative ways for reporting actionable findings
We collect, organize, and synthesize available information to gain an understanding of the context and trends and to identify gaps. We use primary and secondary sources to conduct in-depth research and assessments (including quantitative and qualitative analyses) and develop appropriate programmatic and policy recommendations. For example, under the USAID YouthPower Learning project, we have conducted eight country-level assessments of youth programming to inform USAID Missions’ project designs and country strategies. We have also conducted literature reviews and meta-analyses to support analytical tasks for the Citi Foundation, Microsoft, Rockefeller Foundation, and various NGO clients.
Desk Reviews, Literature Review, and Secondary Research: We conduct comprehensive document reviews of program documents, stakeholder and donor work plans, program descriptions, assessments, and evaluations. These reviews also include examining data sets, peer review articles, and other literature, as appropriate, related to the focus of the research.
Participatory Methodologies: We use participatory methodologies that aim to include diverse participant populations to create a nuanced picture of development from multiple perspectives. For youth-focused assessments, for example, we engage youth as protagonists throughout the research design, data gathering, and analysis.
Focus Group Discussions (FGD)/Peer Group Discussions (PGD): We use facilitated discussions with groups as a core approach for primary data collection. We make these discussions as interactive and engaging as possible using a variety of techniques that support a high level of comfort and information sharing. When appropriate, we use peers of the same socio-economic class, age, gender, and ethnicity to serve as data collectors and FGD facilitators, as this increases the effectiveness of this methodology. Over the past five years, we have conducted close to 300 FGDs.
Key Informant Interviews (KIIs): We typically complement primary data collection through FGD/PGDs with semi-structured interviews with key informants. When interviews are conducted with youth, we ensure that women and girls are interviewed by female interviewers and men and boys by male interviewers. Other types of interviewees include implementing partner staff, youth- and women-focused organizations and associations, service providers, educational and training institution officials, private sector stakeholders, government officials, and donors. Over the past five years, we have conducted close to 500 KIIs.
Survey and Measurement Tool Design
We have designed or supported the design of a number of surveys and measurement tools for both research and evaluation purposes and regularly incorporate evaluation to measure the impact of our technical assistance and training services. For an evaluation of a youth program in the Dominican Republic, we contributed to the development of a comprehensive youth survey measuring impact. We also created a tool for measuring the development of youth-led agricultural hubs. Created as part of the East Africa Youth Inclusion Program (EAYIP), the stage-gate tool includes 46 indicators aligned across four dimensions—social capital, hub management, sustainability, and market activities & linkages—to assess the organizational capacity of youth-led hubs. Based on these indicators, hubs are assigned stage intervals from ‘beginner’ to ‘graduated’ (stages I – V). A hub’s score provides clarity on its level of maturity and identifies the level of organizational capacity-building support EAYIP should provide to the hub. The tool contains user-friendly worksheets for entering individual hub indicator scores and cross-hub summary scores and includes built-in analysis functions that provide dimension-level and total scores for individual hubs as well as across hubs
Learning Products Packaging and Dissemination
Every assessment, evaluation, brief, and other learning product that we have produced has undergone the dynamic process of drafting, revising, and, ultimately, the publishing tailored to specific audiences. For each learning product, we identify the appropriate balance of innovative and traditional dissemination methods. This includes the traditional hard and electronic copies posted and shared at the most effective sites and locations, as well as webinars, videos, interactive PDFs, product launches at conferences, and other non-traditional communications methods that drive uptake of the information more effectively.
In fact, our experience and capacities as a global MERL expert have their foundations in our Youth Economic Opportunities Network (YEO Network), which we have been operating for more than 13 years. The Network has been filling knowledge gaps in youth economic development field and has continuously provided us with a platform to test and develop new ways to improve learning. To track the impact of the Network, we have employed a knowledge management M&E framework based on the Ripple Model, which looks at data and respondent opinion over the following four levels of indicators: knowledge exchange, knowledge capital, changed practices, and performance improvement.