You are here
“Is this really new?” The space for emerging DMERL practice at AEA
I had the pleasure of presenting on a number of panels during the this year’s American Evaluation Association Conference on Evaluation and Design and spent a lot of time talking about new and shiny work in evaluation. These discussions stemmed from the work that Search for Common Ground has been doing on emerging DMERL (design, monitoring, evaluation, research, and learning) practice. Search is currently a part of a number of consortia projects that are looking at developmental evaluation (DE) in an international context, how to move beyond good M&E and begin to look at how we balance responsibility, scope, rigor, and contextual awareness within our work, locally-influenced exit strategies and how to measure progress towards exit, etc. These projects build on the rich history of DE; the development of the AEA principles, OECD DAC, the Goldilocks Project, and many other efforts that have clearly advanced the M&E field over the past decade. We are trying to move away from innovation for innovation’s sake and toward looking at how we can fill the gaps and increase utilization of what the field’s already built.
We received a lot of good questions, a few of which centered around the theme of, “Is this really new?” or “How is this different?” We’ve had so many years of new tools, and our methodology has evolved, that it seems the field is a bit overwhelmed on what should be practically utilized. Even though our projects are explicitly focused on operationalization, practitioners tackling the questions of “how do we get to good practice?” and “how do we identify the right types of support and resources?”, seem to be swimming in possibilities.
There’s an appetite to learn and improve our DMERL in the field, and this was especially clear at AEA. But there’s also a need to couple discussions around innovation with stronger resources and support for the field that provides direction, mentorship, and support, not just a stockpile of resources to flounder among. I know DME for Peace is certainly striving to provide that supportive environment to M&E practitioners in peace and development, as well as enhance its ability to foster conversations and discussions around new, innovative tools that are available.
The field isn’t done growing yet, and as long as we continue to utilize the foundational tools and approaches that have been tested and refined over the years, we can also leverage wonderful donors, such as the USAID Global Development Lab, who are keen on identifying the gaps and answering the as-of-yet unanswered questions around how to do effective DMERL in increasingly complex operating environments. Personally, with the brilliance available at AEA, the conference provides an exceptional space to share and learn as we continue to refine our field-wide DMERL learning agenda. I hope we can continue to balance the old and the new in DMERL as the peace and development fields continue to push forward into the future!
Rebecca Herrington is the Program Manager for the Institutional Learning Team at Search for Common Ground.