Member Spotlight:
Three Lessons From High-Stakes MEL Support in Peru and Ukraine


July 7, 2021 | By EnCompass LLC

EnCompass 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 for you.

Three 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 practice.

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.

Learning 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 development forward.

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.

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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).