The Institute for Justice and Reconciliation (IJR) was launched in the year 2000, in the wake of South Africa´s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The aim was to ensure that lessons learnt from South Africa´s transition from apartheid to democracy were taken into account as the nation moved ahead.
IJR approached us to help implement a MEL system to support their new MEL framework. This introduced a wide range of new indicators, requiring the organisation to collect data on new areas. As we engaged in the project it was clear that the process to adopt the new system would require careful and active change management. Project teams had different approaches to monitoring their work and collected information in different ways. Introducing a standardised way of reporting on projects and activities would require a major shift in how teams worked, not to mention the challenge of introducing a web based MEL system.
We worked with IJR staff and Southern Hemisphere (who developed the MEL framework) to review the indicators. We took a process approach, working with staff to explore common types of activities implemented by each project. This identified six core types of activities, which were common across different projects. We then designed a process for each activity that collected both planning and management data (needed by project teams) and MEL data (needed to monitor indicators).
The forms, taxonomies, role players and workflow for the projects and activities were documented in a Process Manual for IJR. Once agreed we then configured two custom apps. One to track projects and their associated activities. The other to record data associated with social media, news clippings and other communications related data.
The system launch was accompanied by a detailed rollout and change management plan. This included a series of trainings for IJR staff, introducing them to the system and helping them load planned projects and activities. This was followed by close mentoring to build the capacity of key role players. This included a technical administrator, responsible for overall management of the system and front line support to staff. It also included a MEL lead, responsible for verifying if staff are on track to enter data.
By designing the system to record planned timeframes for projects and activities, we were able to assist the MEL lead with management reports that highlight which activities should have been completed during each reporting period. This enables the MEL lead to follow-up with team managers to ensure all expected data is received before a reporting period closes.
Projects - This app follows the annual project planning and implementation cycle. As projects are registered they are linked to strategic objectives and themes from the MEL framework. Staff then add activities (publications, research, networking, events, capacity building or community dialogues). Each activity includes an activity plan (setting out timeframes for the activity) and information on expected outputs from the activity. A series of MEL forms collect data about actual outputs (for example, attendance at events or dissemination of publications). These forms are small and simple and designed for staff to complete as the activity progresses.
All activities all include three core forms. A monthly progress form collects management information on progress towards completing the activity. This is used to provide managers with an overview of what stage each activity is at and to warn if it is delayed. A reflections form is completed at the end of the activity. This asks staff if the activity achieved what it set out to do and if the process went well. It also prompts for feedback on challenges and recommendations for the future. Finally an outcome form collects information on changes in the work of others as a result of the activity. This is reviewed in quarterly outcome harvesting workshops.
Media - This app consolidates data on IJR's influence in the media. This includes blog posts, social media, website and a media clipping service. Data from the later is downloaded from the service as an Excel file and imported directly into the system. This provides regular data on the extent to which IJR is influencing key debates.
The project has introduced a clear and consistent way for staff to collect data related to both MEL and management needs. Designing the system to mirror the project cycle hid much of the complexity of the MEL framework and made it easier to track when data was missing. Up to this point the focus has been on ensuring that all projects and activities are registered on the system and that data associated with them is being entered as the activities are completed. As we reach this milestone our focus will shift to supporting managers to use data more effectively for learning and management.