Institute for Justice and Reconciliation

MEL system

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.

Challenges

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.

Approach

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.

Apps

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.

Outcomes

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.

Saferworld

MEL system

Saferworld is an independent international organisation working to prevent violent conflict and build safer lives.

Challenges

Saferworld has pioneered the use of outcome harvesting for many years.  Staff began collecting data in an online system designed by Kwantu in 2011.  We agreed to work together to update this, taking advantage of new technologies and tackling challenges that staff had.  These included the need to:

  • Support staff working with intermittent or no Internet
  • Following a focused, but extensible approach that allows the scope to grow over time
  • Introducing user roles and workflow to review and validate data
  • Improving how data is used

Approach

Using Skype and Zoom calls, we were able to review and update the original Process Manual to cover the changes and enhancements.  As the scope clarified we decided to cover two separate, but linked apps:

  • MEL - enables teams and partners to record outcomes and track activities
  • Projects - manages a list of projects with basic information on each project.  Projects listed here can be linked to teams or partners

Once the Process Manual and the scope was clear, we configured the first version of the two apps within a couple of weeks.  These provided the basis for the MEL team to review and give final feedback needed to refine the apps.  They were then ready to pilot with country teams, ahead of a full rollout.

Apps

MEL app - This app creates a profile for each team or partner that Saferworld works with.  Partners and teams have roles base access to their profile, but cannot access other areas of the app.  Each profile is pre-loaded with core information on the partner or team name, projects and location, avoiding the need to re-enter this data.  Partners and teams can log outcomes, which are then assigned to MEL staff who follow them through the outcome harvesting steps.  They can also record progress against core activities every quarter.

Projects app - This app manages a list of all projects and key information on the project.  Projects are linked to teams or partners implementing them, allowing outcomes to be linked back to projects.  Placeholders are left to extend this further, including managing and publishing data to IATI.

Reports app - This is a standard app.  It enables Saferworld staff to create and publish their own reports.  These combine data from any field on any form to create an XLS or PDF file.  Once published staff or partners can request up to the minute data.  The app also creates a JSON feed that pushes live data into other databases for analysis or visualisation.

Outcomes

The new MEL and projects apps provided a simplified and streamlined way to record and validate outcomes and link them to projects.  The inclusion of roles allows Saferworld to give partners direct access to enter data.  The workflow then provides MEL with notifications on new outcomes and activities, which they can then review before they are included in reports.

Summary reports give MEL staff the overview of how many activities and outcomes each team and partner have recorded.  This helps direct attention to those that need help to incorporate the app into their work.

Treatment Action Campaign

Branch management and learning system

The Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) was founded in December 1998 to campaign for access to AIDS treatment. It is widely acknowledged as one of the most important civil society organisations active on AIDS in the developing world. One of its most significant victories was the 2002 Constitutional Court ruling in which the South African government was ordered to provide anti-retroviral drugs to prevent transmission of HIV from mothers to their babies during birth.

Challenges

TAC is a citizen-led, grassroots organisation working on the front lines of the HIV response in South Africa.  With over 600 branches across South Africa, many in rural areas, it is extremely challenging for staff to communicate and share information with each other.

This project focused on two specific challenges:

First, branch members (who are all volunteers) face lacked a systematic way to document and communicate the many activities they do, as well as the changes arise from them.  These include checking clinics for stock-outs, providing health information to communities and collecting testimonials from community members. As a result many of these activities go un-recognised and are not reported fully to donors and other stakeholders.

Second, they struggled with the logistical challenges of requesting advances to support activities and accounting for funds received.  With finance staff at provincial or national level, this meant transporting receipts and expense claims around the country.  Any mistakes were also time consuming to rectify, as new documents or receipts had to be sent if they were missing or in-correct.  This often led to delays that were frustrating to branch members.

Our approach

We worked with branch members and TAC staff using a human centred design approach.  This focused on understanding the existing systems and processes related to tracking activities and expenses related to them.  Key national teams like finance, M&E and membership were also involved in the process.

Through this process we were able to collectively design updated processes and procedures that could be embedded in a web based branch management and learning system.  This was documented as a Process Manual, that clarified all data entry forms, role players and workflows.

Once we had agreement on the underlying processes, we started an iterative process to configure the system and get feedback from users.  This helped shape the design further and increased buy-in from staff.

When the system was ready to launch we provided training for staff, developed a user manual and created a phased rollout plan.  This focused on a province by province rollout and covered tasks needed to prep the system (adding branches, branch members and users and assigning roles) such that branches could begin recording activity plans and requesting advances.

We continue to provide support to staff managing the system and assisting with the rollout plan.

Outcomes

The project has helped to standardise the way in which TAC branches collect and validate data.  This ensures that there is a consistent set of data that all TAC branches report each month, specific to the activities that they plan to carry out.  There is also a clear process for reviewing and approving this data before it is used for management, learning or reporting.

Branch members can request advances to support activities - even if they are offline.  These requests are passed immediately (once they have an Internet connection) to the finance team to process. When it comes to account for advances, the system prompts them as to what information is needed and enables them to attach photos of receipts.  This avoids the need to wait for paper receipts to be transported.

Branches can see the status of all expense claims and who is currently working on them.  They can also see branch budgets updating as new expenses are processed, reducing the budget available for future activities.  This makes planning easier.