Learning and Breaking Bread: Viewpoints from Evaluation 2018

By Molly Hageboeck, Senior Advisor for Research and Evaluation


We hope we’ve started a new tradition! Here’s the recipe: 1) Pick the most interesting restaurant in whatever town we find ourselves, 2) round up as many MSI colleagues as possible, 3) invite folks from outside MSI who are going to present, or be the chairs or discussants for the upcoming conference sessions we are in, and 4) book the biggest table.

Beyond that, MSI needs no guidance.

In Cleveland, where a cadre of MSI staff recently visited for the annual American Evaluation Association (AEA) 2018 Conference, the restaurant just had to be Lola. Chef/owner Michael Symon has rock star status in the industry, as television’s “Iron Chef,” and a leader in bringing back the best of American regional cuisine, with an updated artisanal twist. (My expansive, house-made charcuterie plate, which went around the table, was the best I’ve ever had, and then some.) 

The “friends” we gathered, old and new, were also terrific:

  • Bhavani Pathak, MSI’s Contracting Officer’s Representative (COR) for our Washington-based analytic services and evaluation support contract for USAID’s Bureau for Economic Growth, Education, and Environment (E3) who was deep in a discussion about evaluations with MSI’s Jacob Patterson-Stein and Thomaz Alvares.
  • Savi Mull, field team director for MSI’s former five-year anti-human trafficking project with USAID’s regional Mission for South Asia, now with the C&A Foundation. She traded monitoring and evaluation stories with MSI’s Lala Kasimova, Set Oya and Dan Killian.
  • Jorge Miranda, from 3ie, who shared a panel on Friday. He helped me to understand the intricacies of 3ie’s process for deciding which of the impact evaluations their database receives are worth sharing with the world.
  • Lala Kasimova, Setsuko Oya, and Dan Killian

After a typical hectic day at any AEA annual meeting – where one wants to be in at least three different sessions in every time slot – the slower pace of a great dinner with a mix of MSI colleagues and stimulating friends beyond our ranks was a revelation.

With more time to talk at a slower pace, there was only a couple unanswered question – why haven’t we always done this? And if we did it again, how could we better collaborate, and what more could we learn and share?

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MSI Presents at AEA’s 32nd Annual Conference

Each year, the American Evaluation Association invites a diverse group of scholars, students, and evaluators to its annual conference to share and learn from the international practice of evaluation. 2018 marks the 32nd annual meeting and will host a variety of presentations focused around the theme of Speaking Truth to Power. For more about AEA’s Evaluation 2018, visit the event homepage.

MSI has a long history of providing comprehensive and innovative monitoring and evaluation services for governments, organizations, and individual clients. With expertise in providing performance monitoring services across various regions and supporting clients, including USAID, in making programming decisions, our team is heading to Cleveland, OH to share a host of insights and strategies and facilitate discussions on emerging practices in the field. Learn more about our services. 

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Preparing for Peace

Jennifer Ulman, Senior Technical Director for Peace & Stability


Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Peace is not only the absence of tension, but the presence of justice.” This powerful sentiment begs the question, how can we as a society achieve it? At MSI, our experts ponder this question regularly by looking at the key elements for sustainable peace.

For instance, building legitimacy of the government at national and local levels, encouraging participatory planning of equal access to economic growth options, and engaging peace advocates across society are fundamental.

We also work to address drivers of conflict specific to countries or regional contexts. From the political and economic marginalization of Rohingya in Myanmar to the financing of a military and security apparatus using oil revenues in South Sudan, each of our development programs has the ability to support peaceful gains or exacerbate tensions. No matter the sector – agriculture, education, health – a conflict-sensitive approach to enhance peaceful outcomes is vital.

In addition, how people of various genders and sexual orientations experience life pre-, post-, and during conflict can drastically differ. Women often take on additional roles during times of conflict as both bread winner and home maker and may be compelled to take up arms while their spouse is off to war. Similarly, individuals in the LGBTI community may find themselves suddenly without their circles of support following conflict or disaster, thus increasing their vulnerability to violence.

We are constantly striving for values and beliefs of all identity groups to be respected and acknowledged — a foundation for peaceful coexistence. 

Bringing Our Voices Together For PeaceCon 2018

To help cultivate changes and a greater understanding into the needs required for effective peacebuilding, each year the Alliance for Peacebuilding (AFP) brings together a network of experts, professionals, and motivated voices to share new perspectives and insights at its three-day conference co-hosted by the U.S. Institute for Peace. AFP is a membership network of over 100 organizations, including some of the world’s largest development organizations, non-profits, NGOs, academic institutions, and peacebuilding groups. This year, MSI is playing a critical role in the annual conference and will lead two panels.

The Next Wave of Conflict Sensitivity

This panel examines the future of conflict sensitivity and the challenges of integrating a conflict-sensitive lens across all development sectors. Our panel of practitioners will share experiences and examples from across the globe to highlight strides and failures of a conflict sensitive approach that will foster a discussion on specific tools for gauging opportunities for peace. The interactive session will include reflections on how we as practitioners can further mainstream conflict sensitivity into our everyday work.

-Panel Moderator: Jennifer Ulman, Senior Technical Director for Peace & Stability, MSI

-Dilshan Annaraj, Associate Director of Peacebuilding Programming, World Vision/Sri Lanka

-Michael Shipler, Associate VP for Strategy and Program Quality, Search for Common Ground

-Ioli Filmeridis, Conflict & Peacebuilding Advisor, USAID/CMM

Understanding the Role and Impact of Gender on Violent Extremism

Participants will learn about the roles and potential roles women play in VE and CVE efforts, including the broader gender contexts that shape women’s agency and that also influence men’s participation in VE. They will have an opportunity to consider the protection and safety of women and girls from VE; how social and cultural contexts shape both VE and responses to it, and the ways cultural narratives about masculinity and femininity, and social, political, and economic structures, shape women’s agency. The panel will further explore thinking on possible areas for research and programming directions for influencing the role of gender in VE.

-Dr. Lynn Carter, Senior Vice President, Tetra Tech/Management Systems International

-Dr. Leslie Dwyer, Associate Professor andDirector, The Center for the Study of Gender and Conflict at the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, George Mason University

-Dr. Christine Fair, Associate Professor, Georgetown University Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service

Join MSI and the diverse changemakers across the industry gathering in Washington, D.C. from October 24 – 26. Register today at allianceforpeacebuilding.org

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Where are South Sudan’s children?

Using Data to Refill Empty Classrooms

Two million school-age children are out of school in South Sudan – the highest rate in the world, according to UNICEF.

Since returning to war in December 2013, the government and opposition forces have recruited more than 19,000 children to serve as soldiers, cooks, spies, messengers, and in, some cases, for sexual purposes. A joint education needs assessment conducted in 2016 and 2017 showed that one in every three schools has been attacked, with both military and displaced populations occupying school buildings.

USAID has worked since 2014 to increase access to education for the most conflict-affected learners. It commissioned MSI, a Tetra Tech company, to conduct a Rapid Education and Risk Analysis (RERA).

Despite logistical difficulties,a rapidly changing environment, and potential physical threats, MSI’s team of 10 data collectors visited 27 sites over a four-week period.

Their stops included learning sites run by volunteer teachers,
accelerated learning programs for students 12 and older who missed some or all of their formal primary education, and community primary schools accommodating an influx of internally displaced students.

“MESP South Sudan, and exercises such as the RERA, has and will continue to challenge us all to produce our highest quality work,” shared Dr. Nitika Tolani, MSI’s education technical director. “They highlight the critical role of the community in ensuring children’s safety and access to education and inspired us to think innovatively about what we do and how to improve quality of education at all levels.”

The analysis gathered information to gain a deeper understanding of the relationship between the conflict and the educational system, including consultations with national and community-level actors to better perceive the effects of education on conflict mitigation.

MSI conducted 78 focus groups with students and teachers, and held 210 interviews with nearly 1000 participants, helping to raise the voices of those most affected. Data derived from these discussions will help USAID to develop context-specific and risk-informed programming.

For more on the challenges faced and lessons learned during USAID/South Sudan RERA, click here.

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In Jordan, A Recipe for Success

As the changing season welcomes students back to classrooms around the world, Jordan’s next generation of evaluation experts prep for their own graduation.

In 2016, the USAID-funded Jordan Monitoring Evaluation Support Project (MESP) launched a six-month practicum-based apprenticeship program. It is designed to give young professionals the tools and resources to effectively advance within the monitoring and evaluation (M&E) community.

Four weeks of intensive classroom courses were coupled with five months of on-the-job training with USAID’s implementing partners – a successful recipe that led to renewal of the program for an additional two years.

USAID Jordan Nancy Eslick with MESP apprentices.

USAID Jordan Mission Director Nancy Eslick meeting with MESP Apprentices on August 30.

The apprenticeship initiative, which is set to graduate a dozen new participants in October, impressed Acting USAID Mission Director, Nancy Eslick, enough to explore the program from the perspective of participants themselves.

Earlier this year, she met with a group of apprentices, host organizations and trainers. The group lauded the experience for being a great entry into the M&E field and providing effective hands-on experience.

“Monitoring and evaluation is a lifestyle, all of us are watching ourselves and learning from our mistakes when planning for our future,” said Emad Almajali.

Emad, now a Monitoring, Evaluation and Reporting Specialist, is one of 28 graduates who have completed the program to date and one of 25 who have secured full-time employment in the M&E field. Additionally, 22 organizations have been supported through the program’s job placements, including 17 USAID implementing partners, and 6 local development and humanitarian organizations.

Learn more about MESP’s commitment to accountability and aid effectiveness through data-driven best practices here:

”What we really care about….”

In addition to organizing another round in its successful apprentice program, Jordan MESP recently hosted the third annual MEL Conference on behalf of USAID.

Held in Amman, this year’s focus was “Self-reliance and Sustainability.” It was attended by over 250 people, representing 75 different government institutions, USAID activities, local and international organizations.

Attendees enjoyed a dynamic expo featuring 25 booths showcasing USAID activities, four panel discussions around self-reliance, and nine capacity-building sessions. These sessions covered themes including approaches to measuring sustainability, role of M&E in grant-making, community-based M&E, scaling up development interventions and introduction to self-reliance metrics.

Additionally, the event gave attendees a word from MSI President Emeritus and international scaling up expert Larry Cooley. Cooley highlighted the need for M&E professionals and projects to look beyond just their immediate work to the long-term effects on communities.

“We don’t want to sustain the project we want to sustain the flow of benefits to a group of people. We don’t want the project to continue, we want the benefits to the people to continue, and we want them to continue at the scale of the problem. What we really care about is the world before the project and the world after,” said Cooley.

For more from Larry Cooley and MSI’s scaling framework in action, click here.

  • USAID Jordan MEL Conference attendees.
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