MERL Tech Jozi Takeaways: Matching Needs and Tools

Melanie Uhlen's picture

In the first week of August, I attended the MERL Tech in Johannesburg, where the tech community in the Monitoring, Evaluation, Research and Learning space met for an intense two-day conference. I was given the opportunity to present our software WebMo for Monitoring and Collaboration as well as host a session of our unique “The Wikipedia Approach to Monitoring”. However, it turned out that my role at that conference had more faces: As much as I’m a developer of WebMo – I’m also a consultant. In my work I want to make sure that anyone approaching me on the subject “IT for M&E” gets properly equipped with the knowledge necessary to be able to pick the right tool. For that purpose, we have been running our webinar “IT tools for results monitoring” on a regular basis since 2016. As we highlight in this webinar, there are a multitude of solutions out there that one way or another have to do the data handling in the M&E process. The real challenge is to match problems at hand with the right solution(s).

So as part of my mission at MERL Tech Jozi was to learn about other tools and approaches, these two sessions at MERL Tech Jozi were most valuable to me:

  1. Conducting a Baseline of the ICT Ecosystem: As I aim to have an overview of what is out there and what common trends and challenges in the field are, it was good to see our own experiences reflected in the more structured findings of this study.  Oh and it’s also a comfort to hear that we are not alone in struggling with certain challenges when it comes to introducing and developing tech for MERL.
  2. The Fail Fest: Like any projects, IT projects can fail, for various reasons related to planning, implementation or technical considerations. Everybody knows that, but as IT providers we don’t necessarily like to talk about it. But it’s always good to be honest about failures among peers. And even clients appreciate it: As IT projects typically involve quite some money, everybody should be aware of the risks involved. And the clear lesson here for tech developers and clients alike is: Don’t cut time short on fact finding, needs assessment and conceptualization!

Other lessons from the conference, albeit not new but continuously important, were:

  1. The IT tool is not an end in itself. It is what it is: A tool
  2. Ethics and privacy: We need to think through what happens with people’s data
  3. Understanding data and related IT tools is now more than ever a necessary part of the skillset of Monitoring and Evaluation professionals

So thanks to these two days of exchange, I have learnt what else is out there on the MERL tech world and know that other actors are dealing with the same type of challenges. In consequence, now I can be advise clients even better on getting the tools they need. See you next time, MERL Tech and Johannesburg!

PS: Travelling is inevitable when you want to be part of professional communities like this. Of course I compensated my flight's CO2 emmissions by donating to atmosfair. The 28€ from this flight compensation will benefit this project in Rwanda promoting the use of more efficient cookstoves!