Monitoring, Evaluation, Research, and Learning (MERL)

Making Cents harnesses demand-driven knowledge and promotes the application of learning for better program design, implementation, and evaluation, leading to increased impact. We work with our clients to identify their knowledge gaps, capture and analyze information, and package and disseminate lessons learned to the right audiences. We identify research and evaluation questions, determine methodologies for sampling and data collection, create data collection instruments, conduct data analysis, and find innovative ways for reporting actionable findings. We are an innovator across MERL services, providing support to programs, policies, and partnerships of diverse clients – USAID and other international development agencies, Fortune 500 companies, foundations, and NGOs.

As the core of our MERL service, we provide technical assistance for formulating appropriate evaluation designs in the following areas:

  • Identifying evaluation questions that assess specific program objectives and outcomes
  • Determining methodologies for sampling
  • Determining methodologies for data collection and analysis
  • Creating data collection instruments
  • Collecting data outlined in the methodology
  • Determining formats for recording and reporting findings

We use primary and secondary sources to conduct in-depth research and assessments (including quantitative and qualitative analyses) and develop appropriate programmatic and policy recommendations. We have conducted country-level assessments of youth programming to inform USAID Missions’ project designs and country strategies. We have also conducted literature reviews and meta-analyses to support analytical tasks for the Citi Foundation, Microsoft, and various NGO clients.

Desk Reviews, Literature Review, and Secondary Data Collection: We conduct comprehensive document reviews from previous and current USAID projects, other stakeholder and donor work plans, program descriptions, assessments, and evaluations. These reviews also include data sets, peer review articles, and other literature, as appropriate, related to the focus of the assessment. Our assessment teams conduct these comprehensive reviews prior to conducting any other qualitative or quantitative data gathering.

Participatory Methodologies: We use participatory methodologies that aim to include diverse participant samples to create a nuanced picture of development from multiple perspectives. For youth-focused assessments, for example, we engage youth as protagonists throughout the research design, data gathering, and analysis.

Focus Group Discussions (FGD)/Peer Group Discussions (PGD): We use facilitated discussions with groups as the core approach for primary data collection and participatory assessments. When appropriate, we use peers of the same socio-economic class, age, gender, and ethnicity to serve as data collectors and FGD facilitators, as this increases the effectiveness of this methodology. Over the past five years, we have conducted over 280 FGDs.

Key Informant Interviews (KIIs): We always complement primary data collection through group discussions with semi-structured interviews with key informants. When interviews are conducted with youth, we ensure that women and girls are interviewed by female interviewers and men and boys by male interviewers. Other regular types of interviewees include implementing partner staff, youth-focused organizations and associations, service providers, educational and training institution officials, private sector stakeholders, government officials, and donors. Over the past five years, we have conducted over 460 KIIs.

Survey Design: We have designed and used qualitative surveys for data collection in countries where cross-sectoral youth assessments have been conducted under YouthPower Learning.

Learning Products Packaging and Dissemination: Every assessment, evaluation, brief, and other learning material that we have produced has undergone the dynamic process of drafting, revising, and, ultimately, the publishing tailored to specific audiences. For each learning product, we identify the appropriate balance of innovative and traditional dissemination methods. This includes the traditional hard and electronic copies posted and shared at the most effective sites and locations, as well as webinars, videos, interactive PDFs, product launches at conferences, and other non-traditional communications methods that drive uptake of the information more effectively.