Programs & Projects

Assessing Developmental Evaluation Across USAID Missions (DEPA-MERL)

October 26, 2016


Programs in complex settings or with untested theories of change often face the challenge of using traditional mid-term or end-term evaluations to assess their impact. In such programs, traditional evaluations can occur too late and/or measure pre-defined outcomes. To help address this issue, the Developmental Evaluation Pilot Activity (DEPA-MERL) mechanism was launched under the Monitoring, Evaluation, Research and Learning Innovations Program (MERLIN) to test the effectiveness of a developmental evaluation (DE) approach in measuring impact of USAID programs that are characterized by innovative interventions, untested theories of change, and/or implementation in complex contexts. DEPA-MERL is funded by the USAID Global Development Lab. Organizations forming the DEPA-MERL consortium are  Social Impact (prime), Search for Common Ground, and The William Davidson Institute at the University of Michigan.

WDI’s role in the consortium is to facilitate learning on the implementation of the DE methodology in the context of USAID programming.  WDI and the DEPA-MERL consortium seek to answer the following three research questions for each DE technical assistance pilot in order to assess the value of DE and enable comparison across the pilots in which the DE are implemented,:

  1. Research Question 1: In what ways is the DE approach, as implemented across the various projects, able to capture and promote use of emergent learnings in support of ongoing development of programming in a complex system in the USAID context, i.e. does the DE allow for rapid learning and adaptive management?
  2. Research Question 2: What are the barriers and enablers to implementation of the DE approach in the USAID context? How does the DE vary depending on the USAID context?
  3. Research Question 3: What are key informants’ perceived value added or lost (for example: time, utility, monetary costs, scale-up decisions) of conducting a DE versus a traditional evaluation approach in a complex setting at USAID?

This project currently includes two ongoing DE pilots. One pilot is focused on reducing the number of children without access to safe and stable home environments in Cambodia and leverages a collective impact model. The other pilot examines USAID’s uptake of innovations championed by the Global Development Lab.

This article is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents are the responsibility of WDI and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government. This article was produced by the William Davidson Institute at the University of Michigan in collaboration with Social Impact under the Developmental Evaluation Pilot Activity (DEPA-MERL), Contract Order Number AID-LAB-C-15-00002, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development.

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