Programs & Projects

Developmental Evaluation Pilot Activity (DEPA-MERL), Digital Strategy


Developmental evaluation (DE) was created to evaluate innovative programs that operate in complex environments and are thus expected to adapt over time. The Developmental Evaluation Pilot Activity (DEPA-MERL), developed under the U.S. Global Development Lab’s Monitoring, Evaluation, Research and Learning Innovations (MERLIN) program at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), is testing the effectiveness of DE in the USAID context. The DEPA-MERL consortium consists of Social Impact (prime), Search for Common Ground (Search), and WDI. As part of the consortium, Social Impact and Search are implementing DEs while WDI is serving as an evaluator to assess the effectiveness of this approach in the USAID context.

In early 2020, USAID launched its first-ever Digital Strategy in order to align the Agency’s vision for development assistance with the world’s evolving digital landscape. USAID’s Innovation, Technology, and Research (ITR) Hub, formerly the U.S. Global Development Lab, is responsible for leading the strategy implementation. DEPA-MERL launched a new DE in mid-2020 to support up to four of the Strategy’s 15 implementation initiatives by providing insights into how the initiatives work within their teams and with each other as well as timely input for decision making. For the first time at USAID, the Developmental Evaluator is being embedded remotely into the initiatives due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The WDI team also conducted an analysis across the three DE pilots that occurred during the first five years of the MERLIN award. The report, Advancing the Use of Developmental Evaluation: A Summary of Key Questions Answered during a Multiyear Study of Developmental Evaluations Implemented at USAID, shares findings and lessons learned across the experiences to facilitate learning from the implementation of DE in the USAID context.

To learn more about the previous pilots or to access guidance the consortium has developed for organizations, managers, and evaluators that seek to implement the developmental evaluation approach please go here.

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