Programs & Projects

Integrating Monitoring, Evaluation, Research and Learning with Design for Good Program Management (BalanceD-MERL)


The Balanced Design, Monitoring, Evaluation, Research, and Learning (BalanceD-MERL) consortium is a mechanism 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). The consortium believes good program management integrates monitoring, evaluation, research, and learning (MERL) activities with program design (D) and implementation to achieve program objectives. Program design and implementation should not be thought of as separate from its MERL activities; these are indeed iterative processes that are deeply interconnected.

The consortium examines how balanced integration across all aspects of D-MERL enables teams to rapidly learn and incorporate findings into program design. The consortium also assesses how four principles – relevant, right-sized, responsible, and trustworthy – can be incorporated into D-MERL to enable sustainable integration of MERL with program design and adaptive management.

The BalanceD-MERL consortium consists of World Vision (prime), Innovations for Poverty Action, Institute for Development Impact, Search for Common Ground, and the William Davidson Institute at the University of Michigan.

The Work

1. Women + Water Global Development Alliance (Nov 2016 – Jan 2018)
The BalanceD-MERL consortium served as MERL technical experts to the Women + Water Global Development Alliance collaboration among USAID, Gap, Inc., CARE,, the Institute for Sustainable Communities and the International Center for Research on Women. Together, these organizations are leveraging their complementary strengths to improve and sustain the health and well-being of women and communities touched by the apparel industry. The consortium developed a MERL strategy for the Alliance and captured lessons learned in the following two resources:

  1. Guiding Questions – Nine action-oriented questions that private sector companies can ask to strengthen the design and implementation of their work with USAID.
  2. Case Study| Executive Summary – A document that shares the experience of applying the BalanceD-MERL approach in the Women + Water program and provides key takeaways along with action-items for decision-makers, program implementers, and MERL practitioners to undertake to enhance the effectiveness of this approach.

2. BalanceD-MERL Maturity Matrix
The BalanceD-MERL Maturity Matrix is a tool that can be used by both program staff and MERL staff. It can facilitate program design (D) and implementation through improved performance management and/or evaluation.

3. Global Health Ebola Team (Dec 2016 – Dec 2018)
The consortium conducted an endline performance evaluation and data quality verification activity for the Global Health Ebola Team within the USAID Global Health Bureau. The Global Health Ebola Team managed a portfolio of activities aimed at addressing the second order impacts of the unprecedented Ebola virus disease outbreak in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone between 2014 and 2016. The following publications were produced from this work:

  1. Guidance for Building a Balanced D-MERL System in a Post Response Recovery– The paper comprises six building blocks of strategies which will strengthen and balance D-MERL systems during post response recoveries.
  2. Heuristic Tool for Building a Balanced-D MERL System–  The purpose of this document is to help USAID staff plan for, and implement, effective and efficient programs and MERL systems in a post response recovery. This heuristic tool is a quick reference document developed to assist program managers and MERL practitioners navigating the process of building the balanced D-MERL system in this evolving context.
  3. Case study – This document provides an inside look at the application of the BalanceD-MERL approach in the Global Health Ebola Team technical assistance pilot.

Project partners include USAID, World Vision, IPA, Institute for Development Impact, Search for Common Ground and the William Davidson Institute

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 World Vision under the BalanceD-MERL Program, Cooperative Agreement Number AID-OAA-A-15-00061, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development.
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