Considering the updated DMERL Framework: A conversation between HQ and the field
Nir Dahal (MEL Delegate, Philippines Delegation) and Kristin Helz (Capacity Building Grant Manager at NHQ) are both professionals in the DMERL field (Design, Monitoring, Evaluation, Research and Learning) who have worked together over the past two years to champion learning for the DMERL Framework at the American Red Cross.
In anticipation of the launch of the updated DMERL, they exchanged their experiences with the first version of the Framework and looked ahead to what can be expected with the upcoming one.
Kristin: Thank you, for joining me Nir to talk about what ISD can expect to see in the new Framework. None of it should be too surprising, as we included as much staff feedback as we could while we were developing it, but even so, I am excited to share it with everyone. I am also hoping to hear from you some of your experiences with the first version of the Framework.
Nir: Can you tell us a bit about the purpose of the Framework?
Kristin: It creates shared languages, practices and goals for DMERL and serves as an online portal for DMERL resources. The audience is any American Red Cross staff involved in project design or project management, but it has relevance for our national society partners, partner national societies and even other humanitarian organizations.
Nir: What is the main difference between the updated version and the original Framework?
Kristin: The first framework provides a strong conceptual framework for the main components of DMERL; however, it didn’t tie them to the project management cycle so I think it could be difficult to know when to use the information. In this version, the information is linked to the phases of the project management cycle. Another significant difference is that this Framework includes a planning phase and makes the distinction between design and planning stages of a project. I think that is an important distinction between establishing the logic of the project and putting in place an operational reality for it. In short, the project management function of DMERL has been strengthened.
Nir: What is the same with the original Framework?
Kristin: I think the main thing that remains the same is that the Framework is just that – a framework to hang on concepts, definitions, how to steps and, perhaps most importantly, a growing inventory of carefully curated resources and tools. That hasn’t changed.
Both documents also do a really good job of explaining why DMERL practices matter – that has always been an important part of the Framework.
Kristin: Did you have any frustrations with the first version of the Framework?
Nir: One challenge was we had a difficult time sharing the content with national society staff since it was linked to an internal SharePoint site.
Kristin: Yes, we heard that from multiple staff over the past two years. That is why for the updated version, we will host it on a publicly accessible website. We are also partnering with disasterready.org so that the main e-learning course that supports the Framework will be hosted on their site and available to anyone in the humanitarian industry.
Can I ask you, Nir, even with the limitations of the first version of the Framework, were you able to use it with the National Society?
Nir: Yes, the DMERL Framework helped guide our work with the Philippine Red Cross (PRC). For example, we planned baseline and end line data collection for all projects even though we were not able to complete it for the recovery funded projects due to the COVID impact. We were able to set the baseline and midline evaluations for the MACP and USAID funded projects. The management response plan (MRP) was prepared for each baseline and midline study (based on the findings and recommendations) and mechanisms were set for continuous monitoring and tracking of the MRP.
Another example of DMERL Framework utilization was setting up the learning objectives and their implementation plan for the Community Readiness in Bicol (CRIB) phase 2 project (funded by MACP). Having regular program learning and reflection meetings on a quarterly basis analyzing the major accomplishments, challenges (risks/issues) and mitigation measures as well as actions for continuous improvement. These reflection meetings have become a regular practice of all AmCross supported projects and is one key standard from the DMERL Framework.
When the first version of the DMERL Framework was out, we were requested by the PRC to provide feedback on the community engagement and accountability (CEA) guidelines that the national society was drafting to support its own programs. The Framework’s chapter on CEA “Accountability and Inclusion for Relevance” was quite helpful for us to provide constructive feedback on the CEA steps and its integration into the project cycle.
These are a few examples. Apart from it, we also utilized the framework for capacity building of the delegation staff, project staff and PRC staff on DMERL and had a couple of learning sessions based on the components of the framework: Learning, Informed Project Design, performance monitoring for quality, for example.
Kristin: How do you hope to use the updated version? What is the greatest need for DMERL capacity building in your delegation or national society?
Nir: As you explained, the updated version is more helpful because DMERL is presented in relation to the project cycle management. The updated version will serve as a guiding document for us to support the PRC for evidence-based decision making and quality programming. It would be good to have refresher training/orientation for the delegation staff and PRC staff on the updated DMERL framework. I am thinking we could have some learning sessions on the following topics:
- DMERL in relation to project management cycle
- Utilization of DMERL data in the project design and program improvement
- Importance of evaluation and MRP on the learning and new project design
- Prevention of Sexual Exploitation & Abuse (PSEA) and PGI integration into the programming including the PGI analysis for the project
Kristin: Is there anything we at NHQ can do to help you with making the content from the new Framework more accessible? Or how we could help you socialize the Framework with your national society?
Nir: Accessibility is a challenge for us while sharing with the national society. With the current Framework housed on SharePoint, which is only accessible to American Red Cross staff, every time we want to share it with national society staff, we need to send the document or one of the tools by email as an attachment. It would be good to share the documents in the public domain with guidance on how to use them. I would also suggest a series of introductory webinars as well as self-paced user-friendly online training course to understand the DMERL components better which will ultimately help national societies to accept and implement it.
Kristin: Nir, I am so glad you will find those things useful. We are already planning to host the Framework and its inventory of tools on a public website accessible to national society staff and volunteers, and anyone really. We have also developed two e-learning courses accessible in English, French and Spanish that we are hoping to host on the IFRC Learning Platform so they will be accessible to all Red Cross/Red Crescent Staff. I am hoping this will begin to address some of those challenges with access and make these job aids truly useful to our teams and partners in the field.
Thanks so much for taking the time to share your experiences with me.