Resource equips grantmakers for measuring, evaluating and learning

Posted on 04 May 2023

By Jenny Riley, chief impact officer, SmartyGrants

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As the old saying goes, "If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail." In evaluation, it is essential to have a range of tools in our toolkit. This sentiment holds true for grantmakers who must maintain a range of programs and portfolios.

Global evaluation leader BetterEvaluation has recently published a series of resources known collectively as the Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning (MEL) Toolkit for Grantmakers and Grantees, compiled by the MEL team at the Open Society Foundations’ Economic Justice Program.

It consists of 13 tools: three templates that grantmakers can download and fill out, and 10 documents from the Economic Justice Program, with many available in Word, Excel, and PowerPoint formats.

For grantmakers, the most useful tools are the:

  • grantee reporting menu
  • template for developing a portfolio learning strategy
  • Economic Justice Program’s monitoring, evaluation, research and learning (MERL) sub-strategy.

The grantee reporting menu is noteworthy for its links to research on reporting, highlighting the different perspectives of grantmakers and grantees, and is a must-read for any grant manager. It should be considered for inclusion in grantmaking guidelines and final report processes.

The Economic Justice Program's MERL sub-strategy is a valuable example of a portfolio MEL strategy, complete with a theory of change and indicator framework.

The template for developing a portfolio learning strategy outlines a process for developing “learning questions” about one's portfolio and a plan to answer those questions. The plan includes prompts for how to use that knowledge, including adapting funding strategies or identifying funding partners.

Elsewhere, the toolkit's downloadable templates comprise:

  • the MEL grantee capacity assessment
  • a vendor evaluation form for developing a data collection platform
  • a template for developing a portfolio learning strategy.

Other tools include documents from the Economic Justice Program demonstrating best practices for funders, although many are designed for grant budgets of more than $1 million, and may not be relevant for grant managers with smaller portfolios

Other useful tools include:

  • a guide to developing, refining, and using milestones
  • the close-out note for the Enhancing Impact for Economic Justice portfolio
  • the developing a data collection platform vendor evaluation form.

Each offers a starting point for those seeking support to purchase a data collection tool, develop milestones, summarise program achievements, or provide recommendations for future rounds of funding. While BetterEvaluation spruiks the value of the toolkit to grantees, in reality it’s just the vendor evaluation form that might be of use to them.

By downloading and adapting these tools, grantmakers can develop an effective and efficient monitoring, evaluation and learning system tailored to their portfolio's unique needs.

More information

View the MEL toolkit here

SmartyGrants Grantmaking Toolkit