Integrity Leads Two Sessions at MERL Tech Conference in Washington, DC

 In News

Integrity’s Will Lowrie, Giselle Lopez, and Kathryn Rzeszut were in attendance of the annual MERL Tech Conference and led two sessions – a ‘lighting talk’ on lessons from implementing a digital platform and a workshop on data collection in fragile environments.

The annual MERL Tech Conference was held in Washington, DC September 5-6 at FHI 360. The conference explored how technology enabled and enhances the field of monitoring, evaluation, research, and learning (MERL) in international development work. There were more than 190 organizations in attendance at the conference, including international and national NGOs, technology companies, consultancies, donors, government agencies, universities, and contractors.

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Will and Giselle led a ’ lightning talk’ on September 6 called “Lessons from ‘Aqoonta’: Delivering a digital third-party monitoring platform”. They presented Integrity’s work on Aqoonta, a web-based platform for DFID’s Learning and Monitoring Program – Somalia (LAMPS) and discussed lessons learned through the design, development, and deployment of the platform. As discussed in the talk, Integrity’s experience in the design, development, and deployment of Aqoonta highlighted the importance of following an agile methodology and grounding the process in a strong understanding of users, context, and needs.

Later that afternoon, Will, Giselle, and Kathryn co-led a workshop with Christopher Robert and Lindo Simelane from Dobility, the company behind SurveyCTO, titled “Collecting data in fragile and conflict-affected settings: Approaches, principles, and tools”. The workshop offered participants the opportunity to engage with approaches for data collection for MERL in challenging and complex environments such as Somalia, Iraq, South Sudan, and Pakistan, and ways in which technologies such as digital data collection can support this work. Presenters provided case studies to illustrate their own tools and approaches for data collection, then led participants in an interactive role-playing activity to encourage hands-on learning and engagement. The workshop was a valuable session to share what we have learned and to learn from others how they would approach data collection challenges for MERL.

The conference aimed to explore how the use of digital data and information and communication technologies (ICTs) have expanded capacity for decision-making as well as critically examine negative consequences and potentially harmful uses of data and technology. Over the course of the event, there were showcases of promising technologies and platforms, presentations of case studies and ideas, sharing of challenges and lessons learned, and overviews of how MERL tech is evolving. The strands of the conference were:

  • Tech and traditional MERL: How does technology enable us to do what we’ve always done in MERL, but better? This includes consultation, design, community engagement, data collection and analysis, databases, feedback, and knowledge management.
  • Data, data, and more data: How have new forms and sources of data allowed MERL practitioners to enhance their work? How are practitioners using online platforms, big data, digitized administrative data, AI, machine learning, sensors, drones, and other technologies? This topic explores what use of these new forms of data and technology to process this data means for how we conduct MERL, who conducts MERL, concerns for how they are used, evidence that they improve the actual practice of MERL, and skills necessary to leverage them.
  • Emerging tools and approaches: What can we do now that we have not done before? What new tools and approaches now allow MERL practitioners to go the extra mile? This topic explores tools and capabilities such as blockchain, facial recognition, and sentiment analysis as potentially valuable emerging technologies for MERL, early cases that indicate their promise, ethical implications of their use, and skills required to explore applications.
  • The future of MERL: Where should MERL be heading in the future? What does the state of the international development sector, digital data and technology, and the world we live in mean for the future of MERL tech? This topic explores the need for stronger partnerships and areas of focus, where investments should be prioritized, ways to improve local ownership, diversity, and inclusion, and broader changes necessary in the sector to enable responsible, effective, and inclusive MERL.
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