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MEL Plan Evaluation Component

For each project, consideration will be given during the design phase to the performance and impact evaluations that will be undertaken. USAID expects to devote approximately three percent (3%) of total program dollars, on average, to external performance and impact evaluation. This is distinct from resources dedicated to monitoring. While there is no hard and fast rule, USAID anticipates that roughly of 90% of the evaluations covered by these funds will be performance evaluations and the rest will be impact evaluations.

The Evaluation Component of a project MEL Plan covers impact and performance evaluations envisioned for a project. In addition, it may be useful to include any plans the Mission has for providing funds for self-evaluation under any of the implementing mechanisms through which elements of the project will be carried out. In a project MEL Plan, Missions may wish to include a Performance Evaluation Plan Summary table and a Project MEL and Learning Budget Worksheet as well as descriptions of the types of evaluations it contemplates. Templates for both of these tables are included in this section of the kit. Narrative descriptions in a project MEL Plan should provide a good overview of what is envisioned to serve as a starting point for the preparation of Evaluation Statements of Work, particularly for any impact evaluations that require an early start. Across this spectrum Evaluation Quality is Critical as illustrated by USAID criteria for quality evaluations in its Evaluation Policy and ADS 201.

Quality Matters

Conventional wisdom holds that the quality of USAID evaluations steadily declined over the last two decades, with the majority of evaluations (with a few high-quality exceptions) relying too heavily on anecdotal information and expert opinion rather than on evidence collected in an unbiased and systematic way. While reviews of evaluations carried out by USAID found some exceptions to this characterization, most evaluators interviewed viewed evaluation quality as a critical issue.

—USAID Evaluation Policy: Year One (paraphrased)

  • Impact Evaluations: If an impact evaluation is to be undertaken, initial information about its focus and questions will have been included in the project Concept Paper at the start of the project design process. Since an Impact Evaluation may need to establish comparison groups before USAID begins to deliver the intervention of interest, it may be helpful for the project MEL Plan to include a preliminary description of an Impact Evaluation Start-Up Plan as well as a description of the Impact Evaluation design and the questions to be addressed. Before writing up an MEL Plan description of a planned impact evaluation, it may be useful to review the kit pages on the Impact Evaluation Decision, the Impact Evaluation Decision Tree and the Impact Evaluation Design Summary as well as Impact Evaluation in Practice and other impact evaluation resources provided here or on those kit pages.
  • Performance Evaluations: these evaluations, which can be undertaken during project implementation with an eye to improving performance; at the end of a project period, to inform future programming; or on an ex post basis after project funding for key activities has ceased, are often broader in scope than are Impact Evaluations which focus primarily on a few cause and effect questions about specific interventions. Based on reviews of USAID Performance Evaluations prior to the issuance of USAID’s Evaluation Policy, the Agency has made evaluation quality a priority for this type of evaluation. International critiques of trade capacity building evaluations reach similar conclusions. Planning for Performance Evaluation Design in a Project MEL Plan need not be as detailed as is appropriate for an Impact Evaluation that will begin in parallel to the start of project implementation, but it is nevertheless important.
  • Partner Self-Evaluations: While USAID expects that the majority of the evaluations it funds will be external performance and impact evaluations, the Evaluation Policy does permit funding for implementing partners to engage in evaluative work for their own institutional learning or accountability purposes where Missions view this as being desirable. Reports on such evaluations must be shared with USAID, but are not considered to be formal USAID evaluation.