Key Actions by:

Standard 7: Realistic and participatory detailed implementation planning for program impact.

Develop, jointly with partners, an evidence-based detailed implementation plan that includes programmatic, financial, procurement, logistics and donor engagement activities.

Develop the project MEAL system.

  • Why

    The project’s MEAL system is a foundational element for evidence-based project management, helping the project team track progress toward intended results and be accountable to participants, donors, and other stakeholders. The MEAL system provides information that supports learning and informed, adaptive decision-making. During project start up, the project team details the processes and develops the forms that comprise the MEAL system and organizes the information and templates in the MEAL operating manual. A well-developed project MEAL system enables the project team to:

    • Track project changes and progress against targets
    • Assess outcomes of project interventions, including those that were not anticipated
    • Collect and respond to community feedback
    • Generate project learning with a clear purpose
    • Communicate to stakeholders about project progress, impact and learning
    • Make informed management decisions, including adaptations to project plans.
  • Who

    • Primary responsible: MEAL coordinator and project manager or chief of party (PM/CoP)
      • The MEAL coordinator leads the process to develop the MEAL system (and oversees MEAL system rollout and implementation).
      • The PM/CoP schedules MEAL system development events, supports and contributes to the process, and ensures follow-up to finalize the MEAL system.

    Participation of supply chain management staff in MEAL system development: In projects that include distribution of project goods to participants, supply chain management staff are often key agents of data collection at the last mile (e.g. at service delivery points). Additionally, data collected at distribution sites can help to inform indicators included in the project’s MEAL system. It’s therefore important to include supply chain management staff in MEAL system development, to consider their role in data collection, analysis, and use.

  • How

    All aspects of implementation of this key action are guided by CRS MEAL procedure 1.3 and associated good practice.MEAL Good Practice 1.c: Hold SMILER+ workshops with key project staff, including partners, to ensure the MEAL system reflects a range of stakeholder information needs.

    The SMILER+ Guide provideS general guidance and facilitation materials to develop a comprehensive project MEAL system including monitoring, accountability, learning, ICT4D, data visualization, and responsible data management.

    1. The PM/CoP with the MEAL coordinator and project team uses the guidance for Standard 7, key action 1 to update and validate the guiding MEAL documents drafted in project design. These include, at a minimum, the project theory of change, results framework, Proframe or logframe, and MEAL budget (or donor equivalents).
      • Be sure the performance management plan (PMP), including all indicator definitions, has been finalized prior to MEAL system development and the SMILER+ workshop.
    2. The PM/CoP and MEAL coordinator review MEAL Policy 1, Procedure 3 and associated guidance on the MEAL policies and procedures site (e.g., good practices, tools and templates) to understand the requirements and resources for developing the project the MEAL system and documenting the system in the MEAL operating manual.
    3. The PM/CoP and MEAL coordinator confirm the dates and participants for the SMILER+ workshop to develop the project MEAL system.
      • Decide on the number and type of participants for the workshop/meeting.
      • Choose a facilitator: The facilitator may be the MEAL coordinator, another staff member, or a facilitator external to the project or country program team.
    4. The facilitator meets with the PM/CoP and MEAL coordinator to review MEAL issues, confirm workshop objectives and outputs, discuss content and duration for individual workshop sessions. Following these meetings, the facilitator prepares a project-specific SMILER+ workshop agenda and facilitation guide.

    MEAL for influence: As you prepare for MEAL system development, keep in mind the idea of “MEAL for influence”, which seeks to expand the reach of project impacts by engaging strategic stakeholders. When developing the project learning and stakeholder communication plan, build in time to identify ways to use project data and learning to influence key stakeholdersBring the project-specific donor engagement plan (see Standard 10, key action 4) into these reflections  interested in the issues the project is addressing. See Standard 11, key action 1 for additional ideas on project learning and sharing.

    1. The facilitator manages the SMILER+ workshop sessions to deliver the outputs.
    2. Following the SMILER+ workshop, the MEAL coordinator and PM/CoP coordinate to finalize the workshop outputs (e.g. field testing data collection forms and other tools, digitizing tools if appropriate, refining templates for data visualization, etc.).
    3. During or after the MEAL system development workshop or meeting, the project team updates the project DIP to incorporate key activities related to establishing, using, and updating the project MEAL system.
  • Partnership
    • Partner contributions to and understanding of the MEAL system are particularly important given partners’ central role in project MEAL. Partner staff and volunteers typically collect field-level data and are at the forefront of the Feedback and Response Mechanism process. Partners are also key stakeholders in activities around project data interpretation and use and project learning. Finally, since partners are responsible for quarterly and annual reports, their staff need to understand the processes, formats, and expectations related to report preparation.
    • Partners can bring an important perspective, grounded in operating realities, on challenges and limitations to data collection within the wider MEAL system. Partner staff participation in project MEAL system development should build on partners’ involvement in MEAL discussions and decisions during project design, and continue through their active engagement in data interpretation and use for project decision-making and adaptation throughout implementation (see Standard 11, key actions 3 and 4). 
    • Partner engagement in developing the MEAL system may be an opportunity for on-the-job MEAL capacity strengthening. When working with less-experienced partners, plan how to maximize this opportunity for on-the-job learning.
    • Work with partners to develop and implement a plan to orient partner staff who did not participate in the SMILER+ workshop to the project MEAL system. This should include training staff on MEAL roles and responsibilities as well as data collection and analysis processes and tools.
  • When CRS is a sub-recipient
    • The prime leads development of the project MEAL system, which may differ from CRS’ SMILER+ process; CRS participates in the prime’s process, along with any other sub-recipients.  
    • CRS ensures the development of a complete MEAL operating manual for CRS and partner-level project MEAL. Although this MEAL system may be more extensive than required by the prime, focus only on the components of the project for which CRS and partners are responsible.
    • Refer to MEAL Policy 3 on Evaluation to determine how evaluation requirements and associated planning vary when CRS is a sub-recipient.
  • Emergency projects