MEL Training in Johannesburg
Skateistan has been working with Dr Megan Chawansky (University of Kentucky, USA) and Associate Professor Holly Thorpe (University of Waikato, NZ) to develop innovative Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (MEL) approaches for their programmes. In July, 2015, Dr Megan Chawansky and Nida Ahmad travelled to Johannesburg to run a 10 day training programme with the Skateistan staff. Read about the MEL training here.
MEL Training in Johannesburg
By Nida Ahmad, Megan Chawansky and Holly Thorpe
In early July Dr. Megan Chawansky and Nida Ahmad travelled to the Johannesburg, South Africa for ten days to kick off a Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning Training (MEL) with Skateistan. Like many SfD organizations, Skateistan is interested in documenting their impact and also in organizational learning. They want to strengthen their projects, identify any shortcomings, and help to translate good practice to others working in the sector. Additionally, they wanted to establish an MEL system that aligned with the strength and capacities of their staff and allowed them to—where possible—embed MEL into their existing programming and approaches. Always innovating, Skateistan was willing and interested in gaining more knowledge on qualitative MEL methods to compliment their existing quantitative MEL methods.
The training came to fruition from Dr. Holly Thorpe’s research collaboration with Skatesitan’s on their pivotal role in the Action Sports for Development community. The training was also a culmination of Dr. Megan Chawansky’s support of Skateistan’s Performance Management Plan. Holly and Megan had been planning the MEL training with Skateistan for many months, but when Holly was unable to attend due to illness, her newly arrived PhD student (from the USA) Nida Ahmad was thankfully willing and able to join the team. Nida completed her Masters at Georgetown University and is now working with Dr Thorpe in New Zealand. Nida’s long-standing study of ASDP and Skateistan in particular allowed her to work with Holly and Megan to develop a training curriculum that was informative and aligned with the organization’s mandate. Nida made a wonderful and very welcomed contribution to the MEL team!
The aim of the MEL training was to equip the staff of Skateistan Johannesburg with the working knowledge of creating and implementing an MEL plan. Holly and Megan were particularly keen to develop a training programme that would help to break down power hierarchies between international ‘experts’ on MEL and local staff. They designed a programme that they hoped would empower the local staff to bring their own knowledge and expertise to the dialogue. The training sessions were organized with lots of time for conversation and with spaces for the staff to discuss their past, present and anticipated struggles and strategies of MEL in the local context.
The training exposed the staff to a variety of methods and discussed the strengths and challenges associated with each approach. The topics included interviews, focus groups, observations, case studies, child-centered methods, curriculum based methods, life history approach, creative methods and analysis. The training days consisted of morning ‘active learning’ sessions which provided an overview of the topic of the day. During the afternoon sessions the staff piloted their newly learned method(s) in the field. Some challenges the team faced were working within the already established “concepts/variables” which needed to be refined to fit the various methods. Another issue was working with the limited time allocated for the training since certain MEL methods required further clarification or additional training (case studies, tailoring focus group questions to be “kid” friendly). Lastly, trying to identity the most appropriate method for their programs, as one staff member noted “we are trying to refine and make it simpler for ourselves, and just the application of that. That is going to be the challenge. But I foresee it getting much better as time goes on, with more trial and error, trying to fit and see what’s working or what’s not.”
At the end of the training, staff reported feeling more confident of their abilities in MEL as one participant stated “I think it is just equipping us with more skills to order all this chaos, which can easily just come up, and things begin to play out and communication lines look really clear. So, I think, just giving something very precise and cohesive, and it has got much more of a solid direction. It’s much more clear.” They also could identify ways to integrate MEL practices into their existing teaching and skateboarding sessions “I feel like with the M&E training it sort of like made us easier and understand how to connect those scenarios to actually do something at the park, and put it on paper and prove this to you.” In this way, the aim of presenting ideas for the creation of an accessible, internal MEL system were achieved. The MEL training team continue to follow-up and support Skateistan staff with the creation and implementation of a system that allows them to continually grow as an organization.
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