Feminist Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning: What Does it Look Like in Practice?

September 13, 2021

Power. Intersectionality. Multiple ways of knowing. Information is political. People must speak for themselves. Understanding institutions and systems. Participation. Humility. Who sets the agenda?

These are all issues that come up in discussions of feminist monitoring, evaluation, and learning (MEL).

At the Equality Fund, we are committed to applying a feminist lens to our own MEL processes. We want to understand (and report) on how our work is contributing to change. We want to know what’s working and what’s not, so we can adjust and improve. We want to centre the voices of those living at the edges of change, shifting power and disrupting colonial north-south patterns. We want to be able to tell our story and the stories of those working alongside us.

The Equality Fund is in the second year of a five year ‘design and build’ phase, actively testing and designing monitoring, evaluation, accountability, and learning structures. Over the past year and a half, we have been eager to bring the latest and best thinking on feminist MEL to our own practice and procedures. We found interesting reflections on what feminist MEL could and should look like, but few examples of ‘what does this look like when you actually do it’. 

For example:

  • Who – right now – is working with feminist evaluation methodologies?  
  • What does this look like in practice? What are they learning? What is challenging? What can we build on? 
  • Are there examples of feminist MEL (even if they don’t use this word) in the investment and philanthropy worlds?

We engaged the Evaluation for Development team at Genesis Analytics to help us answer these questions.  We asked them to map out and survey leading edge examples of feminist MEL. Their team of Alyna Wyatt, Donna Podems, Monet Durieux, and Kirra Evans took this on with energy and enthusiasm. They encountered interest across the communities and practitioners they talked to. Given this hunger to share and learn from each other, we’ve decided to make the results of their research public: Feminist Approaches to Monitoring, Evaluation, & Learning: Overview of Current Practices.

The report provides an overview of the study process, advances the discussion of what is feminist MEL, offers an initial framework for enabling and implementing feminist approaches to MEL, and ends with case studies of 11 different practical examples.

Our key takeaways from the study include:

  • Despite recent explorations and discussions of feminist MEL, there is no consistent, decisive definition.  The Genesis Analytics team found many common themes (“intentionality, addressing power dynamics, capacity-building, elevating the voices of those more vulnerable, inclusivity, and participation”) but no common definition.
  • The reports notes that the current literature asserts that there are no specific feminist methodologies, processes or tools.  It argues that “how data are collected or how a tool is implemented, how the data findings are engaged with, and how one uses the findings are what make it feminist.” For example, a survey can be implemented so that it is feminist, but a survey is not inherently a feminist MEL tool. 
  • There are organizational practices that facilitate the adoption of feminist MEL, namely support from leadership, clear MEL objectives that are supported by policies and resources, naming of the power inequalities inherent in the system, flexibility, and patience (recognizing the importance of gradual progress).
  • MEL “feminist intent” can be supported by a number of factors: active engagement of partner institutions/organizations (including in the data analysis and sensemaking), naming and working to shift power dynamics, respecting the time of all those involved in the process, valuing local and contextual knowledge, and clarifying data ownership.  

For us, a highlight of the report is the descriptions of 11 case examples. These case studies provide analytical overviews of how organizations are putting feminist MEL principles into practice in various ways.  They describe what’s being done, the links to feminist approaches to MEL, advantages and challenges. Readers are encouraged to consult links or get in touch with the organization for more information. We are particularly grateful to these organizations and leaders, some of which do not self-identify as feminist, who were willing to support our research in recognition that MEL methodologies and tools can be used in a variety of ways. 

The examples range from methodologies like outcome harvesting (as used by Women in Informal Employment: Globalising and Organizing/WIEGO) to innovative reporting requirements (as practiced by Comic Relief), to new analytics capabilities like SenseMaker, to initiatives to build grantee capacity for MEL and strategic reflection (as practiced by our close partner the African Women’s Development Fund/AWDF). 

We are very grateful for the work of the Genesis Analytics team for this research. Their enthusiasm was evident in our discussions and can be seen in the report. They followed leads and pulled together insights from a diverse range of organizations and experiences. We also thank all the people who spent time in interviews and took the time to reflect on their own experiences, as well as providing documents and links. We very much appreciate this community and the collective dedication to learning and building new ways of working.

What’s next for us at the Equality Fund?  We’re learning from these insights as we construct our own MEL processes. We’re also wrestling with many of the implicit questions and challenges of the report.  How do we build participatory approaches while at the same time respect the time, energy and priorities of our grantee partners?  We know that funding and resources play a huge role here, of course.  How can we best centre local knowledge and context, while also rolling up insights and data to tell complex and overall narratives? How do we bring our funders along on this exploration of what feminist MEL can mean and why it’s important?

We are very aware that building MEL structures consistent with our commitment to feminist praxis and values is a challenge. Especially in the current context where gender justice organizations and feminist movements face numerous challenges: closing spaces for dissent, COVID-19, armed conflict, environmental catastrophe, low levels of resourcing, to name only a few. Yet it is a challenge that we welcome, as we know that it is central to building the world we all want to live in. We are also encouraged by the growing community of practitioners engaged in feminist MEL.  We’re keen to continue to work alongside our colleagues in the MEL community of practice of women’s funds (Prospera). With these companions, the journey will be easier and richer.

To connect with colleagues at the Equality Fund who further engage in feminist MEL conversations, please contact: 

Susan Snider, Director of Strategy, Innovation and Impact

Beth Woroniuk, Policy Lead

 

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