The BalanceD-MERL consortium under the U.S. Global Development Lab’s Monitoring, Evaluation, Research, and Learning Innovations (MERLIN) program consists of World Vision (Prime), Innovations for Poverty Action, Institute for Development Impact, Search for Common Ground, and the William Davidson Institute at the University of Michigan. More information on the BalanceD-MERL approach, including case studies of two pilot projects leveraging this approach, can be found here. USAID and the private sector engage in multiple ways. The goal of this document is to help companies (or private sector partners) to generate value and meet the objectives of their partnership with USAID.
Asking the right questions is a key part of this process. This document presents nine questions that companies can ask during their partnership with USAID (Figure 1). Action-oriented guidance is also provided to help companies connect each question back to the overall program management strategy for their engagement. Although this document centers on the private sector, other non-profit or public-sector partners can apply it to their work with USAID as well.Although each company’s collaboration with USAID is unique, these questions focus on one thing they all have in common: how companies ensure good program management that is responsive to data. Good program management integrates program design (D) and implementation with their monitoring, evaluation, research, and learning (MERL) activities to achieve partnership objectives. Taken together, these activities are referred to as D-MERL.
Using the lens of D-MERL is important because program design and implementation should not be thought of as separate from the program’s MERL activities. These are iterative processes that are deeply interconnected. Building MERL into program design is an investment in partnership success, agility, risk mitigation, and the exploration of new market opportunities that can have lasting impact for targeted communities. It also helps inform accountability to USAID and other partners.
The questions provided in this document are strongly informed by lessons learned during a 15-month technical assistance pilot with a USAID Global Development Alliance. During this pilot, the BalanceD-MERL consortium served as D-MERL technical experts to support a private sector partner– the awardee and implementer– in their first engagement with USAID. This list of questions is also supported by data gathered from a review of relevant literature, interviews with USAID Private Sector Engagement (PSE) experts, and interviews with the private sector partner from the pilot. These additional data sources reinforced findings from the pilot and included takeaways that apply to a wider set of USAID’s private sector collaborations.