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RTI International Releases New Monitoring & Evaluation Framework to Improve International Development Program Implementation & Impact

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. — RTI International (RTI), a nonprofit research and international development institute, has released its Monitoring, Evaluation, Research, Learning, and Adapting (MERLA) Framework for Evidence-Based Program Improvement in an article published in the American Journal of Evaluation. The framework, which has been implemented and refined in more than 20 countries, bridges the gap between monitoring, evaluation, and research to drive sustainable improvements in international development program design and impact.

“Our framework has been instrumental in breaking down the siloes between routine Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) and research in order to improve learning, collaboration, local ownership of program outcomes, and ultimately impact,” said Rajeev Colaço, director of MERLA at RTI. “We invite the development community to apply these learnings to design and implement resilient evidence-based programs led by in-country teams.”

Since 2017, RTI has implemented, tested, and refined its MERLA framework, which integrates data-gathering methodologies with intentional Collaborating, Learning, and Adapting (CLA) approaches to translate evidence into knowledge. The framework was piloted in Guinea and the Philippines, and gradually scaled up to allow for continuous feedback from in-country stakeholders.  

This work draws upon RTI’s expertise in applied research and is the result of a concerted effort to build a culture of collaboration and learning among its project teams. This effort includes establishing an internal MERLA Community of Practice that convenes domestic and international staff across diverse sectors and projects to share best practices, hosting webinars on learning and adapting that bring together the development community, and developing a MERLA course for development professionals.

M&E has been a cornerstone of international development programs since the 1950s, and it provides valuable data to stakeholders about progress toward program objectives. The early 2000s witnessed the evolution from M&E to monitoring, evaluation, and learning (MEL), as donors, governments, and program implementors recognized that M&E was primarily being used to meet reporting requirements, rather than to generate meaningful evidence that informed programmatic effectiveness and impact.  

The MERLA framework not only seeks to generate better evidence and learning for course correction, but also prioritizes local ownership and sustainability of M&E, research, learning and program improvement.

RTI successfully applies MERLA in international development and research programs in dozens of countries globally, cutting across various technical sectors—including agriculture, natural resource management, water, environment, health, education, energy, governance, economic development, and resilience.

To learn more about RTI’s work in MERLA, click here.

To read the article in the American Journal of Evaluation, click here.