Bridging the Gap in the MEL Framework with an Implementation Phase
Ali Jutha, Cornell Johnson MBA Candidate ’25 in collaboration with Oceaneast Associates
Oceaneast Associates provides management consulting and IT services to federal agency clients.
Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning (MEL) is a foundational project management approach, but the framework significantly benefits from an added component that encourages impact: direct action after learning is acquired. Including a fourth phase, Implementation, enriches the framework with a more circular feel by ensuring that the process of translating insights into tangible actions starts as soon as projects close. By addressing implementation concerns immediately, Oceaneast has found that organizations can better position themselves to make an impact and drive adoption of their approach.
While the MEL framework offers some circularity by consolidating lessons in the Learning phase, adding an Implementation phase focused on executing these lessons introduces an urgency that’s often absent. This is especially important when considering the ever-changing dynamics of industries and markets where the conditions driving lessons may be temporary. Immediate consideration of implementation – even if it isn’t executed right away – ensures timely action and an opportunity for planning, ultimately minimizing the risk of missing out on key opportunities by waiting until the next project cycle. Early planning sets the stage for favorable conditions, making it more likely that lessons are effectively applied.
Oceaneast recently worked on a project that illustrates how to build a comprehensive Implementation phase when expanding the traditional MEL model. Having identified enhanced data clarity as a need in the Learning phase, the project worked to centralize IT procurement data analytics for the GSA (General Services Administration) across multiple federal stakeholders responsible for diverse IT markets. Gaining stakeholder adoption means starting with consultation and developing a better understanding of the related business processes. While data inputs were being cultivated on an as-needed basis, our team developed a comprehensive implementation plan including developing a data resource (consolidating disparate sources into a federal repository) and ensuring user accessibility (via automated reporting platforms). By considering implementation early, Oceaneast was able to identify an impending need for enhanced resources to prepare the organization for its downstream analytical needs. Working closely with stakeholders through this process helped to confirm our solution would deliver analytics from party to party at the times each would need the information – encouraging integration of the solution into recurring business practices. Beyond helping our solution fit procedurally, the process fostered technical integration by providing a clear mapping of the organization’s technical capabilities and landscape. With knowledge of the broader ecosystem in which our solution would exist, the solution design was tailored to ensure seamless integration of our outputs into existing systems and adjacent initiatives. Integration is necessary in a human capacity as well and our client gained buy-in from the user base by prioritizing organizational needs identified during stakeholder consultation, such as real-time analytics and universal metrics. By demonstrating these capabilities during the development phase and utilizing a robust user on-ramp process, Oceaneast was able to cultivate interest and awareness of the products. Beyond building excitement for the solution, this approach allows for the solution to scale since it provides an opportunity for adjacent groups to plan accordingly themselves, bolstered by the development of advocates within various groups. Furthermore, it trains the eventual user base, giving them detailed knowledge of product capabilities ahead of roll-out, so that users attain the maximum utility from solutions as soon as they start using them. By utilizing this type of implementation process, which builds on itself as it goes, our client was able to drive long-term adoption of its solutions and centralize the entire organization around its mission.
The traditional MEL framework, while robust, stands to gain significantly from the inclusion of an Implementation phase. This essential addition means that the valuable insights garnered from Monitoring, Evaluating, and Learning are not left dormant but are immediately transformed into actionable steps, regardless of when they’re to be taken. The Oceaneast project exemplifies the adjacent benefits of this holistic approach which achieves implementation through five phases where solutions are tailored in ways that encourage organization-wide adoption. It’s not just about gathering data and insights; it’s about operationalizing them to create lasting, impactful change. As industries continue to shift at a rapid pace, the circular approach to MEL, with its emphasis on immediate implementation, is not just advantageous but imperative for sustained organizational success.