Every summer, MIT D-Lab engages a cohort of graduate students to serve as Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning Fellows. These MEL Fellows spend two to three months honing their evaluation skills, developing deep relationships with D-Lab partners, and contributing insights to D-Lab’s MEL team. This summer, we’re excited to welcome three new MEL Fellows, who will each conduct a remote evaluation of a D-Lab program.
Khanh Vu is working with the D-Lab Humanitarian Innovation team to evaluate its work with unaccompanied refugee minors and women in Greece. In particular, she will be designing and piloting ways to measure the psychosocial impacts of design education. Samantha Jorgensen is working with the D-Lab Education team to evaluate student collaborations with long-time partner TEWDI Uganda in order to develop a D-Lab-wide framework to assess the value of class projects. Julio Martinez will be leading the effort to assess the outcomes of the redesigned D-Lab Scale-Ups Fellowship, including the fall 2019 Tackling Challenges to Scale Co-Design Summit.
Khanh and Julio are current students in the MPA in Development Practice program at Columbia University’s School for International and Public Affairs. Samantha is a student in the Master of Global Policy Studies program at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin.
I asked each of them to share their reflections on the summer ahead; here is what they said!
1. What are you most looking forward to learning and exploring this summer?
Khanh: As someone whose personal interest and passion lie at the intersection of innovation and mental health and psychosocial work in humanitarian settings, I am indeed excited to be working with the D-Lab’s Humanitarian Innovation team. This summer, I am most looking forward to exploring the psychosocial impact of the Creative Capacity Building framework on refugee youth and women. I am also intrigued to explore our adaptability and creativity to work together and support each other as a team through a virtual workforce this summer.
Samantha: I think I am most looking forward to exploring the various ways to evaluate experiential learning courses. It is not an area of evaluation I have worked in before and I am looking forward to further exploring it. Overall, I am excited to learn and explore what makes an experiential learning course successful for both students and partners. I think this information could prove to be very useful for MIT, as well as other universities who may be interested in providing similar courses.
Julio: I'm really interested in the topic of how to best support social activists and entrepreneurs to become more effective. So, I´m very much looking forward to getting to know the Scale-Ups Fellows, learn all about their ventures and how they´re responding to their individual challenges, and of course, learning from them about what has been most useful from the program in supporting their journey.
2. Why does evaluation matter to you? What about it do you find most interesting or valuable?
Khanh: Evaluation matters to me because it is a reflective practice that I believe is rooted in honesty, judgment, and curiosity, and it is a learning experience that is crucial not only in our work but in our daily life. To me, evaluation means we periodically stop, examine how our work is contributing to making impactful changes in the world, assessing the possibility to improve the way we do things to be the most effective and efficient, or it is time for us to be honest with ourselves, to analyze and assess whether we have appropriately identified the problems and if we are even solving these problems the right way. What I find most interesting and valuable about evaluation is that it is a process that gives every stakeholder a voice to tell the story of their involvement, a time for everyone to take a moment and learn from the experience and to come together to celebrate, accept the flaws, challenge each other’s assumptions, to continue to redefine, iterate, to listen, and to dream. It is like a reflective team-building activity!
Samantha: Evaluation matters to me because I think learning is so essential, especially when the goal of your work is to improve and impact people's lives. I think evaluation is a great way for people to critically think about what their goals are and I think it also helps people challenge and validate their assumptions. When done well, I think evaluation provides organizations and teams with valuable learning and reflection that they can then use to improve and strengthen their programming.
Julio: I have more experience in project management than I do in MEL, and through that experience, I’ve learned that being able to identify what’s most valuable (and least) about our work in social projects is tremendously important. It allows us to deliver even more to the people that we’re serving while doing the essential job of keeping everyone associated with the project motivated. This is especially important during the most challenging periods. I think that evaluation also ensures that the real value of the work doesn’t go understated, which I think can happen if there is too much focus on just reporting outputs.
3. If you could design and build anything, what would it be?
Khanh: I would like to build a technology that gives people instant information about an object or living thing under the form of a hologram frame. For example, all objects would have a tiny button attached to them. When people click the button, a hologram filled with information of the object would pop up so people can learn right there and then about its history, inventor, usage instructions, news about the object, etc. For living things such as a tree or an animal, since we can’t attach anything to them (or rather we must not attach anything to them), the technology will be adapted into a form of a laser pointer pen. Users can use this “pen” to point at any living thing (animals, trees, plants, etc) and an information hologram frame would pop up, sharing with them every information we have about these living things. In both scenarios, the users will have the ability to interact with and scroll through the hologram frames to gather more information about the living things and objects.
Samantha: If I could design and build anything it would be a cheap, easy, and accessible way to purify water so that more people around the world had access to clean drinking water.
Julio: I think that increasing the ease with which regular citizens interact with local government is important and isn’t addressed enough. I would design and build an application through which citizens in Central American countries (for instance) are able to communicate easily with their local officials on services or to propose projects, thereby increasing civic participation and the quality of public projects.