If someone a year ago or even as little as 6 months ago, told me I was going to take up a position as an Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (MEL) officer, I would have never believed them. This is because I pictured MEL officers as stiff, stringent men in suits, whose responsibility was to peer through hundreds of documents, looking for shortcomings and making judgemental recommendations which most of the time are neither grounded in context nor reality. This image I had conjured up of MEL officers and the work that they do, is nothing at all like me and it did not sound like a career I would enjoy.
And yet here I was as the newly appointed MEL officer for The Public Service Accountability Monitor’s (PSAM) Regional Learning Programme (RLP). You might be wondering then why I took up the position given my misgivings. Well the PSAM is like a second home to me. My career in Social Accountability Monitoring (SAM) began and developed at the PSAM. Even though I left the organization to pursue other opportunities, I still made sure that my work consisted of applying social accountability monitoring in some shape or form.
During the several years I worked at PSAM, I was privileged to witness the adoption as well as adaptation of the SAM methodology (also known as the PSAM approach) in the region. Why other organisations in the region were buying into the SAM and how it is they were applying it in the different contexts has always piqued my interest but my time at PSAM was mostly focused on applying SAM in the South African, provincial Eastern Cape context more specifically the housing sector. So when the opportunity to learn about SAM presented itself in the form of an MEL officer, I grabbed it with both hands.
I wasn’t being appointed to create more complex and confusing numerical indicators, peering through documentation in order to make misplaced recommendations but instead I would be embarking on a journey that will enable RLP and its partners to reflect, learn and uncover their limitations and adapt their approaches to implementing SAM. I would be part of a process that would enable RLP and its partners to make comparisons across contexts for lesson learning for the purposes of improving their overall strategies and social accountability practices in the region.
Further than that, I get to embark on this learning journey with two ‘critical friends’ of the PSAM who through the process of learning about RLP and its partners work in the region can better assist us to capture lessons that would lead to improving our SAM approach for effectively achieving service delivery or public policy outcomes. These critical friends are nothing like the images of MEL officers I had conjured up in my head. They turned out to be two intelligent women with colourful careers whose experiences emanate from working in different capacities as researchers, media consultants, mentors, free lancers, writers just to mention a few!
The cherry on top was that they made learning fun! My first two weeks on the job with ‘critical friends’ of PSAM was by far the best two weeks in a newly appointed and daunting position of MEL officer. They showed me how through meaningful analysis and reflection, the kind of information the learning project will uncover will empower RLP and its partners to constantly test and adapt its theory of change practices and strategies. I am happy to say I am PSAM’s RLP MEL officer mostly because I shall begin this new chapter in my career with the Learning part of MEL which means the biggest focus of my work will involve answering burning learning questions, highlighting and sharing creativity, skill, insight into contexts. This sounds a lot like me and a career I would enjoy – breaking new ground!