ORS Impact News

The ORS Impact team has earned a global reputation for leadership, insight and innovation. We work collaboratively with our clients, bringing our distinctive expertise in planning, measurement and evaluation to their most vexing challenges.

MLE Lab Check-In: Strengthening Organizational Practice

ORS Impact’s fifth annual MLE Lab kicks off September 24-26 in Atlanta with a two-and-a-half-day in-person retreat for teams from organizations that want to build their commitment to measurement, learning, and evaluation. But that opening in-person retreat is only the beginning of the MLE Lab experience. Over the next six months, teams work with our expert coaches to strengthen their MLE practice – using the toolkit and other resources introduced at the retreat to build ownership and facilitate learning and culture change within their organizations.

On April 30, we held a final virtual check-in with last year’s participants. As they shared their experiences over the past six months, we were reminded of the value of the tools shared during the retreat and the power of peer learning. Here are a few of the insights they shared.

Including Others in the Process

For every team, the success of their MLE practice hinged on building support and participation from stakeholders within and sometimes beyond their organizations.

These stakeholders ranged from program staff to boards to key partners. Participants reported that the tools, facilitation techniques, and frameworks from the retreat had expanded their thinking and their appetite for innovation around how to build ownership and enthusiasm.

For example, one team organized a day-long “Impact Palooza” event, which included a DJ and a brown-bag lunch. Senior program staff gave 10-minute presentations about the work they were leading, followed by Q&A sessions, accompanied by an afternoon session to preview the next phases of MLE work. Staff who participated felt that they’d gotten the information in a fun and digestible format and had a meaningful opportunity to contribute to the effort.

Other teams noted the importance of maintaining flexibility in process design to allow time to educate stakeholders and build the capacity of partners along the way.

Navigating Through the Process

Many organizations going through a change process reach what is sometimes called the “Groan Zone” – a point where people feel confused and stuck. Things feel all over the map, and people may feel lost in the process. Several of last year’s teams related to this and shared strategies for getting unstuck. “We need to realize that not everybody immediately thinks the way a logic model works and leave room within our MLE practice for different ways to approach a challenge or problem,” said one participant.

“Sometimes people need different entry points and different processes” for MLE work to be accessible.

Another team reported that frequent interaction with the board, allowing limited time for staff presentations and extended time for board members’ questions, had eventually led to a breakthrough in the board’s understanding of what it means to work toward systems change and how to measure progress.

Building MLE “Muscles”

Five years ago, we started MLE Lab because we wanted organizations to have the benefit of what we’ve learned over many years of doing this work – that a commitment to MLE requires more than a plan. Many organizations begin MLE Lab believing that success means having a pretty plan with a staple in the corner. We’ve learned that organizations can arrive at a plan that never gets any uptake or sees implementation. That is why the MLE Lab is designed to help organizations strengthen their overall practice.

Our goal is for teams to have the tools they need to create an organizational culture in which MLE becomes an integral part of everyone’s work, rather than a technical exercise owned by a few people.

After listening to the 2018 MLE Lab alumni, the ORS Impact team left the call inspired by their commitment and creativity, confident that they were making progress building their MLE muscles by embedding MLE into the regular work of their organizations.

Does your organization need to build its MLE “muscle?” If so, consider joining us for the 2019 MLE Lab in Atlanta September 24-26. Write us at MLELab@orsimpact.com or call (206) 728-0474 x 221. A team member will promptly contact you to answer your questions and discuss whether MLE Lab is good fit for your organization. 

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