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Community Contribution

MERLIN: US Global Development Lab Evaluation and Impact Assessment

Sophia van der Bijl

The Monitoring, Evaluation, Research, and Learning Innovations activity, known as MERLIN, is an effort to source, co-create, and co-design innovations in monitoring, evaluation, research, and learning (MERL) to be tested in the USAID context. MERLIN is led by the US Global Development Lab, with support from USAID’s Bureau for Policy, Planning, and Learning.

CLA Approach

  • External Collaboration: Using a radically different approach to partnerships, USAID released a Broad Agency Announcement that was open to anyone. The announcement generated 83 expressions of interest. We invited more than 30 organizations representing a wide variety of actors, from academics to private companies and NGOs, to a MERLIN co-creation workshop in June 2015. During the workshop, representatives from these partners worked with USAID teams and other funders to develop innovative MERL concepts.
  • Resources: Following the workshop, co-design continued on several of the concepts, which were presented to a USAID peer review panel for approval. Implementation of these concepts will be a joint effort between the consortium members and USAID’s Evaluation and Impact Assessment (EIA) team.

Lessons Learned

  • Managing the first four MERLIN consortia during start-up required a much higher level of effort than we had expected. We intend to provide future consortia with templates (for example, for communicating the value and criteria for appropriate pilots) to avoid reinventing the wheel.
  • Having some partners in multiple consortia has proved useful for sharing experiences across mechanisms. The newest partner to receive an award is benefiting extensively from the experiences and lessons learned of the first four consortia.


  • MERLIN and our partners have a list of indicators that track details, such as the number of USAID operating units that contact us and are interested in buying into the program, and those that do eventually buy in.

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