MERI and Reporting
MERI: Monitoring, Evaluation, Reporting and Improvement
What is MERI?
MERI stands for Monitoring, Evaluation, Reporting and Improvement. It is a process for:
- checking to see if your project is on track
- deciding whether your project has met its goals
- examining what actual difference your project has made
- telling people about your success, and
- thinking about what could be done better next time around.
Why do I need to know about it?
In funding applications you are often asked how you will monitor and evaluate your project. You may need to explain how you will keep track of your project's progress, and provide evidence that you did what you were funded to do. The funding provider will want to know that your project made a difference or caused a positive change.
If you are applying for Caring for our Country funding from the Australian Government, you may be asked to submit a Program Logic. If your funding is more than $80,000, you will also need to do a MERI Plan. To complete these, you need to understand the basics of MERI. But don’t be daunted – MERI can be very simple; it depends on the size and complexity of the project.
Even if you are not required to do these things by your funding contract, MERI is still an excellent tool for your group to ensure you get the most out of your project, to improve future projects and to really make a difference.
How do I include MERI in my project?
See box at right for some examples of how to include MERI in your project.
When planning your project, think about:
- what information you will need to demonstrate the success of your project;
- how and when you will collect that information; and
- who needs to be informed about your project's success, and how and when you will tell them.
Some people find the following an easy way to think about MERI:
- Monitoring is collecting data on how your project is progressing - 'What's So'.
- Evaluation & Reporting is examining whether your project met its goals and what difference it has made, and then telling people about it - 'So What?'
- Improvement means what lessons did we learn to help with future projects - 'What Now?'
Some Caring for our Country projects will require you to complete a Program Logic. This will be made clear in your funding contract.
Program Logic is a diagram that shows how your project is going to meet short-term goals (e.g. weeds removed) and long-term goals (e.g. more native vegetation). The diagram links these goals to an overall vision or mission statement (e.g. A healthy environment that can look after itself). The diagram also shows the planning and preparation activities that need to be done before you can start your project.
A Program Logic is a great planning tool that can help your group focus on what you really want to achieve from your project in the long-term. It can help everyone reach a common understanding about your goals and purpose. Even if you are not required to do one as part of your funding contract, you can still get good value out of doing a Program Logic diagram with your group. You could even include partners outside your group.
Where can I get help?
NQ Dry Tropics has Project Officers and a Monitoring & Evaluation Coordinator who can help you with queries about MERI and Program Logic. Please contact NQ Dry Tropics or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other resources include the Australian Government's MERI Toolkit and the Caring for our Country MERI Strategy.
Tips for Reporting
If your group has delivered on-ground works and awareness-raising activities in the past, then you will already be familiar with reporting on project achievements to funding bodies. Reporting has traditionally involved describing what the group did, and explaining any changes to the original plan (e.g. delays and extensions).
While this style of reporting is still very relevant, it is no longer enough just to say "this is what we did". What we really need to know is why it was important to do it, and what happened as a result (addressing the “so what?” question). There is now more of a focus on good monitoring and evaluation of projects, to ensure we get the best value from projects, and so that lessons learned are captured and shared to improve future projects.
You can use your report to draw the funding body's attention to work that still needs to be done in your area, and where future funds would be best directed.
All funding bodies will have different requirements for reporting. Below are some of the common issues that come up, with tips to make your reporting as painless as possible:
These are the "products and services" that resulted directly from your project activities. Examples include:
- area of ground weeded
- number of trees planted
- length of fencing installed
- number of volunteers involved
- number of clean-up days held
- number of media releases, news articles produced.
These achievements should match the milestones in your funding contract, e.g. if you were funded to reduce weeds over 3 hectares, then you should report on the number of hectares you weeded. If you have followed the Monitoring part of MERI, you will be collecting this information as you go during your project, which will save you having to run around at the last minute trying to gather the information for your report!
Some funding bodies may ask you to report specific information, e.g. number of Indigenous people involved, number of young people involved, etc. Sometimes you will get a heads-up about this in your funding contract, but not always.
The So What? question
Your report should include a few lines on why your project activities were important, and what difference your project has made to the environment. In other words, what's the bigger picture here, and where does your project fit in? An example might be if your group has received funding to remove weeds from a coastal area. Your project's immediate achievement was to remove weeds from 3ha, but you now need to explain why this important, e.g. The removal of these weeds will allow native vegetation to regrow in the area, which will attract wildlife and stabilise the dunes. This will lead to a more stable beach environment, improved populations of native wildlife and better recreation opportunities for people. If there are particular plant or animal species that will benefit from your project, include this information in your report. If you have done a Program Logic, this section will be much easier to write.
Photos and maps
Before and after photos are an easy and effective way to show how your project has made a difference. Other photos you could include:
- on-ground works in progress
- people at clean-up days and community events
- plant and/or animal species that will benefit from your project.
Maps are useful for the funding body to see where your effort has been focused. You can hand-draw a map, or create maps in Google Earth for free. Instructional videos are available at our NQ Dry Tropics Youtube Channel: Google Earth Basics and Building Better Balloons in Google Earth.
Be prepared to include the names of any other organisations that worked with you during the project, and explain how they were involved. If your project helped you build better relationships, or put you in touch with new people that you hadn't worked with before, definitely make a big deal out of this in your report. It shows that your group knows how to build good networks and share resources to get the job done.
Discuss any problems you came across such as weather events, difficulty getting approvals, etc. Where possible, say what you did to address the problem.
Lessons learned and unexpected issues
A lesson learned is different to a challenge. A challenge is the problem you faced, e.g. our on-ground works were delayed because the local business that was going to lend us the tools went back on their promise and wouldn't lend them to us after all. The lesson learned could be that in future, we will get agreements like this in writing.
Also report on any unexpected results from your project, either good or bad. For example, you might find that you unexpectedly saved money on your project, because local businesses gave you venue hire, labour etc for free. Or you might find that while you were building a structure, wildlife kept getting stuck in it so you had to change your design halfway through.
Improvements and opportunities
These are the changes you made to your project as a result of lessons learned, or because of unexpected issues that came up during the project. This is a good place to talk about similar projects that your group could do in future, to continue the good work done in this project. Use your report to draw attention to the work that is still to do in this area, and where future funds would be best directed.
Submitting your report
- The due date for your report will be in your funding contract.
- The funding body should provide you with a template for the report and a contact person to submit it to.
- Don't forget to attach extra items such as photos, maps or a separate financial report (if required).
- You may be asked to nominate a contact person from your group, in case the funding body has any questions about your report. This should be someone from your group who is easily contactable in business hours, or at least has email that they can check and respond to after hours.
- Always keep a copy of your report for your records.