About this project
Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (MEL) is vital in primary prevention work, providing practitioners with the evidence they need to understand what works, for whom, and why. Strong MEL processes enable community voices to be heard, support improvement of programs and initiatives, and ultimately create better outcomes for communities.
It is therefore important to ask: How can MEL capacity most effectively be strengthened within the primary prevention system? In 2021-22, Lirata and HealthWest Partnership worked together to answer this question with a focus on Melbourne’s west.
HealthWest’s work on building evaluation capacity
HealthWest recognised the need to support effective MEL within the primary prevention sector. During 2019-21, HealthWest led a project which sought to assess and strengthen MEL capacity in Melbourne’s west. The project was guided by the Western Region Primary Prevention Taskforce and delivered in collaboration with Department of Health and consultants Cultivating Change.
HealthWest’s project involved three phases over 18 months:
- The development and implementation of an Evaluation Capacity Health Check tool
- Consideration of a regional Evaluation Capacity Building Plan
- Piloting of Workforce Evaluation Capacity Building activities
Following this evaluation capacity building process, HealthWest initiated a Learning Enquiry to gather and share insights connected with the project. The Learning Enquiry investigated the success of HealthWest’s evaluation capacity building activities, and explored the broader context within which this work took place. The Enquiry identified blockages and opportunities for consideration by stakeholders in order to further develop primary prevention evaluation capacity.
Lirata led the Learning Enquiry process and worked closely with HealthWest to implement the Enquiry and to develop findings. Key aspects of the methodology included systems mapping, focus groups, interviews, and a survey. The process gathered perspectives and insights from staff of HealthWest and Cultivating Change, state and local governments, peak bodies, community health providers and women’s health organisations.
The Learning Enquiry findings are presented in the final report, available for download below. Key points include:
- Many prevention organisations and practitioners have some capacity to conduct MEL, and in many cases are undertaking substantial activities. However, there is a need to increase the level of meaningful MEL presently occurring within the primary prevention system. The Department of Health, VicHealth, and evaluation capacity builders have important roles to play in this work alongside other sector partners.
- In primary prevention there is a particular need to strengthen the focus on evaluation and learning. The communities served by primary prevention activities are diverse, and outcomes for different groups are still not understood well enough. Gathering and sharing evidence through evaluation can support greater collective effort and enhance the ability of the primary prevention system to achieve its intended impacts.
- MEL capacity building involves work at three main levels: system, organisation, and practitioner. Capacity built at each of these three levels supports increased activity and capacity at the other levels. While there have been some successes within primary prevention in building MEL capacity at practitioner and organisational levels, there are gaps in well-designed and effectively coordinated MEL capacity building at the systems level. Agencies with system stewardship and planning roles have key roles to play in enabling system level changes that support effective MEL.
- Specialist evaluation capacity builders provide vital skills, knowledge and experience which can support organisations working in primary prevention to undertake fit-for-purpose MEL. Evaluation capacity builders can bring organisations and practitioners together to build skills, undertake collaborative learning and share their experiences to further evidence-based practice. It is important that the MEL expertise and experience built up by Primary Care Partnerships is not lost in structural changes to the primary prevention system.
The Learning Enquiry has drawn on the experience and perspectives of diverse stakeholders in Melbourne’s west to develop new insights into MEL capacity building. The report offers tangible recommendations for the ongoing process of evaluation capacity building in the primary prevention space. Strengthening MEL capacity at systems level will help to support meaningful MEL across programs and organisations.
The primary prevention sector has many strengths, including a commitment to evidence-based practice and a robust collaborative spirit that provide a great starting point for effective MEL. Consistent evaluation capacity building will enable ongoing improvement of primary prevention work, which will ultimately support better outcomes for communities across Victoria.