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60 Seconds with…Melanie Punton

Itad's Melanie Punton gives us a quick run down on her role in the company.

What’s your job here at Itad?

I’m a cross-cutting consultant, which means I work on a range of projects cutting across several different themes. The common thread is theory based evaluations – I’m working on a realist evaluation of DFID’s Building Capacity to Use Research Evidence (BCURE) programme, have applied Contribution Analysis in an evaluation of Tilitonse (a civil society grant making facility in Malawi), and have written about and worked on projects involving process tracing.  I’ve recently started a secondment to Itad’s new Knowledge Hub, which is really exciting. The Knowledge Hub was set up to promote and embed Itad’s internal and external knowledge sharing.  The secondment gives me some space away from full time project work, giving me a chance to do some research and reflection on theory-based evaluation approaches, and bring that learning back into Itad through new resources, training, good practice examples, papers, etc – to help improve this core feature of our work.

What does that involve?

Everything from developing interview topic guides, to managing field research, to analysing qualitative data, to writing evaluation reports, to creating M&E toolkits for clients.  And spending a lot of my time thinking ‘so just how do you measure that??’

How did you get into the field?

I worked as a research assistant on one of Itad’s projects while studying an MA in Poverty and Development at IDS in 2011, then returned full time after spending a year in DFID’s Graduate Scheme.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

M&E can be very techy, but what I love is the big picture stuff – if we don’t understand how our actions are changing things (or not), then how can we hope to achieve anything?  Also, I studied Philosophy for my undergraduate degree and really love getting to grapple with questions about the nature of causality.  How exactly does a project lead to change, and how can we measure this, and how can we learn lessons from it that apply to other projects in completely different contexts?   I find this stuff fascinating.  Plus, after a four year hiatus I finally get to throw the word ‘ontology’ around again.

What new innovations/methods have you noticed in your sector?

I haven’t been in it for very long, but there are so many interesting things going on in the evaluation world at the moment.  One thing I’m fascinated by is combining qualitative and quantitative data to conduct genuinely mixed methods research, such as the work on participatory statistics summarised in Holland’s recent book.  Another is the growing understanding about how to apply rigorous qualitative methods like Process Tracing and realist evaluation, in order to measure complicated and messy things like advocacy programmes and changing social norms.

Recent highlight/ Job wins?

I’ve just started work on the Itad evaluation of DFID’s Building Capacity to Use Research Evidence (BCURE) programme, which aims to improve the capacity of policy makers in low- and middle-income countries to use quality evidence in their work.  I’m about to start writing an Evidence Review pulling together various theories, ideas and lessons about how to promote evidence-informed policy – I’m really looking forward to that.

Most interesting question you have been asked recently?

At the National Portrait Gallery: who would you most like to hang out with? (Her).