Taking monitoring and evaluation to the next level

By Karen Shih

Herrington with a colleague in Kenya

To say Rebecca Herrington, MA SID/COEX’14, made the most of her time at Heller is an understatement.

She finished two degrees in just 19 months. She juggled three jobs: she was a writing tutor and teaching fellow on campus, and also worked at Conflict Dynamics International in Cambridge, Mass., where she created a new conflict analysis tool. She even wrote a chapter of Professor Mari Fitzduff’s book on social policy—and did research with COEX Program Director Alain Lempereur that led to co-authoring a book chapter with him on responsible corporate leadership after graduation.

“At Heller, there’s the opportunity to be proactive and create your own path through the programs,” she says. “I leveraged what professors had to offer with their experiences, had the experience of teaching and grading, and took advantage of being in Boston to work with NGOs there.” 

Today, she’s turned that go-getter attitude into a position as a developmental evaluator with Social Impact, a D.C.-based consulting firm. She evaluates the scale, integration and acceleration of innovative programming for international development at the USAID Global Development Lab. The programs she evaluates range from expanding digital financial services to accelerating the alternative energy market to increasing affordable internet and connectivity.

“It requires a complex set of skills,” says Herrington. “You need to have interpersonal soft skills for facilitation, as well as a technically rigorous tool box.”

She’s been working on those skills since she was just a teenager, taking yearly trips to Juárez, Mexico, with her family to work in community development. By the time she graduated from the University of Connecticut, she’d worked throughout Central America, and decided to pursue development field work in Nicaragua and Kenya, focusing on financial literacy and microfinance.

After two years, “I decided I really needed a master’s degree to continue to progress in my career,” she says. “I wanted it to be practitioner-focused and wanted to do both conflict management and international development. Heller was a great place to combine that.”

She advises students to learn all the technical skills they can in graduate school. “You will not have the time once you graduate,” she says, encouraging students to take Stata® programming, economics and intensive monitoring and evaluation (M&E) courses. “The more varied your technical skill sets are, the more likely you are to get that entry-level position over thousands of people applying.”

After graduation, Herrington applied for design, monitoring and evaluation jobs in Washington, D.C. Her goal was to get a big picture perspective of development after five years of “the chaos of working in the field and facing a different emergency every day.” She first landed at Search for Common Ground, where one of her major projects was providing monitoring and evaluation support for a €150 million UNICEF project across 14 countries.

Though Herrington has accomplished a lot during her short career, she’s not satisfied. One of her goals is to strengthen M&E techniques in peacebuilding and conflict resolution. Another is to demonstrate the value of rigorous qualitative work in a world dominated by quantitative efforts.

“How do we get to development that comprehensively addresses humans, in all of their complexity? For a long time people were like, ‘That’s hard, so we’re just going to measure numbers.’ Now there’s this little, tiny crack in the door of people being open to more complexity and that is where my passion lies: wedging more things into that crack in the wall.”

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