Making mentoring MERI…

The participants from the rubric workshop with Kate McKegg.

Mentee: Sharyn RossRakesh – Melbourne Water
Mentor: Helen Watts – Corangamite CMA

Our goals:

As Sharyn has been working in the waterway and stormwater industry for many years she initially applied to the program as a mentor. However, after thinking and talking through with a colleague who’d recently done the program, she decided she’d love to have a mentor coach her on evaluation – an emerging area of interest and focus at work.

Helen has worked in the NRM sector for over 30 years, with the last 15 years applying a strong focus to evaluating NRM interventions to ensure not only good outcomes, but improving future programs. Helen is passionate and always up for a chat about evaluation.

And so the match was made and from this the following goals emerged

  • For Sharyn to be empowered as a leader in evaluation at Melbourne Water and a champion for the Healthy Waterways Strategy.
  • For Helen to improve networks and assist in the Monitoring Evaluation Reporting and Improvement (MERI1) framework development of the Healthy Waterway Strategy
  • For both of them it was to work collaboratively to test the MERI framework for:
    • Feasibility and practicality
    • Effective as an adaptive management tool for waterway management
    • Robust as an evaluation tool (appropriateness, timeliness)
    • Enhancing the understanding for the role of evaluation with Melbourne Water
  • The final goal was to have fun!

1 MERI = Monitoring, evaluation, reporting and improvement. It refers to the process of defining your evaluation questions following a clear understanding of what the project is trying to achieve and how; defining what information needs to be collected and collated to answer the questions; the best way to communicate the findings and to whom; and finally how judgements about the project (program/intervention/strategy) can be made.

Helen and Sharon beavering away on the MERI for the Melbourne Waterway Strategy. Photo: Siwan Lovett

Our actions:

After the first twinning workshop Sharyn and Helen got together at Melbourne Water and had a good brainstorming session. This was a free ranging discussion around the Healthy Waterway Strategy, the MERI Framework, and evaluation in general.

Sharyn sent through copious amounts of material to read, and Helen started to reciprocate with links and information on evaluation.

A second session was held again at Melbourne Water where they started to hone in on the aspects of the MERI which Helen could really add value to. This included gaining an understanding of rubrics and value for money. One of Helen’s concerns in her role as a mentor was where she could add the best value – Sharyn was not starting with a blank sheet, and had sound governance arrangements with a MERI framework that was well down the development pathway.

Another way of getting a good appreciation of the different types of monitoring – such as long term condition monitoring, was to organise a field trip with a range of experts (vegetation, environmental water, evaluation) to discuss how different monitoring could be integrated. Everyone on the field trip engaged in a conversation that explored how data from monitoring can be used to inform evaluation, and how the ‘why’ question is addressed. It became very clear that it is important to bring together people who do the monitoring with those who are planning works, in order to really understand what the information is saying.


One of the great opportunities that came from the mentoring experience was to piggy-back off another evaluation program and gain a day’s access to Kate McKegg, Director of the Knowledge Institute and member of the Kinnect Group (see here). Kate is an expert in the design and use of rubrics within evaluation. This came about following a catch up between Sharyn and Helen where Helen asked the question of Sharyn “How will you know if you have successfully achieved that indicator?” ?

Getting into detailed discussions about how rubrics could be applied to the Healthy Waterway Strategy MERI framework resulted in Helen facilitating an opportunity for Kate to run a workshop on rubrics. This was a great way to develop some broader evaluation capacity, as well as rubric knowledge with participants from Melbourne Water, Department of Environment Land Water and Planning, the Corangamite Catchment Management Authority (CMA) and Melbourne University. The outcome is that Melbourne Water are now intending to develop rubrics for the Healthy Waterway Strategy MERI framework.

The participants from the rubric workshop with Kate McKegg, including more Twinners… Sarah and Daniel.

Even though the Corangamite CMA region and Melbourne Water are close, Sharyn and Helen found that using a diversity of communication mechanisms worked best to fit in with their work. So apart from face to face meetings, group workshops and a field trip, they also continued their discussions using skype as a more efficient way of regular engagement and collaboration.

Key learnings from the ‘twinning’ experience:

While there were many learnings some of the highlights include:

  • Get the question right! And use that to inform the data/information needs
  • Don’t be paralysed by evaluation theory – just give it a go and let it evolve
  • Identify key people to take on the MERI journey in order to embed and sustain it

There were many insights from Sharyn and Helen’s collective get togethers. They have both drawn on them and shared them with others back in their organisations. These include always asking the ‘why’, using a ‘story spine’ as an effective way to deliver key messages and Ted Talks on why it is ok to be vulnerable.

The relationships which have developed by getting to know the other ‘twinners’ have been great, and they both now find they are bumping into the alumni all over the place!

Both Sharyn and Helen are very keen to continue collaborating on ways to improve NRM evaluation across the sector.

What did you gain personally?

“I feel Helen was really able to help me gain a much deeper appreciation of evaluation throughout the program. Our discussions on various topics of evaluation were so relevant to the work I was doing at the time that I could immediately put these ideas to good use. The timing really was perfect for me, and I feel it has set me up to develop and implement the MERI plan for the Strategy. In amongst the tight deadlines for getting the draft MERI framework out for external consultation, I mentored my cousin’s niece for her year 10 work experience week. It was a nice little feedback loop of being mentored and mentoring at the same time. Modelling mentoring behaviour was something I became mindful of.

Helen was very good at subtly encouraging me to pursue various avenues and, in particular, has suggested I consider presenting at the Australian Evaluation Society conference next year. I like being gently pushed into doing things that I know will expand my horizons and keep me learning. But most of all I had a really fun time getting to know Helen and being part of an amazing group of people and I have no doubt we will remain in touch. I felt like we had a lot in common even outside our professional day job.”

– Sharyn

“I originally went into the Twinning program not really knowing anything about it apart from the fact it was a mentoring program. Give me a chance to exchange on evaluation…….I was hooked! The twinning program was much more than a mentor and mentee being paired up, as the support for the mentors is exceptional, and I believe all of the mentors have gained so much more from this program. I know I have in more ways than when I set my goals at the beginning. I originally set out to not only give back something to a sector that has provided me with a lot, but to expand my networks as I was relatively new in the Victorian CMA scene. I have not only expanded my networks but got to know, on a deeper level, some people that I keep running into during my working days. The experience also gave me an opportunity to introduce different staff from the CMA to Melbourne Water and what they do – so that is a bonus.

Working with Sharyn was great – not only because she is enthusiastic about evaluation, and is well organised and thoughtful, but I found our discussions thought provoking, and I like to have my thoughts and ideas tested. I enjoyed being challenged on different aspects of evaluation, and that meant I was learning as well. I have really enjoyed the discussions and thinking about evaluation in a very complex operating environment. I have complex evaluations which I have to design for a number of our strategies and now have a great case study to tap into along the way! I have no doubt Sharyn and I will not lose contact – NRM is a small world.”

– Helen

Helen and Sharyn at the whiteboard.  Photo: Sharyn RossRakesh


Sharyn RossRakesh –
Helen Watts –

Join the Twinning Program

The Waterway Management Twinning Program is a structured mentoring program, focusing on improving the on-ground delivery of current Victorian riparian restoration projects. This Program provides an opportunity for the most effective approaches to be shared and adopted between all those working in waterway management across the State.