My Career in MEL (Measurement, Evaluation & Learning) – Part 1

MEL experts share their stories and tips for the skills you may want to build.

January 28, 2022

Thinking about a new career? You’re not alone according to research, which shows during COVID around a third of us have seriously considered alternate employment. And one thing that’s keeping people in their current roles? Feeling engaged with their work.

Last month Jess Dart, Victoria Pilbeam and Dru de Livera shared what brought them to a career in MEL and impact measurement, and what’s keeping them engaged (you can check out the full webinar here, and stay tuned for their responses in our next blog).

We also recently spoke to impact evaluation legend Zazie Tolmer, who’s since moved to Copenhagen, about her career journey and entry into MEL. In this installment, we’ll share some of Zazie’s and Jess’s insights on what skills they started with, what they’ve needed to build, and what you should be considering for a career in the changing MEL landscape.

Where did you begin your career, and what brought you to evaluation and impact measurement?
Zazie Tomer

I think I’d qualify it as ‘falling into’ rather than being ‘brought to’ evaluation. My career started off in the arts. At one point I thought I’d follow my mum into the dance world.

I moved to Tokyo for a few years and was introduced through friends to Safia Minney, a British entrepreneur and advocate for fair trade. She needed someone to do some ‘research’ on the social and environmental impacts of the work she was doing with fair trade producers across 20 countries. It wasn’t until I moved back to Melbourne that I realised that what I thought was ‘research’ was evaluation.

Dr Jess Dart

Like for many people working in this space, mine was a windy and not very deliberate path, although most of my experience has ended up proving very useful to my current work. My undergraduate degree was in botany, followed by Masters in Sustainable Agriculture (so lots of systems thinking). I then studied international development, and worked with marginalised communities, usually around natural resources, where I learned about participatory planning and participatory methods, areas which intrigued me and skills that I use to this day. I was assigned to do an evaluation while in India – which was a baptism of fire – but I applied the participatory skills I’d learned, and was eventually persuaded to undertake my PhD in evaluation, only the second person to do that in Australia at the time.

What – if any – skills were transferrable from your past career to now?

“When I worked at Roberts Evaluation, I noticed during a team facilitation training that through all the dance training I had developed useful spatial awareness. This awareness has proved to be of ongoing use when delivering training and facilitating workshops. For example, where you position yourself in the room and in relation to others, and the impact that has.”

What do you wish you’d known when you first began your MEL career?


“More awareness of how diverse and broad the evaluation field is. I still feel that the field is quite siloed and that there could be greater openness to different evaluation practices. But I have really enjoyed the journey and so I don’t feel that I missed anything at the beginning. I worked along the way with inspiring and creative people that were critical to my development and to making work not just rewarding but also fun.”

What skills do you believe are important for your work, and for people looking for a career in MEL and social impact measurement?

“Evaluation – particularly learning-oriented and participatory approaches – asks for a lot of skills. The good news is, it’s quite holistic, meaning most people can draw from their career experience. As an employer, I’m looking for critical thinking – so qualitative and quantitative analysis skills – combined with people skills – that’s the sweet spot.

And if people work in a larger organisation like ours, they can work in teams to better play to their strengths. For example, those people that might be great with research and quantitative analysis and data, who might not be as confident or talented in facilitation, can team up with those that have stronger people skills, and hand control of the process over to them while they do the data work.

The other thing I look for is a real eagerness for learning – when we’re interviewing candidates, we drive our interviews to check that people are continual learners, that they’re curious, that they really want to understand what the data is telling them about impact.”


“Most of us in our personal and professional lives practice some form of MEL – looking at what we’re doing and assessing the impact we’re having. Although it’s a specialist discipline, aspects of evaluation and impact measurement naturally show up in lots of different fields.

In terms of important technical skills, I think being able to develop synthesis frameworks and methods that help critically contextualise, compare, make sense of, communicate results, findings and learning.”

What do you think a career in evaluation and social impact measurement offers?

“If you’re a curious person, and you’re up for a challenging career in which you’re always learning, then this is the discipline that keeps giving. I’ve been doing this for 30 years and having even done my PhD in it – I’m still learning.

Especially in the consulting space, there’s always something new to learn about. Even if you know your evaluation inside out, you’re always evaluating different initiatives, contexts and working with different people and places, so it’s varied and interesting.

I think we’re also seeing a desire for many people to know that they’re making a difference in their jobs – in fact, people are leaving jobs to move to ones where they can see what they’re doing is making a difference, and that’s where evaluation has so much to offer. ”

If you’re thinking about a career in MEL, our Complete Guide to MEL course gives you a great understanding of Measurement, Evaluation & Learning.