Using ICT to track outcomes

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From the 6th to the 10th August 2012, IDS is convening an international workshop on CLTS Monitoring, Verification, Learning and Information Management in Lilongwe, Malawi. The aim of this specialised workshop is to bring together government and other actors to share learning.
Participants of the workshop are blogging about their learning, insights and reflections on the meeting this week.

Some years back, using GPS enabled devices for monitoring rural sanitation may have drawn blank looks. This week, at the CLTS monitoring workshop in Malawi, it is a buzzing topic. The workshop starts with a session on ‘expectations’, we all write down issues that we are interested to discuss, one per card. When all the expected issues for discussion are clubbed under themes, ‘ICT for monitoring’ is identified as one of the 6 learning objectives of the workshop by popular vote.

Drilling down into the constituents of this theme, there is a lot of interest around how to monitor sustainability of ODF outcomes (14 cards) and many cards around ‘new/mapping technologies’ (another 10 cards). There are also two or three cards that want to learn about ‘simplified formats’. This may not be a coincidence. Tracking sustainability of outcomes has long been a key challenge in the sector. Fundamentally, this is related to the substance of what is being tracked. In rural sanitation, outcomes are defined in terms of behavior or habit and coverage of facilities at a household level. Unlike physical infrastructure, tracking behavior requires relatively more frequent cross checks over a period of time. This can be costly in terms of time and money. Traditionally, pen and paper surveys have been used, giving high quality results but taking anywhere between one to a few years to provide sample data. Today, through GPS enabled devices information can be made available in a fraction of the time taken by conventional surveys.

Drawing on pioneers such as FLOW (Field Level Operations Watch) and Water Point Mapper, we see presentations on the Sanitation Mapper and CLTS Mapper from Angola and Kenya, and hear experiences from other countries that are experimenting with similar systems. We see systems that use a GPS tracking device to generate location coordinates of a sanitation facility which are then analyzed through an Excel based model and results presented as a color coded map. There are many questions as we all approach the presentations from different perspectives. What type of device is used? Who collects the data? What is the incentive to report correctly? And so on. The same questions can be asked for any type of monitoring system and the challenge for ICT based monitoring is to prove its comparative advantage vis-à-vis existing options.

There are some compelling arguments to take a closer look at the ICT based monitoring systems. The beauty of these ICT based monitoring systems lies in their simplicity. Across the experiences that are shared, the focus seems to be on identifying one or a few key indicators rather than canvassing a lengthy questionnaire. The GPS coordinates also ensure that the interviewer has actually visited the household or village. The question of cost comes up in different guises but it seems to be a relative one – are we comparing apples with apples? Whereas paper surveys typically provide information on a sample, through this system it may be possible to cover entire villages or sub-districts in relatively less time.

Tomorrow, the learning journey takes us to Indonesia where we will learn about an SMS based monitoring system and then to India to learn about GIS mapping. It promises to be an exciting week!

Upneet Singh, WSP, India

Date: 8 August 2012