Monitoring and Evaluation vs. Good Management in Development

Last week, I was at the M&E Tech conference in Washington, DC. It was two days of discussion on how to better use technology for monitoring and evaluation of development projects, and how to monitor and evaluate the use of technology for development projects. So ICT4M&E as well as M&E for ICT4D. Got it? Cool.

We were barely done with the second session when I had a quick reaction: We’ve talked a lot about the need to put more time and money into M&E. It’s a perennial issue in development, even ignoring the technology dimension. What’s always struck me as weird about the “spend more on M&E” argument is that the whole idea of M&E is totally unique to development, aid, nonprofits, and the broader social good space. M&E doesn’t exist in the private sector. Why is that?

Short answer: monitoring and evaluation are part and parcel with management. Whether you’re managing a project, store, service provider, manufacturing plant, or whatever, you can’t manage (read: make decisions) without data that creates a feedback loop. That’s monitoring. And you can’t make larger choices about strategic direction or investments without making a summative assessment of past work. That’s evaluation.

M&E is just good management.

But the development sector doesn’t care much for management. We don’t value it. The reasons why are many – relating to funding models, accountability structures, and institutional culture – that I won’t get into here. The practical upshot is that no one gets much traction in the sector by saying, “Let’s improve our management practices.” When good management practices spread, it’s often because they take another form. Our focus on M&E, measurement and metrics is a great example of this. (“Innovation” is another one.)

So as much as I lament our sector’s lack of respect for good management, I’m at least hopeful that better M&E can provide a backdoor for better management.

Dave Algoso is the Managing Director at Reboot and this post was first published as Monitoring-and-Evaluation versus Management


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Drones for Good: Tracking Climate Change with UAVs

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enviro-drones

Sadly, developing countries are some of the largest emitters of global pollution. Yet for the poor, the emission of pollutants, and their detrimental effects on the environment, is not usually an overriding concern. The cost of caring about saving the environment is a luxury when individuals are busy worrying about how to save themselves and their families from poverty.

Fortunately Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (aka drones) present a cost-effective opportunity for caring for the environment. At a recent IREXtech Deep Dive, leading development practitioners discussed how drone technology could give developing countries a practical way to tackle environmental challenges.

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The Many Uses of UAVs

For some time now, we have heard of how drones can help us understand the land and the creatures living residing on it. Drones are providing valuable insight for geographers by allowing them to economically geo-map areas and help resolve land disputes. Drones can also map livestock and crop production vital for the food chain.

But the usefulness of drones doesn’t stop here – there are many more ways that UAVs can help us understand the environment. Water and airborne diseases often stem from environmental changes and in order to improve public health in developing countries, we can use drones to better understand the current and future states of land and water.

Drones can take water samples from a river or lake, and assess the water level and quality – the height, consistency and composition of the water and any organism living in it. Launch a UAV into the sky, and it can collect information on the atmosphere’s composition and climate patterns, including pollution levels, using vector-monitoring technology. Drones can also act as a weatherman. By recording weather patterns, the drone can be a resourceful tool for tracking unusual climate changes.

An added plus: compared to other some other technologies, UAVs are also environment friendly. A drone can navigate through the sky or the sea without harming its surroundings, and battery-powered drones are not pollution emitting.

Issues and Concerns

Benefits aside, using drones in developing countries for environmental reasons is not without challenges. To start, any successful model needs to be demand-driven, and if the poor aren’t convinced that they need drones (and that they should be prioritizing the care of their surroundings), then efforts are arguably unsustainable.

Moreover, the collection of the drone information is only useful if there’s an expert to dissect its use for the poor. The drone itself may be cheap, but the manpower and brains behind the drone come at a higher price.

And like with any drone, the stigma associated with this technology is, unfortunately, far from positive. It’s a hurdle to convince governments to let drones into a country; it’s an additional challenge to persuade the poor that they need drones, as well as the environmentalists that this is a tool they should be capitalizing on.

And Priorities

And maybe, a devil’s advocate would argue, they shouldn’t be convinced to prioritize environmental protection. With constrained costs and opportunities, surely, the focus should be where the poor are already putting it: basic means of survival, jobs and self-sufficiency. What’s more, shouldn’t governments meet basic criteria first (such as acting democratically and caring for their citizens) before we can ask it to care about climate change?

The Earth is big place and, in comparison, current drone technology remains small. Scaling up drone technology, in order to give us a broader, holistic picture of the inter-workings of the Earth’s atmosphere, remains a challenge.

Fortunately, when it comes to technological progress, the sky is the limit.

Maria Andersen is a graduate student at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), focusing on international economics & African development


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Accept the Smartphone Reality in Development. Everyone Else Has

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Recently, Elvis Mushi of Twaweza, shared with me interesting mobile phone survey results from his Sauti za Wananchi program. I find them remarkable in two ways. First, he found that 80% of Tanzanian households own at least 1 mobile phone. Then he found that mobile phone coverage reached 88% of the population.

One of the largest and poorest populations now has near-ubiquitous mobile phone access.

On the other side of the content, Ghana now joins Zimbabwe in having more mobile phone subscriber lines than people. Other African countries will soon follow. Even grand Nigeria, which has 80% mobile phone usage now, has 15 million smartphones.

binu-survey

But Those Aren’t Smartphones!

I know, I heard you mutter that already. And you are wrong. Each feature phone is already a smartphone, thanks to biNU. They can run “smart” applications, from Facebook to WhatsApp to YouTube, just like any “smartphone.” In fact, biNU found a majority of its users think their phone is a smartphone, when in actuality it is a feature phone.

Even better, small, nimble development actors already know this. Check out WorldReader Mobile, where thousands of Africans are reading full-length books on their mobile phones – African content, written by Africans, for Africans.

But What About the Poor?

Yes, the poor have less mobile phone access. They have less of everything, so why would mobiles be any different? At the same time, be careful how large you make your “poor” group. Twaweza found that even the poorest quintile of households had over 50% mobile phone ownership.

In addition, do you really work with that quintile? As development actors, we may talk about them often, and use them in our propaganda marketing, but we usually work with poor to middle level households or with organizations that serve the very poor vs. the poor themselves.

At the organizational level, everyone has a phone, and therefore a smartphone.

Yeah, But.. the Data Costs!

In a recent Technology Salon, someone bemoaned the uptake of mobile devices by the poor, saying they were wasting too much of their limited income on voice and data fees. Beside the blatant paternalism of the comment, it showed a lack of understanding of mobile phone success.

People have their own agency, and are (usually) rational consumers. If they find value in something, they will pay for it, and shift family resources to do so. The same goes for mobile services. If we design services where our constituents find value, they will happily pay for them.

The success of Safaricom, AirTel, MTN and the like shows Africans love their phones enough to pay dearly for them. Let us be challenged to develop content they want to see on their phones.


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Is Facebook Zero the Future of Public Internet Access?

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Access to information is both empowerment and development. When two thirds of the world’s poor still lack access to the Internet, but three fourths have a mobile phone, it makes sense to try to capitalize on mobile technology in order to increase access and connectivity.

Enter Facebook Zero

The advantage of Facebook Zero is in the name; by waiving regular data charges, Facebook Zero is “zero rate” access to the world’s most popular social media site, which has great benefits for everyone. Facebook cleverly tapped into a new clientele: the billions of poor people in the developing world who already own mobile phones but cannot fork out large sums for internet services.

According to Facebook, the launch of the modified site was an effort to “make the world more open and connected” – precisely the same goal of those concerned with pubic access options in development. On the Asian continent, for example, roughly 6% of the continental population is on Facebook, a figure that is attributable to the cost barriers associated with Facebook’s data charges, as well as general costs to internet subscriptions.

facebook-zero

Does Facebook Zero Increase Internet Access?

Full Facebook usage (vs. Facebook Zero) on the African continent doubled every seven months when it first appeared, with the largest number of Facebook users in Egypt, South Africa and Nigeria, respectively. Some of the highest Facebook growth rates were seen in the Central African Republic and Somalia, countries that are often “off the grid” and should be on it, precisely because we want them to be aware of their serious governance and development challenges.

But can we really credit Facebook Zero for an increase in Internet access amongst the poor? While we do not have usage rates for Facebook Zero, there is no denying that Facebook is empowerment.

For many of the poor, Facebook is the face of the Internet, and a source for gathering information and news. Facebook is also a vehicle for voicing concerns and finding like-minded individuals (case in point: the Arab Spring). Interestingly enough, in Ghana, the Electoral Commission posted election results to Facebook, rather than to their own webpage, because they acknowledged that Ghanians go to Facebook to obtain their information.

Is Facebook Zero A Community Space?

Physical access points, like Telecentres and Cyber Cafes, serve as hubs of Internet access, but also, and equally as important, as community spaces. Sure, as a social media platform, Facebook facilitates social interaction between its users, but there is something to be said about the value of face-to-face communication. If Facebook Zero is the future of public community spaces, we may be looking at a future with less physical interaction, which, many, would consider a grave loss.

Facebook Zero is an Inspiration

There are already signs that Facebook Zero has generated a sustainable model for Internet connectivity. The usage of Facebook Zero has given the poor a stronger reason to want access to regular, broadband Facebook.com, so that they may view status updates and photos. Already Facebook Zero has garnered competition, like Google’s “Free Zone” and Wikipedia Zero, and we can be optimistic that, with time, this competition drives up the quality and options of Internet access for the poor.

Above all else, Facebook Zero’s private ownership is an attractive model of public access because it bypasses regulations and rules established by governments. Authoritative leaders often desire to restrict the flow of information and tech freedoms to the poor. But if we believe that the poor have a right to knowing what’s going on in their communities, their country, the world, then access to Facebook Zero is surely a great starting point.

Maria Andersen is a graduate student at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), focusing on international economics & African development


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Is Selling Mobile Phone Airtime Really Entrepreneurship?

ooredoo-mwomen

Ooredoo and the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women made a Clinton Global Initiative commitment to enable 30,000 women by 2016 to become entrepreneurs by selling prepaid Ooredoo airtime to their communities. They will equip each woman with a business kit containing a mobile phone, promotional materials, and an operating manual. The women will also receive hands-on training on how to run their businesses.

When I first head this, I was quite skeptical. I didn’t see how selling airtime was really entrepreneurship, versus a survival tactic when employment options were rare to nonexistent. Yet, research by the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women and GSMA mWomen convinced me otherwise.

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In “Women Entrepreneurs in Mobile Retail Channels: Empowering Women, Driving Growth“, they make a clear case for women’s participation in the mobile value chain and the benefits of such participation both for mobile network operators and for women entrepreneurs.

When we interviewed women participants in the MVC, clear benefits emerged which outweighed the risks. While the profit from the small-scale selling of basic mobile products is not adequate to provide a livelihood, it is helpful as a supplement to other commercial activities due to the steady demand for these products.

Monthly income generated through mobile sales varied across markets, but ranged from USD42 to USD298. Selling mobile products is also a relatively simple business with low barriers to entry, providing women with an easy opportunity to gain experience and business skills as independent entrepreneurs.

It will be interesting to see what happens in Myanmar as these women become more business savvy and the government starts to notice the huge impact all these businesswomen will have on their communities. It will be even more interesting when government and NGOs start to think creatively on how to leverage the mobile channel as a service delivery mechanism.


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4 Ways to Properly Include Women in Your mHealth Initiative

Social norms and stigmas often lead to men owning mobile phones more often than women in many parts of the developing world. Sometimes when a woman does happen to acquire a phone, she even faces threats of violence because of her ownership. These unfortunate findings show that gender is one of the biggest issues in mHealth and ICT for Development in general. Unfortunately, according to a 2013 literature review, there has not been substantial research about gender relations in mHealth interventions.

My name is Jack O’Rourke and I am a student at Fordham University. I recently traveled to Uganda to conduct research on the following question: how are mHealth groups addressing various socio-economic issues that come with female usage of mobile phones? My resulting research paper helps answer this question, adequately titled “Grappling with Gatekeepers: Addressing Gender Hindrances to mHealth.”

What were the results that I found?

The qualitative approach undergone was two-pronged. After discussing attitudes surrounding female usage of mobile phones with groups of men and women in rural Uganda, I was able to take what I’ve learned and question three mHealth representatives from four organizations (mTrac, U-Report, Text to Change and Health Child). Some of the women’s experiences were tragic. From women being abused by their husbands for the ‘wrong use’ of their phone to not being able to pay for airtime, the problems some of the women faced in Uganda were immense.

Using Deshmukh and Mechael’s 2013 Gendered Framework for mHealth, I was able to analyze the various approaches these mHealth groups were taking to incorporate women into their programs. While the mHealth groups analyzed did a good job on large-scale issues such as the inclusion of women in policy making and the inclusion of men in their programs, gaps still did remain. Some of the approaches came up short in dealing with micro, cultural issues. For example, the use of a male voice for voice messages and late afternoon messaging could strain gender relations in a household.

Deshmukh and Mechael’s FrameworkDeshmukh and Mechael’s Framework

What should be done?

The following recommendations detail what mHealth groups should take into consideration when including women in future initiatives:

1)   Follow the framework set out by Deshmukh and Mechael.

2)   Get on the ground early in order to understand the specific issues pertinent to the community targeted.

3)   Understand the critical issues set out by Deshmukh and Mechael (GBV, engagement of gatekeepers, social/cultural values), but make sure to not ignore the intricacies of certain cultural issues. For example, voice technology can be used to avoid the pitfalls of illiteracy, but a male voice received by a female could cause misunderstandings between a husband and wife.

4)   Collaboration is key. Working together and not treating other mHealth groups as competitors will not only help empower women, it will save time and, in turn, money.

Following these recommendations and creating mHealth initiatives that are sensitive to gender issues should be a priority for all organizations operating in developing countries. And while the issue appears daunting, the past innovation shown by mHealth groups should give hope that the field will be able to deal with one of its greatest challenges.

Jack O’Rourke is an undergraduate student at Fordham University in New York. His twitter handle is @jackorourke.


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No Electricity Means No Internet: It’s Time to Bridge the Gap!

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“I came to Uganda to run the technical side of a mobile phone company. Instead, I was running the largest  diesel fuel distribution company in the country—in order to run the mobile phone company,” says Francis Kazinduki, former CTO of MTN in Uganda. And he is not alone.

This quote, taken from Dr. Laura Hosman and Dr. Laura Elizabeth Armey’s study on “The Centrality of Electricity for Internet Uptake in Low-Income Countries”, is a common sentiment among ICT professionals working in low-income countries. In their innovative study, Hosman and Armey analyze Internet usage growth in diverse locations from Mali to Haiti, and Sierra Leone to the Solomon Islands. What, they ask, is a key factor influencing ICT adoption across all of these low-income countries?

Their answer:  Access to electricity.

Increased distribution of electricity across a nation is a key vanguard to ICT development success. Using dynamic panel data analysis, the two researchers based their findings on a unique data set taken from satellite images that capture the quantity and distribution of light that can be observed at night from outer space. This data set mediates variables such as defining what constitutes access to electricity and protects the study from faulty self-reported national electricity and energy data. While other researchers have used similar data sets for other purposes, this study is the first of its kind to use night-lights to measure real electricity use.

Hosman and Armey recommend pursuing policies that expand the distribution of electricity to greater numbers of people, not just increasing the total electrical output in each country, which tends to prioritize cities. The more people that have access to electricity, the greater demand will be for using the Internet and other related technologies. It is fruitless, they say, to discuss a digital divide where electricity does not exist. Many ICT projects have collapsed because they don’t fully realize the existing (or absent) electrical infrastructure within a country. Addressing the electricity divide between high-income and low-income countries will not only spur industrial and knowledge-based economic growth, but will enable millions around the world to connect online.

The key lesson to be learned? ICT development initiatives must first consider a location’s existing electrical infrastructure before setting up shop. The idea seems simple – it is just often overlooked.

The infographic below is based off the study and was created by Bruce Baikie, Inveneo’s Executive Director. You can follow him on Twitter for more ICT updates at @BruceICT4D.

UpdatedNoElectricityNoInternet


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