In 2015, TechChange launched the Technology for Monitoring & Evaluation Diploma Program, which combined three TechChange courses (Tech for M&E, Tech for Data Collection and Survey Design, Tech for Data Visualization) into one comprehensive program. The program was meant to give busy working professionals a robust foundation in technology for M&E through the three core courses as well as workshops and office hours with course facilitators. Our first cohort is finishing up the program as we begin 2016, and a new session will launch on January 25.

Today we are very excited to chat with Sonja Schmidt, the Senior M&E Advisor to JSI’s AIDSFree project, who is one of the first participants to complete the Technology for Monitoring & Evaluation Diploma Program: Working Professionals Experience. She discusses her experience with the overall program, how each course influenced her work, as well as how she was able to better understand the use of ICTs in M&E.

How did you come across the Tech for M&E Diploma Program?

A colleague of mine from JSI had sent around some links for TechChange courses. When I clicked the links I noticed the Diploma Program, and thought that this would be a good option to take advantage of the three courses in order to get a wider foundation on the topic.

Have you taken online courses before? Did the program meet your expectations?

I had never taken an online course before, so this was a very new experience for me. I found it challenging in the beginning, particularly with the first course that I took, because I initially felt overwhelmed and struggled a bit with learning how to move around the platform and managing the material.

That being said, the program far exceeded my expectations. I have to compliment TechChange because, being an M&E expert, I look at most material with a critical eye, but I found that the material that was put together and all of the speakers/guest experts were stellar. I was also quite pleasantly surprised by the group dynamics present on the platform. I did not expect this from a virtual group, but in the end there were names that kept popping up, and I actually had the chance to meet someone from the course in person – I am almost said that it has ended.

Are you new to the field of M&E? If not, why did you think this would be valuable to your career?

I have many years of experience in the M&E field. Despite this fact, I realized that the concept of ICT and M&E emerged on the scene pretty suddenly – it did not really exist as an articulated concept even as recently as 3 years ago. I remember meeting someone a few years back who had created his own company around an app meant to improve data collection for surveys, and was surprised because I never thought that that would take off. Now, several years later I find it fascinating how this has become mainstream.

So, my main reason for taking the program was to learn more about this new and rapidly changing field, the intersection of technology and monitoring & evaluation, and get a better grasp of it.

How have you been able to use what you learned in the courses in your work, and how has the program overall been helpful to you?

I have definitely been able to use what I learned in the courses, and the Diploma Program, as foundations for my work. The Technology for M&E course, while a bit repetitive for me sometimes, as I’m an experienced M&E professional, still provided me with exposure to new materials as well as to other people’s perspectives and approaches. The Technology for Data Collection & Survey Design course was not as applicable to my personal work, however it did improve my capacities as an M&E advisor in terms of being able to recommend methods or software, or considerations to take into account, to in-country M&E folks who might be the ones actually designing M&E programs themselves. The Technology for Data Visualization course is the one that had the most impact on my work directly, because a big part of my work is reporting to stakeholders and presenting data. The Introduction to Excel for Data Visualization course was also extremely helpful because it is a familiar software, and Excel is something that I will always use; especially for organizations that do not have much funding, Excel is a very powerful and useful tool.

In general, I think the courses were useful in my work in that when I come across a particular issue, I can now think in a way where I ask myself how I can improve or do something better. I can then go back to the material and target specific areas and continue to use the program material as a tool for learning in my work. I am also currently working on developing a training in Tanzania on data quality, and I plan to discuss with my colleagues ways to use, for example, phones to more quickly submit data from site facilities to our central office.

Interested in the TechChange Technology for Monitoring & Evaluation Diploma Program? Get more information and apply here. Enrollment is open and on-going, but our next batch of courses begins January 25, 2016. It is still not too late to sign up and join this amazing program with participants from all corners of the globe!

About Sonja
Sonja has over 15 years of experience in international public health, with a focus on infectious diseases, including TB, HIV/AIDS and immunization programs. She has long-term country experience in Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Ethiopia and has worked for several UN organizations (UNIFEM, UNICEF, WHO) and numerous USAID-funded projects. Currently as the Senior M&E Advisor to JSI’s AIDSFree project, she oversees and coordinates the monitoring and evaluation of the project and guides country projects in M&E planning, data quality assessment, data analysis and use. Sonja has an MA in medical anthropology and an MPH with a focus on policy and management.

Featured image credit: WOCinTech Chat Creative Commons License

The Current Situation

There’s no doubt that there is a glaring gender gap in tech. The widely accepted number of jobs held by women in the industry is 30%, but when you look at the percentage of women actually filling engineering roles, that figure shrinks considerably.

Let’s take a look at some of the giants in tech. At both Facebook and Google, women make up around a third of the company’s payroll, but only 16% of technical jobs at Facebook and 18% at Google are held by female engineers. At Twitter, it’s only 10%. These figures are the norm across the industry – in Europe, only 7% of engineering jobs are held by women!

Now, this isn’t just a women’s issue, a corporate responsibility problem, or a diversity issue. This gap is hurting companies’ bottom-lines and is detrimental to the industry overall.

If you look at any number of metrics, a gender-balanced team outperforms a predominantly male or predominantly female team. The numbers show that gender diversity has big payoffs. Teams with at least one female executive tend to receive valuations that are 64% larger than companies that only have men in leadership positions.

As Toptal Co-Founder and COO Breanden Beneschott put it, “If men and women are equally intelligent, statistically speaking, then out of the smartest ten people in the world, five should be male and five should be female.” Therefore, “if your team is anything less than an equal balance of men and women, then your team is probably not the best it can be.”

What is being done to address this gender gap?

The good news is that leading tech companies agree on this and they’re launching initiatives to get more women into top engineering positions. The solution here is more complicated than just doubling down on recruitment efforts for female engineers, though. There simply aren’t enough female engineers in the job market right now. While there’s no one reason for this, Girls Who Code founder Reshma Saujani explained that popular culture has a lot to do with turning young women away from tech. Girls take cues from TV shows, fashion magazines, and social media that tech is a man’s domain and figure it’s not a path they should follow.

So companies are trying to get involved at the ground level, not just recruiting computer science graduates but also showing girls at a young age that they actively want them to enter STEM fields, both in the classroom and after they’ve received their diploma. Both Etsy and Intel partner with Girls Who Code and Girl Develop it to build a strong educational pipeline that supports aspiring female developers.

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In October 2015, Toptal launched Toptal Scholarships for Female Developers, which will award 12 aspiring female engineers $5,000 and a year of one-on-one mentorship with a senior developer from the network. Toptal is encouraging girls of all ages and educational backgrounds to apply by making a meaningful contribution to open source and then writing a personal blog post about it. They’re announcing one winner per month for a year.

Through partnerships with educational organizations and the creation of mentorship programs, these companies are getting at the root of a systemic issue. There’s a long road to gender parity in tech, but they’re at the forefront of a solution that will bring more female engineers into the industry and give their companies a competitive edge.

About Grace

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Grace Fish is a writer from San Francisco currently working at Toptal. She graduated with a degree in History from Princeton in June 2015, and has been been living as a digital nomad ever since.

1. Privacy

Responsible data management is not new to development. However, with the use of technology-enabled tools for M&E, it has raised a few challenges related to the privacy of individuals. These include the growing use of biometric data for tracking and sensors to monitor daily habits. The collection of personal financial information and affiliation has also made it vital to consider data security when setting up an M&E framework. This can be addressed through data encryption, ensuring that individual data is not easily identifiable, and developing a policy that ensures responsible data practices. Furthermore, organisations need to be aware of the ethical implication of collecting data on people and the necessity to secure all the permissions and consents required. It is also important to be transparent about the methods of collection, why data is collected and how will it be used with the respective individuals. Finally, ownership has to be explicit when information is shared and a plan should be in place on what happens to data collected once a project ends. In South Africa, the Protection of Personal Information Act, 4 of 2013 also lends a relevant and interesting dynamic.

2. The end-user in mind

To select the most suitable technology-enabled tool(s), taking a human-centered design approach to the selection process will ensure that the organisation does not end up with an irrelevant or unnecessary tool. The approach starts with identifying what is desirable (one should consider project managers as well as community members, i.e. the people who will be using the tool), then viewing the solution through a feasibility and viability lens. This ensures and increases the usability of the tool as well as ensuring that no segment of the community is “ignored” as result of the selected tool, i.e. thinking of the accessibility of the tool and the training that would be required. Once identified, the tool should be piloted on one project before rolling it out.

3. Getting the right balance

Technology facilitates, but does not replace, M&E methodologies such as a well-thought out theory of change and quality M&E plan. So it may be tempting to fall into the habit of selecting or collecting data based on the easiest tool rather than what really matters to your program. Furthermore, technology can lead to over-dependence on digital data and missing the opportunity to observe and interact with communities in order to get a comprehensive picture of an intervention. To get the right balance, one must be very clear on the value the tool will add.

Although there are other factors to contemplate, the above three points offer a good guide to anyone considering the use of technology-enabled tools in their programs. With the ever-growing need to understand and measure impact, the integration of technology from delivery of services and monitoring of interventions to the evaluation of programs will continue as it offers possibilities and innovation to increasing reach, moving to scale and improving the efficiency and effectiveness of interventions.

This article was originally posted on the Tshikululu Social Investments blog. Photo courtesy of Jan Truter Creative Commons

About Amira

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Amira Elibiary is a Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) specialist with 10 years of experience in research, grant-making and program management; over two years of experience in the corporate social investment sector for education, health and social development projects. With a keen interest and extensive experience in democracy, governance, advocacy and rule of law work. Amira holds a Master’s degree in International Affairs from American University and a BA degree in Economics.

TechChange courses are designed with busy working professionals in mind. In any of our courses you will find yourself engaging with a vast network of participants from all corners of the globe who bring with them unique experiences and perspectives.

Today, we are excited to chat with Amy Noreuil, a Technology Advisor working at USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives. Amy has taken seven TechChange courses to date, both on-demand and facilitated. We caught-up with her to chat about her overall experience with TechChange as well as how our courses have impacted her professional life.

How did you find out about TechChange, and what caught your attention about TechChange courses, or got you interested in taking them?

I’ve been following TechChange for a number of years, but I think the first time I ever heard about it was through a TechChange-hosted happy hour where I ran into Chris Neu, Chief Operating Officer of TechChange. My curiosity was piqued because I always want to know about other initiatives going on when it comes to the use of technology for social good. I love going out and hearing about new projects that are under way to figure out how they could support our work or how we could support them. I’m a contextualist at heart – I believe the impact of technology can vary widely depending on the context – so I’m always interested in learning from the experience of others. I found the sense of community and diversity of students participating in TechChange courses to be one of the biggest assets. Everyone brings a unique perspective to the ‘classroom.’

After completing your first course with TechChange, what made you decide to enroll in more?

The first course I took with TechChange was Mapping for Social Good. After that first class, what drew me in – and what has kept me coming back to TechChange – is the people. To me, virtual learning experiences are inherently more individual experiences, but TechChange courses provide the opportunity to connect with other students and take what started as a quick chat to a more nuanced conversation. The interaction can be customized to what you want and need – a quick exchange of resources (e.g. reports, toolkits, etc.) or a deeper discussion about intended and unintended impact. The user interface is easy to navigate and caters to different learning preferences, including visual learners like me. It provides a high-level survey of topics or applications, while also giving the user the option to dig into the technical details of specific tools.

You’ve now taken seven TechChange courses – how have they impacted your career as a technology advisor for USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives?

TechChange courses allow me to discover new tools as well as share experiences and insights with a wide range of people. I’m always looking for ways to break out of traditional silos.

The three major ways in which TechChange courses have impacted my work are:

  1. Meeting people who are passionate about the intersection of technology, media & data
  2. Finding tools and workshopping how they could support our partners and programs
  3. Connecting with people who bring different perspectives, ideas and approaches

What is your advice for other students participating in TechChange courses? How can they get the most out of the experience?

Come into the course with an idea of what you want to learn. Set your intention early and be open to change. This learning objective will help you navigate course content and connect with students. The facilitators are very approachable and accessible. I also really encourage participants to meet up in-person and offline with students who live in the same geographic area. There’s no replacing that face-to-face connection. Developing a community of practice and creating an environment that facilitates learning takes time and commitment. I’m excited to see the TechChange community continue to grow and change.

Interested in learning more about TechChange courses? Check out our online course catalog here! We will be launching new sessions of several of our most popular courses in the New Year! 

About Amy

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Amy is the Technology Advisor at USAID Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI) where she supports staff as they decide how to integrate the use of information and communication technologies into their programs. She loves supporting co-creation spaces, leading digital literacy efforts and working closely with local staff to provide an outside perspective on the design of small grants. OTI supports U.S. foreign policy objectives by helping local partners advance peace and democracy.

Today is International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

Persons with disabilities constitute the world’s largest minority, 80% of whom live in developing countries – an estimated 800 million people. Approximately 20% of the world’s poorest people have a disability. In response to this reality, the United Nations (U.N.) adopted seven disability-related targets (e.g. Targets 4.5, 11.2, 11.7) as part of the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) developed in October 2015. (UN Enable)

Persons with disabilities should therefore be key stakeholders and beneficiaries of any development or humanitarian initiative, and monitoring and evaluation (M&E) systems should be capturing how programs impact them. Below are some resources that outline how technology can act as a tool to facilitate the inclusion of this largely marginalized population in M&E processes.

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Core Data
Valuable program or country-specific data about persons with disabilities to collect during M&E may include:

  • Disability prevalence, disaggregated by type of disability, age and gender
  • Definitions of disabilities to compare to World Health Organization (WHO) and other definitions
  • Legal framework
  • Policies on segregation, institutionalization or community-based rehabilitation in health, education or penal systems
  • Education and employment rates
  • Representatives in government and civil society
  • Program administration data (i.e. rates and modes of inclusion in an activity, program or organization)

Early and consistent collection of this data is needed to determine where and how M&E can best occur in collaboration with persons with disabilities.

Using global datasets can increase the efficiency of data collection and facilitate comparative analysis. See:

E-accessibility
E-accessibility is a measure of the extent to which a product or service can be used by a person with a disability as effectively as it can be used by a person without that disability.

E-accessibility should be among the criteria for choosing a device for data collection or dissemination. Consulting with local Disabled Persons Organizations (DPOs) can help determine if a tech tool will create barriers or enhance participation.

For example, mobile phones with hands-free, voice command features (think “Siri”) can enhance accessibility. Large print and screen reader compatible formats should be used to collect and provide information electronically to persons with impaired vision, blindness or dyslexia. Visual elements of documents, like photos, should have captions that can be read aloud. Radio or audio recordings deposited with a DPO can make evaluation results accessible across a range of disabilities. Real time captioning, or printing hard copies of the main script of a video or lecture, can increase inclusion of the hearing impaired. Braille printers (often available through a local DPO) can produce reports or surveys for the blind. These technologies enable persons with disabilities to participate independently and confidentially in surveys and other feedback mechanisms.

E-accessible technologies not only enhance M&E processes, but also can be low cost. Some operating systems have built-in automated voice read or Assistive Touch technologies. Software to read aloud or translate documents into Braille on-screen is often free (to read DAISY books, download here). Self-captioning software, such as Overstream and MAGpie, is also widely available for free. Training sessions for DPOs or enumerators on how to use these features or software may be necessary.

The following provide more information on e-accessible tools, methods and procurement:

Technology can change an environment that is disabling into one that is empowering by creating channels for persons with disabilities to have an equal voice in the programs that affect them.

 

About Leigh-Ashley
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Leigh-Ashley Lipscomb is an independent analyst and Adjunct Research Fellow with the WSD Handa Center for Human Rights and International Justice at Stanford University.

3D printers make creating new prosthetic limbs look easy. Smart systems enable farmers to perfectly plant, fertilize, water and harvest their fields. Innovative analytical tools allow governments, NGOs, and businesses to see trends like never before, and cloud computing technologies allow the terabytes of information created daily to be shared from partner to partner across the globe. Worldwide, Information and Communications Technology (ICT) increases output and productivity.

If utilized effectively, these technologies will build the capacity necessary to achieve the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for 2016-2030, lifting millions out of extreme poverty as we move toward a healthier, brighter, global future. The SDGs expand upon the foundation laid by the 2000-2015 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by taking a more holistic approach to development issues and approaching economic, social, and environmental development as pieces of the same puzzle.

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The SDG ICT Playbook guides organizations in the development sector as they leverage the power of ICT to achieve these goals, providing the context for:

  • Governments to build new, innovative, and sustainable ways to connect their populations to technology, thus enabling improved connection with their citizens, making processes more transparent, democratic and efficient, and improving the accessibility of government services.
  • NGOs to utilize this new suite of tools to conduct better research, plan more effective initiatives, and analyze their impact.
  • Entrepreneurs to enter into emerging markets with innovative products in an efficient, cost-effective manner that supports sustainable development.

In our work toward the SDGs, all actors should support policies, within organizations and on a national and international level, that make technology more accessible to the public.

We must create cross-sector partnerships to build the infrastructure that makes ICT possible and use those partnerships to enhance the efficacy of ICT solutions. From businesses, to governments, to organizations focused on agriculture, health, education, WASH & power, disaster relief, and environmental protection, we all stand to gain from it wouthe increased use and availability of ICT.

Acknowledging that organizations within the ICT field are situated to lead the charge on technology’s accessibility, the SDG ICT Playbook was spearheaded by a partnership between NetHope, Catholic Relief Services, Intel, Microsoft, CDW, and TechChange. While we all occupy a diverse array of organizations, we believe that our institutional differences are what give us, as a group, the holistic view that technology needs to be made accessible from a variety of perspectives, in order for it to be accessed by a variety of potential users.

Check out NetHope’s press release and blog post about the playbook.


TechChange COO Chris Neu is fond of pointing out that in social change, technology is only 10% of the equation while the rest is about the humans using that technology. That 10% is a pretty powerful percentage though, and when technology is used effectively, it can amplify voices of peace and empower local communities that want to find alternatives to violence. It’s easy to forget though that technology isn’t the most important part of any information and communication technology (ICT) for peacebuilding enterprise; it’s the people, both the beneficiaries and the peacebuilders (who can be one and the same!). Because what we’re doing with ICTs in any peacebuilding context involves asking people to share data and participate in interventions, we must be aware of the risks participants face and how to manage those risks. The problem is that we face a variety of risks at multiple different levels when using ICTs in any political environment, so what are a few things we can focus on while planning a project?

An Institutional Review Process as a Starting Point
There are a variety of simple starting points. For example, if you are an academic or affiliated with an academic institution, they require you to go through an institutional review process before you can do any research involving human subjects. This would include doing a crowdsourcing project using SMS text messaging or social media. Many institutions have some kind of process like this, so check before you deploy your project. While tedious, the process of defending your risk management procedures can help you identify a lot of problems before you even start. If you don’t have an internal review board, grab a copy of the ICRC’s “Professional Standards for Protection Work” and check your project design and risk management against the recommendations in Chapter 6.

Along with doing this kind of standard review, what are some other factors that are unique to ICTs that you should be aware of?

1) National Infrastructure and Regulatory Policy
The first is that ICTs are part of national infrastructure, and are regulated at the national level. When you use any kind of transmission technology in a country, the rules for how that data is transmitted, stored and shared are set at the national level as part of regulatory policy. If the government in the country you’re working in is repressive, chances are they have very broad powers to access electronic information since they wrote the regulations stipulating data privacy. In general locals will be aware of the level of surveillance in their lives, so do your legal homework about the regulations that people have actively or passively adapted to. These are usually titled something like “Telecommunications Act” or “Electronic Transmission Act”, and are often available for public viewing via the web.

2) Legal Compliance
If you’re going to go forward with an ICT-supported peacebuilding program after doing your legal homework, ethical practice starts at home. Unless you are reasonably adept at reading and interpreting legislation, did you have someone with a legislative or legal background interpret the privacy laws in the country you’re about to work in? Does your team have someone with expertise on the technical and policy aspects of using ICTs in a conflict-affected or high risk environment? Has the entire project team had some basic training in how ICTs work? For example, does everyone understand the basics of how a mobile phone works, how to protect sensitive data, and the implications of having people share data on electronic platforms? Before showing up in a conflict-zone and asking people to participate in your project, you should make sure your team understands the risks they are asking people to take.

3) Informed consent
What do the local project participants know about ICTs? In terms of safety, people are generally aware of what will get them in trouble. Always assume that your perception of risk in a country is under-informed, even if you’ve read the laws and done some regulatory analysis. With this in mind, if you’re going to ask people to take risks sharing electronic information (always assume that sharing electronic information is risky), do you have a process for assessing your participants’ knowledge of ICTs and then addressing any gaps through training? Do you and your team understand the technology and regulations well enough to make the risks to partners clear, and if they still choose to participate provide risk management training? Informed consent means making sure you and your partners are both equally clear on the risks involved in what ever project you’re doing.

Peacebuilding carries some level of inherent risk – after all, we’re dealing with conflict and violence. ICTs carry a unique set of risks, compounded by both the nature of digital information and the capacity for governments and conflict entrepreneurs to exploit this information. An effective ICT for peacebuilding program addresses these risks from both the legal and technical sides, so that implementers and local partners are equally informed and able to use the tools in the safest, most effective way.

Want to learn more about the ethical issues facing peacebuilders using technology? Enroll now in our Technology for Conflict Management and Peacebuilding online course which runs October 6 – 31, 2014

 

Image source: Tech Republic

In his 2006 TED talk, Hans Rosling used data visualizations to deconstruct his students’ assumptions about the ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ dichotomy of countries. He looked at the patterns and demonstrated how they were easily recognizable and showed something contrary to the original belief. Pattern recognition is the core power of data visualization and more companies are embracing the notion of  “putting humans back in the decision making process”.

Good data visualizations make patterns and outliers easy to recognize and aesthetically pleasing. The data are “liberated” from numbers and letters into a form that can be easily analyzed and understood by everyone.

Here are some great examples of liberating data through data visualizations

1. Microsoft’s SandDance Project

Microsoft recognized the importance of humanizing data with the SandDance project in terms of designing the data exploration experience using “natural user interaction techniques.”

SandDance

2. Cooper Center’s Racial Dot Map of the US

US Census data is made freely available online for anyone to transform into a complex and understandable visualization. The data is available geocoded and as raw survey results. Last summer Dustin Cable took the 2010 census data and mapped it using a colored dot for every person based on their race: blue is White; green, African-American; red, Asian; orange, Hispanics; and brown, all other racial categories. The resulting map provides complex analysis quickly.

USA Racial Dot Map

At a glance, it is easy to see some general settlement patterns in the US. The East Coast has a much greater population density than the rest of America. It slowly gets less dense until the middle of America where there is extremely low density until the West Coast. Cities act as a grouping point: density typically decreases in relation to the distance from a city. The population of minorities is not evenly distributed throughout the US with clearly defined regional racial groupings.

San Luis Obispo, CA

As you scan through California, an interesting exception stands out just north of San Luis Obispo. There is a dense population of minorities, primarily African-Americans and Hispanics. A quick look at a map reveals that it is a men’s prison. With more data you can see if there are recognizable patterns at the intersection of penal policy and racial politics.

3. Google Public Data Explorer

Google has created dynamic visualizations for a large number of public datasets. There are four different graph types, each with the ability to examine the dataset over a set period of time. With the additional element of time, new patterns can emerge.

Examining the World Bank’s World Development Indicators data set to compare fertility rate and life expectancy a pattern emerges: as life expectancy increases, fertility rate decreases. However, some notable exceptions occur. In 1975, Cambodia has a life expectancy slightly over 20 years, less than half of most countries with a similar life expectancy. It is also the year the Khmer Rouge took power leading to mass killings in Cambodia.

This exception to the normal pattern shows how strong of an impact a single event made. Data visualization makes recognizing this pattern and outliers as easy as watching a short time-lapsed video.

I’ve always believed that data are more than just collected information. Data have a purpose and are meant to be analyzed. New technologies have made visualizing data easier than ever and the data are more accessible to everyone.

What are some of the best data visualizations that you have seen, or maybe even created yourself? Please feel free to share in the comments or tweet @normanshamas or @TechChange.

Want to learn more about data visualization and analysis? Enroll now in TechChange’s new online course on Technology for Data Visualization and Analysis  that runs June 1 – June 26, 2015.

In the last decade, new technology has made advances in data storage and analysis to leverage the greater volume of data available. The digital universe made up of all the data we create and copy will only increase in the future. The International Data Corporation and EMC’s research says that the digital universe is doubling in size every two years and by 2020, will contain nearly as many digital bits as there are stars in the universe (reaching 44 trillion gigabytes).  We now live in a period of time defined by data: Data scientists are the new must hire position yet, McKinsey & Co.’s research says that by 2018, the U.S. will experience a shortage of 190,000 skilled data scientists.
McKinsey research on data scientists in different industriesWhat industries are the data scientists working in now

Government surveillance through internet data has been in the news since Edward Snowden’s leaks, and the popularity of sites such as FiveThirtyEight has popularized data journalism. International development donors have recognized this and are demanding more data from implementing partners and placing greater emphasis on monitoring and evaluation (M&E). While M&E is used to cover a wide variety of activities–from reporting to research–at its core, it is a way to ensure international aid programs are providing effective interventions.

Much like how the data revolution has sparked innovative software for the private sector through NoSQL data storage, software and technological innovation for M&E is beginning in international development. A reflection of conversations during Tech Salon’s M&E discussion show that M&E tend to be afterthoughts to program design because of fear of failure and the lack of funds. However, today technology and M&E are increasingly being requested in international development.

Here are a few reasons why we need to better integrate technology, M&E, and international development.

Greater Transparency

The US government has embraced the data revolution by providing open access to some of its data. This access provides not only greater transparency, but also greater scrutiny over spending and its efficacy. Anyone can easily see how much money the US government is spending on foreign assistance and engage in dialogue on whether the money is being spent properly and effectively. Initiatives such as the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) work towards greater transparency across all donors and have established one standard for donors to report information on monetary flows in development.

Using technology-enabled M&E effectively will allow development implementers to prove program efficacy more quickly and easily. Programs can adapt activities on the basis of real time M&E, providing more benefit to beneficiaries. Global indicators can be used to show impact throughout multiple projects. Visualizations, such as maps, can present the wealth of data collected into an easily understood form.

World Bank Data Visualizer: Formal Financial InstitutionWorld Bank Data Visualizer world map

Proving impact and greater accountability helps USAID and other clients justify spending money on development programs to their stakeholders. In turn, the clients can keep funding programs and continue helping people throughout the world.

Data responsibility

Snowden’s revelations have brought the conversation of data responsibility and privacy to the general audience. For development practitioners, as donors request more and more data, we need to think about how to collect the data while protecting the beneficiary. It is important to consider what technology is appropriate for M&E as well as the metadata that it might reveal.

Utilizing technology-enabled M&E is more than including mobile phones into the process. It requires considering what data needs to be collected and whether it can do any harm to a beneficiary if the wrong person gains access to it. Technology and their limitations need to be understood to design data collection and any limitations for data analysis.

Put simply, technology is a tool for the M&E practitioner, not a solution on its own. The concerns about data responsibility are not new to development, but understanding the technology is.

Technology makes practitioners’ lives easier

Most importantly, technology-enabled M&E eases the work of practitioners. Imagine working in the field to collect information and instead of using pen/pencil and paper, you are using a tablet with a data collection app. This app allows you to work without internet connectivity and sync data when connectivity is available. You don’t have to worry about entering any geographic information, because it is either associated with a service location (e.g. school, community center) or the tablet saves your location for each entry.

M&E software companies, such as DevResults and SurveyCTO, create these tools so practitioners can focus on helping beneficiaries instead of recording and transcribing data. Field practitioners no longer need to record the same information in multiple locations and continually check to ensure no transcription errors occurred. Headquarters staff can use different types of data visualizations to more effectively develop theories of change and write reports much quicker.

By providing greater transparency, data responsibility, and making the the practitioners’ lives easier, technology is allowing practitioners to focus less on administrative tasks and more on effective program design.

To learn more about integrating technology and M&E in international development, sign up for our upcoming Technology for Monitoring and Evaluation online course.

 

Norman Shamas

Norman Shamas is the course facilitator for TechChange’s Technology for Monitoring and Evaluation online course. He also currently works as a data architect and wrangler to analyze foreign aid data at Creative Associates International. Previously he worked as a graduate student instructor at the University of Minnesota, where he studied identity from theoretical, social science, and policy perspectives. He has extensive experience in Israel and the West Bank where he has worked as an archaeologist and led dialogue groups. Norman speaks Hebrew and Persian and reads numerous dead languages. Norman enjoys telling stories, whether in words, images, or numbers. He has more than five years of experience teaching online and in person and facilitation in the US and abroad.

 

Filming of Malaria Consortium staff doctor counselling a client on proper treatment of malaria. Uganda. (Photo credit: Maddy Marasciulo-Rice, Malaria Consortium)

Malaria in Context

There is an undeniable malaria problem in the world today. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) in March 2014, half of the world’s population is at-risk, hundreds of millions of cases are reported each year, and hundreds of thousands die annually of this disease. Around 90% of these cases occur in Africa, with children under 5 years old making up the largest demographic affected.

The burden of this disease on the health care systems of developing countries is immense: Uganda has the highest malaria incidence rate in the world with 478 cases per 1,000 population per year. Fully half of inpatient pediatric deaths in Uganda are caused by this disease and in Nigeria, the most populous African country, 97% of the population is at risk.

(Source: WHO 2013 Global Malaria Report)

How are the countries of Uganda and Nigeria addressing malaria?

While both Uganda and Nigeria have national malaria control and elimination programs, due to long waiting periods and frequent stock outs of the appropriate medications at local health facilities,  individuals prefer to go to private clinics, pharmacies and local drug shops to solve their health needs. When these pharmacists―often untrained in accurately diagnosing febrile illnesses―see a client complaining of fever, they often presumptively prescribe antimalarial medicines. The reverse scenario is also a common problem: pharmacists do not always give out artemisinin-based combination therapy (ACTs) when it is actually needed.

Pharmacists in Uganda

Pharmacists in Uganda assist customers with recommending antimalarial medications (Photo credit: Maddy Marasciulo-Rice, Malaria Consortium)

Presumptive treatment ― the overuse of antimalarials greatly increases the chances that malaria parasite resistance will develop and spread. In the future we might have one less weapon in our arsenal against these parasites. This overuse also means that the medicine is put over

How can rapid diagnostic tests (RDTs) help treat malaria?

Fortunately, rapid diagnostic tests, or RDTs, allow malaria to be diagnosed quickly, accurately, and cheaply, using only a drop of blood and a few drops of a solution. The problem is―there is no official quality control within the private healthcare sector―the pharmacists who provide the RDT to the patient have no way to choose a good RDT from the many options on the market and the wrong choice could lead to inaccurate diagnosis. Furthermore, many of the RDT sales representatives haven’t been trained to properly explain their product to their clients.

Challenges of RDT Training for Malaria in Uganda and Nigeria

RDTs to test for malaria and drugs to treat the disease are currently available in the private healthcare sector. However, there are several challenges to scaling up RDTs in this sector in Uganda and Nigeria.

1. Lack of training with Rapid Diagnostic Testing Materials

The primary barrier to appropriate care is the lack of training among pharmacists and RDT sales providers about how to use the test and interpret the results correctly to effectively diagnose and treat a range of febrile illnesses.

Malaria Consortium, based in the UK, is one of the world’s leading non-profit organizations specializing in the prevention, control, and treatment of malaria and other tropical diseases. Their projects can be found across twelve countries in Africa and Southeast Asia. The organization strives to find effective and sustainable ways to control and manage malaria through research, implementation, and policy development. They came up with the design for a plan that could greatly help manage the disease in both Nigeria and Uganda:

If the RDT sales representatives and RDT providers can be trained to correctly use the RDTs and recognize the symptoms associated not only with malaria but with other common illnesses, then the burden of misdiagnosis and mistreatment can be greatly reduced. Furthermore, as the sales representatives travel and frequently interact with providers, they can act as trainers and further disseminate the knowledge and skills necessary to accurately diagnose and treat these diseases.

2. Prohibitively high costs

The costs associated with arranging such a training are enormous―between transporting the students and teachers to a centralized location, renting a venue, arranging lodging, and coordinating a schedule, the budget for a large-scale training would quickly be out of control. Additionally, pharmacy owners and other stakeholders working in the private sector would most likely have to assume a loss of revenue during their time away from their business while at a training.

3. Technical limitations

An eLearning platform is much more ideal for these circumstances―it’s flexible, participants don’t need to travel far, you need fewer instructors, and the information can be processed at the student’s pace and repeated when necessary. The information is also standardized and consistent, which means that a large number of people can benefit from a high quality training experience.

 But how do you deliver an eLearning course when your audience has intermittent power and whose computers are not only often out-of-date, but lack the RAM, bandwidth, and software standards that such hi-tech learning platforms have come to expect?

eLearning Solutions for Reaching 3000+ Healthcare Providers for Malaria

Malaria Consortium partnered with TechChange to build a comprehensive digital course to train private sector health workers and RDT sales representatives in this context. This 11 module course includes around 400 slides for 6 hours of content takes participants through the biology behind the malaria parasite, discusses the medical philosophy behind diagnostic practices, and walks users through interactive scenarios for patients presenting a range of symptoms.

Testing TechChange Malaria Consortium modules in Uganda

Sales representatives and drug store owners in Uganda testing eLearning modules designed by TechChange and Malaria Consortium on rapid diagnostic testing for malaria. (Photo credit: Catherine Shen, TechChange)

1. Offline access and Ease of Use

Despite significant benefits such as flexibility and scalability, e-learning courses also face challenges in the developing world. Lack of sufficient internet bandwidth, reliable computers, and computer skills can pose major barriers to a training’s effectiveness.

To troubleshoot the technical issues, this course is designed to require nothing more than a computer and headphones – it comes preloaded onto USB drives so not even an Internet connection is necessary, allowing health workers in even the most rural areas to access this training. A computer tutorial is also included for health workers with little to no prior experience with computers. Our tech team is also devoted to helping solve any other technical issues that arise due to out-of-date software and hardware malfunctions, working as a remote IT team as Malaria Consortium rolls out the project.

 2. Localized content

In addition to including the relevant national laws, case studies, and local examples, the narration features Nigerian and Ugandan voice actors, art, and scenarios to make the training as culturally-relevant as possible.

 3. Hybrid learning

Only one part of the training won’t be computer-based; participants will still practice actually conducting the RDT tests in a face-to-face session before they begin pricking patient’s fingers for diagnosis.

The course is designed to reach upwards of 3,000 healthcare providers in the two countries and build their capacity to effectively serve their community’s needs. We look forward to seeing the impact of this training in improving quality of care in Uganda and Nigeria hopefully in the near future.

To learn more about TechChange’s custom training solutions, please contact us at info@techchange.org.

Emily Fruchterman, Catherine Shen, & Charlie Weems contributed to this post.