Challenges of monitoring day to day programming, and insights on the complexities of sharing information

Charles (extreme right in blue tshirt) and colleagues from the Somaia field team during a recent site visit near Badhan, Somalia.

By Charles Anguba Maumo

When a report is shared, what interests many of us are statements like “Acute water and pasture shortages have resulted in an increase in livestock mortality in Sanaag” or “90 percent of the households in Aweil are currently surviving on less than 3 meals per day, compared to same period last year” or “there is a significant decline in livestock prices across Wajir County: price of shots has dropped by 83%, cattle by 73% and price of camels dropped by 71%”.

Most often, no one will ask or want to know how the reported information came into being, more so if you have used a scientific methodology-accompanying the reported information.

My ‘Hero’ is that community mobilizer; that enumerator and field project staff whose job is to follow instructions on how to ask a certain question, how to probe further and get information from mostly rural-remote targeted individuals in the areas of our interest. These heroes are used to carrying kilograms (In weight. Really) of questionnaires for their use, walking miles to reach those villages that are inaccessible due to non-state actor’s presence, poor roads network or due to climatic conditions such as flooding and cars can’t pass through.

But they fold their sleeves, if lucky carry a bottle of water to hydrate and worse if the scorching sun of Midigale or Bilcil has decided to light the ground and even worse if the non-state actors decide to pay a visit to those villages the “heroes” have to interview households on that same day.

As ALNAP terms it “Flying blind” is what we can tag to what most of us staff go through each and every day as we carry on with our data management works.

Working for long with the local staff, you will understand that no matter your experience in a similar setting, knowledge gained from years of information fed and one’s position, the local staff do understand more about the socio-cultural and political dynamics of the setting we intend to collect data from. However, we always seem to forget about them once that data is relayed to our field office, online consoles or through daily emails in the comfort of our field or HQ offices.

So few are times we have shared the end product of the collected data with these staff who helped collect the data or the communities in whom that data leading to information was collected from. We can say we have mastered the art of being very good live ‘conveyor belts’ where one way relay of data and to that effect information is the order of the day.

Those who collect data are told; and to that note-they understand the reason for collecting the data is for organizational use e.g. to help make programming better. That’s most of the time the end of their engagement with data i.e. once they submit to the MEAL (Monitoring, Evaluation, Accountabiity and Learning) unit or the head of office.

As knowledge management dictates, data is more beneficial and has great impact if the information gotten from it is shared back with the communities whom are subjects (who gave responses). This is even more important if that data is collected from marginalized or volatile communities like the ones we work with in Adeso.

We as MEAL ,being part of the information cycle-do our part of developing questionnaires (most times helping the field team/project teams develop them), help project teams come up with an appropriate sample size of respondents to be interviewed, train staff on effective data management and sometimes supervise the data collection (most often remotely). We then sit down and wait to receive data from the well trained enumerators (project teams) and embark on data entry, analysis, collation and reporting.

The report highlights results as analyzed with catchy phrases e.g. “Using sorghum as the staple cereal, urban households in Galkcyo require USD 101 for food Items (USD 105 in Sep, 2016) and USD 33 for non-food items (Up from USD 32 the previous month of Sept, 2016); giving a total of USD 133 for full MEB” then forwarded to the next level. We don’t think what this kind of information if shared with the community in Galkacyo might bring or what new information might arise.

The good news, our accountability and feedback mechanism has taken over the bringing of gap between Adeso and the communities we work with; through this system valuable information is shared with project staff to not only be used to improve our projects but also to ensure that our programmes are understood by the communities and that we are more responsive to the needs of beneficiaries. The system also portrays to the community, local authorities and other staff that project implementers are serious about the outcome and impact of the interventions and accountable to not only targeted beneficiaries but also the whole community.

To conclude, we need to encourage each other to view data management as opportunities for change and learning rather than MEAL responsivities or project information cycle (norm).

One simple suggestion to mainstream this is to include reports we receive as an indicator of success in our daily work – thus demonstrating commitment to accountability and participation. Let’s answer these first;
• What are we doing well and what should we continue doing?
• What are we doing badly and how can we improve?
• What was supposed to happen, what actually happened and why was the result different?

Charles Maumo is Adeso's Monitoring, Evauation Accountability and Learning (MEAL) Manager.