What are you doing in Ghana?
With Engineers Without Borders Canada I’ll be working in the Governance and Rural Infrastructure sector. We work with Ghana government to try to reinforce and support the information systems that are the backbone of evidence-based decision making processes, by implementing some tools we’ve developed to help manage District data, and working with the Planning Officers to build their capacity.
… Uh… What?
Okay, imagine your working in a District Office (like the Municipal government). Your job is to determine who is going to receive government resources this year – schools, hospitals, wells. You only have so many of each, and you’re team is pretty small, and your District is pretty big, with lots of communities over a wide area. How do you decide who gets what?
Ideally, you’d look at all the data – who has how many schools, how many people are going to school, what are the water-borne disease rates? It’s a lot of data, but you’d analyze it all and be able to optimize service delivery for the greatest good.
However, the data that you get is a little sporadic, and comes in the form of many reports. You have to compile these reports to send them “up the chain” to the Regional government, and that takes a pretty huge amount of time. This process doesn’t really involve compiling or analyzing the data, so by the end of it you have a lot of numbers but not a lot information.
What we do is try to streamline the data so that it’s easier to analyze. Using excel spreadsheets and some tools developed by EWB, information can be pulled together and quickly analyzed to give you a better idea of the actual picture on the ground. Being able to quickly calculate and graph averages and trends is a huge bonus!
Working with the District Planners, EWB co-develops these tools and works with the Planners so they are comfortable using excel as a data management tool, getting Planners the data they need to make good decisions.
I see. So you give people some training and some spreadsheets and your good to go!
Well… It’s not exactly that simple. There are all sorts of issues with incentives and power hierarchies that play into it and limit the benefits and desire to use data to plan service delivery, which I still have a lot of questions on. But if you don’t have these basic foundations (of data analysis tools and skills, these data management TOOLS) it makes it pretty impossible to implement good data PROCESSES. We try to do it holistically, from both directions at once (tools and processes), but tools are more tangible and easier wins, and are a good way in! That said, processes are where the money is – that’s what’s got to be targeted for lasting change in the way decisions are made.
Okay, one more question. (comment below!)