Using data to drive effective international assistance

The Monitoring Support Project, MSP, has supported the monitoring efforts of USAID/Afghanistan and USAID-funded projects in the eastern part of Afghanistan since October 2015. The QED Group operates in 16 eastern provinces under the MSP-E project, while two other implementers, MSI Worldwide and IDS International, report on the remaining areas of the country.

In order to ensure that efficient, accurate, and quality information is being generated, the Mission utilizes a multi-tiered approach in which data is collected by, and from, multiple sources. By applying this strategy with the principle of triangulation, USAID is capable of gathering a complete lay of the land and revise for even the slightest inaccuracy.

Though this strategy has proven to work well in maneuvering around the security constraints and weak infrastructure presented in challenging environments such as Afghanistan, the absence of a Mission-sponsored, distributed and shared MEL system, proved to be a great disadvantage. With three implementing partners (IPs), each sending three different deliverables – raw monitoring data, individual M&V activity reports, and activity report summaries – challenges are not few, especially considering that each deliverable must share the same format of data presentation across the submitting parties.

In addition to the massive collaboration and coordination efforts required on behalf of QED and the other IPs to harmonize client deliverables, the client also deals with the challenge of having to work through a massive amount of data, creating an insurmountable workload.

With the client’s utility in mind, QED proposed a secure, one-stop data management dashboard or repository that would operate as a tool for data visualization and ease the process of analysis and reporting. Turning the idea into reality, MSP-E developed a prototype portal into which field data is uploaded, archived, visualized, and can be shared with stakeholder users.

The application organizes and stores the raw data that is reported on regularly but then also allows for the user to manipulate and stratify it at the click of a button. For example, performance measures are easily explored by location, project, date, and gender. In tools, the client has the ability to view the activities undertaken on a topographical map and export activity information into a spreadsheet that could be shared throughout the field staff. Survey tools and reports are readily available as well.

Proving itself to be more than a prototype, MSP-E continues to use the dashboard internally while alluding to its possible utility in other QED projects. Now in its 2nd year of use, this “Data Portal” is recognized by the USAID client as offering the kinds of data services, most impressively the GIS and analytical functionalities, that all future data-share utilities should include.