Feb 25, 2008
During my business trip to Tanzania, I planned to visit Magu for a Focus Group meeting with farmers. However, getting to Magu...
During my business trip to Tanzania, I planned to visit Magu for a Focus Group meeting with farmers. However, getting to Magu was a slight challenge...
Part of the reason was the visit of “the esteemed president of the United States” to Tanzania. Days before the visit, from all road corners in Dar es Salaam, his grin would look at you from billboards with backdrops of the Kilimanjaro or the Tanzanian flag.
When he finally arrived, his visit turned into a practical problem: three out of probably five major roads in the city closed down, which made it hard to get around, and more specifically, to get to the airport. A day before my flight to Mwanza (in the Northwest of Tanzania, about 1,5 hour drive from Magu) we received word that the flight was moved two hours back because of this. Add to this: five more delayed and two cancelled flights at the airport, no luggage allowed on the plane because of fuel problems, boarding and then having to go back because of engine troubles, 300 waiting Tanzanians, 35 degrees centigrade, sticky airport food, incomprehensible messages over the airport intercom, wailing children, and 20 people hanging out of the airport bus taking pictures of Air force One. We waited for 5 hours, but - to my surprise - in the end the plane did leave. My biggest challenge was not to show my slight frustration, as the Tanzanians surrounding me remained their happy self, thanking God for finding the engine trouble before we left.
The value of the Cromabu information centre
The following morning we left early from Mwanza for Magu. Together with Dr. Ngaiza, one of the Tanzanian partners for Monitoring and Evaluation, to be part of the end user Focus Group meeting. Our intention was to reflect with a group of end users from Cromabu, a price information project for farmers, on the data that the project collected over 2007. From the data we already knew that there were very little complaints from their side: the information that Cromabu disseminates was highly valued, both for its quality and for the service given in the information centre and the different farmer groups felt very much connected to all aspects of the centre. Apart from farmers, there were other people using the (paid) services of the centre. A local representative of the Salvation Army explained how he used the Internet service of the centre to stay in contact with his organisation’s headquarters in Dar es Salaam.
Several groups of farmers had prepared a role play, explaining the daily process of getting the price information together, and disseminating it to the various communities in the Magu area. Impersonations of Cromabu’s manager and the mime of how bicycles are used to visit the communities were received with laughter and loud applause by the other participants. As was a sung poem on IICD’s assistance to the centre. Afterwards, we asked them to discuss some additional aspects found in the data analysis. Why did some people for instance not – or no longer - visit the centre and what could be done to remedy this? Or: would women also like to be involved in the use of the electronic media de project offers and if so: what impedes them to do this right now? Nobody seemed to feel shy getting into the discussion; everybody contributed and gave suggestions and ideas.
The meeting started, ended and was paused with a great number of speeches: we were welcomed, thanked for being there and for our assistance and many farmers took the opportunity to tell in detail about the impact the project had had on their life.
One of the things I learned working for IICD (apart from, for instance, eating a complete guinea fowl with just my right hand) is to come up with opening and closing speeches on the spot, a skill that came in handy during this visit.
The impact of Cromabu on farmers' daily lives
As usual, I did feel somewhat uncomfortable with the speeches of gratitude. I feel I have a wonderful job working together with dedicated and professional local partners. Not something that I should particularly receive praise for, the way I see it. That said, it was amazing to hear from first hand all those stories that we confirm by means of formal questionnaires on a yearly basis: the impact Cromabu has on the daily lives of the farmers. In the open answers in the questionnaires collected by Cromabu and during the meeting users described that with the extra income they’ve earned from the information received, they send their children to school, buy cows, repair their roof or buy a bed. Statements that make it very clear that information for development is far from a luxury!
Looking back on the day, one of the participants indicated that he was happy and proud that no issues were left out of the discussion. According to him, this showed that “it was both possible and necessary to have farmers be part of a process like this”. In my opinion a great compliment for our evaluation process and for the involvement of Cromabu with their user group. It’s very much worth coming to Magu for, despite all roadblocks and delays. Before we left, the users sang one more song. It was based on a well-know song for the emancipation of women, but with a spontaneous and small adaptation of the lyrics, they all sang: “Don’t go to sleep yet, Cromabu, there is still so much to do!”
Officer Monitoring and Evaluation Tanzania, Ghana and Ecuador
Nov 12, 2007
As I am usually mostly working from the hotel or inner-city project headquarters when in Ecuador, paying a visit to a local s...
As I am usually mostly working from the hotel or inner-city project headquarters when in Ecuador, paying a visit to a local site of one of our project partners is both interesting and a pleasure… even if it means that you’d have to get up at 4:15 in the morning to be picked op by our partners who runs the IICD supported CAMARI project.
The original plan was a two-day up-country visit to two communities that the project partner is active in. Unfortunately, one of the sites turned out not to have any connection, as they apparently forgot to pay for their electricity and had to go and fix this on the day of our visit. At least it was good to hear that connectivity problems are not only related to thunderstorms, bad equipment or political turmoil…
The adjusted plan therefore included one site about 4,5 hours from Quito. One of the persons responsible for the project and I talked about pets, favourite music and sports and of course the project itself in order to keep awake. In the meantime, scenes familiar from many Ecuador coffee table books unfolded: a sunrise over huge snow-capped volcanoes, indigenous women dressed in bright purple ponchos and black skirts and lazily grazing alpacas on the side of the road.
We passed a village with a large statue covered in different colours of bathroom tiles. “Do you know what that is?”, the partner asked. As I did not want to insult anyone, I did not dare say that the thing looked like a huge popsicle to me. “It’s a popsicle!” he said, “people here really love their ice cream.”
We arrived at the partner organisation’s office in the late morning (the project partner we work with again works with local partners in different communities). This local partner is responsible for getting certain amounts of produce, all carefully planned out on large hand-written boards, from the communities’ farmers and handicraft (wo)men to the selling point in Quito. Additionally, the information centre gives information on prices for the local produce. All tested ways to increase income of local producers and improve their decision-making on where, when and what to sell.
This was the theory. Walking around the community and talking to users of the projects I not only found out that the theory seemed to work (also proved by the encouraging evaluation data that had been coming in from the projects’ users for the last two years now), but that there was much more to it. In the first place: I probably had never before seen such an industrious village in my life! In a 2,5 hour walk I met cheese makers, sausage makers, mushroom dryers, furniture builders, football producers, nougat makers, chocolate makers, workers from the thread-factory and a group of women that knit sweaters from the thread produced in the factory. All of these micro businesses use the same communications network originally installed for the info centre for a nominal fee, which in turn helps coving a part of the info centre’s cost. The cheese factory communicates with surrounding communities that produce part of the cheese that they distribute all over the country. The chocolate factory sends e-mails back and forth about orders and packaging with Italian buyers.
The sheer existence of the info centre has over time sparked many of these initiatives. They are currently preparing to set up a VOIP-telephone, to compete with commercial (expensive and low quality) telephone provider Porta. And a Virtual Aula has been set up to provide all community members with internet access in an internet café setting. Contrary to international trends, the activity and communication possibilities have actually resulted in people moving into the community, rather than out of it, towards the city.
Talking to one of the “community economy”-founders, an Italian priest who has been in the village for over 35 years, it became clear that the effect of the network goes much further even. When asked about the most substantial changes for the community, he became really enthusiastic. Instead of elaborating on economic success or export, he talked about how the project opened up surrounding communities, till recent almost completely shut from the outside world. How young people there were seeing new possibilities, talking online with their friends in other communities. That, claimed the priest, was what was amazing about the new technology.
Every day, behind my desk in The Hague, I’m busy with the impact of our programmes: the statistics, the percentages, the lessons learned. The real life impact as seen in the community will probably always be impossible to capture….
Sep 14, 2007
Once in a while suggestions come in to improve IICD's online Monitoring and Evaluation tool ( http://demosurvey.iicd.org ). J...
Once in a while suggestions come in to improve IICD's online Monitoring and Evaluation tool (http://demosurvey.iicd.org). Just last week, my direct colleagues Hanna, Anne-Marijke and myself have been working on a new feature: an easy-to-download analysis. This came as a request from the project partners in Uganda. Until now, the download contained only the raw data which was not directly accessible for our partners. Project partners were already able to collect data online, by asking their end-users to fill in a questionnaire in the online tool, and now they will also be able to download the results directly from the tool. This will truly make ‘local ownership’ work in practice!
Monitoring and evaluation is key to understanding how and why modern technology exactly works for development. IICD has designed a way to measure how ICT projects impact people's lives and that has enabled our partners and us to learn a lot! Partners have improved their services to better reach their target groups and training sessions have been tailored to better fit the local needs.
The wide use of the online M&E tool resulted in 15,000 questionnaires from end-users in IICD's nine focal countries. In Bolivia the project partners have been empowered to continue Monitoring and Evaluation themselves without much support. The same trend is now happening in Uganda where the project owners of 16 projects with 65 up-country centres will be empowered to use the online M&E tool for their own benefit.
As officer Monitoring and Evaluation I have been involved in the design and development of the online learning tool since the beginning. This tool is up and running since 2005 as the open source software application WebEnq (http://www.webenq.org/), which is developed and maintained by Nivocer (email@example.com). Even though the tool is functioning well … “the development of the tool is never finished!” This remark was made by my colleague Anne-Marijke, after she implemented some changes in the questionnaire at the beginning of the year. It turns out many new suggestions come continuously from our partners in the countries. Next on the agenda is the improvement of measuring the longer term impact of our partner's training efforts. And surely this is not the last improvement that will be made… I will keep you posted!
Jul 19, 2007
The project “ District computerization Kinondoni ” is to bring about good governance in the Kinondoni District (Dar es Salaam...
The project “District computerization Kinondoni” is to bring about good governance in the Kinondoni District (Dar es Salaam, Tanzania) by harnessing information for decision-making through the use of ICT. The project has been in implementation for some time now and has been using IICD's Monitoring and Evaluation system since 2003. This time around, a new approach was taken during the Focus Group Meeting.
On the 20th of April, 30 ICT users from various levels and departments of the Kinondoni municipality and four ICT staff members assembled in a Focus Group meeting to discuss the results of the questionnaires that were collected last year among the end users of the project. An important conclusion from the data coming out of these questionnaires was that generally, users viewed quite an impact of the project in their organisation, in terms of empowerment of the users working with ICT and the impact ICT was having on the organisation when it came to productivity and efficient reporting. The results also showed that improvements could be made to improve satisfaction, mainly where training of the users and technical assistance by the ICT staff was concerned.
In order to address the challenges, role play was used to facilitate the dialogue. One group of end users and one group consisting of ICT staff members were both asked to prepare a small play on the issues concerning technical assistance. Each group had to address positive and negative aspects of the technical assistance and in both plays end users and ICT staff members had to be acted out. This motivated the participants to step in each other shoes and to take both points of view into consideration. Two other groups, both consisting of end users, made plays concerning organisational efficiency: Does ICT really make the workplace more efficient?
The plays (in Kiswahili) resulted in a lot of laughter and sounds of approval; many participants recognised the situations in the scenes that for instance showed a member of the ICT staff using very technical language with puzzled-looking users or a secretary without appropriate training, trying to help out her boss who was too busy to deal with the computer.
After all plays, the participants made a list of concrete points of action. Interesting was that this action was expected not only from the ICT staff members, but also from the management and all users. Ideas that came up had to do with lessening the pressure on the ICT staff by on the one hand training and aiding users to better cope with problems themselves. The ICT staff could for instance make notes with very basic trouble shooting issues, so the users do not need to call upon the ICT staff for relatively simple problems. On the other hand, the ICT staff can be trained to better and simpler communicate with their end users. They can also be helped to develop a way that allows the staff to better deal with the limited time that they have: which problems have priority above others and what can users expect from them in terms of promptness of the assistance?
The meeting was enthusiastically reflected upon. As one of the ICT staff members put it: ”It would be really good if we could do this again next time. I feel that people now understand more about the ICT staff, that we are busy too, and that we understand them better. And everybody enjoyed it!”