Holistic development and multi-stakeholder engagement with a pinch of systems theory; a recipe for acknowledging complexity

 

A day like today 10 years ago I decided to quit my job in IBM. I no longer wanted to wake up every morning and work 10 hours to make someone in the US richer and richer. I had volunteered in Peru and Mozambique during the summer holidays and I knew I wanted to work in development. I had however witnessed how private companies can influence policies, move governments and transform the lives of people in developed and developing countries, and it was that sweet spot between development and the private sector that was most appealing to me.

Luckily for me, the development industry has undergone a profound change over the last decade and has moved closer to that sweet spot. Old funding models and narrow focused interventions are no longer the norm. Donors are increasingly requesting Public Private Partnerships where private companies need to provide co-funding for the implementation of a program. Nowadays development objectives (including a theory of change) and business model design (including pricing) are two sections of the same project proposal. An agricultural program now needs to put women equity at its heart, focus on nutrition and food security while achieving economic, social, technological and environmental sustainability. This holistic approach can promote transformational and long lasting change, but it is also much more complex to develop, manage and evaluate than “old school” donor funded programs.

Having managed a small component of a multi-country (14) multi-million (24) multi-partner (40) program that aimed to integrate agriculture and nutrition goals using mobile phones, while attempting to demonstrate ‘impacts at scale’ and value for money, I can tell you: getting to the end goal is not a walk in the park. While I was still involved in the program I was approached by a researcher from Ottawa University, interested in analyzing this complex program using a systems approach to understand the relationship between its numerous sub-components and its different development goals. The result was an academic paper that has recently been published in Food Security (Springer), which will hopefully influence donors and academia to revisit their approach to complex development programs and to ensure that the sweet spot between development and businesses becomes sweeter in the years to come.

 

Here I leave you the abstract and a link to the paper.

International development programming is increasingly integrating agriculture and nutrition goals, while attempting to demonstrate ‘impacts at scale’ and value for money. These multiple goals create complexities, both from a conceptual viewpoint and a more operational perspective. This article uses systems theory to examine the mobile Nutrition program (mNutrition), which aims to improve nutrition, food security and livelihoods for rural women and children, through mobile phone-based information services.  The paper specifically uses mNutrition’s work in Malawi as a case study. The systems approach reveals that, as a complex system with numerous sub-components and tensions among different goals, the mNutrition program tended to minimize connections between its sub-systems (such as content development and mobile service development processes) in order to speed up movement towards the global planned outcomes. We argue that this is likely to have multiple impacts on outcomes, including on overall effectiveness and the relevance and sustainability of the mobile message content.

Tags: , , , , ,
Holistic development and multi-stakeholder engagement with a pinch of systems theory; a recipe for acknowledging complexity
was published on 27.02.2018 by Alvaro Valverde. It files under global, sub saharan africa
You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
2 Comments AddThis Feed Button

What is the link between mobile value-added services and unpaid care work?

picture-from-rct

In 2016 nearly 70% of the bottom fifth of the population in developing countries owned a mobile phone, meaning that the poorest households are more likely to have access to mobiles than toilets or even clean water[1]. This breathtaking reality offers a clear opportunity to use available technologies to increase the outreach and efficiency of specific development interventions. Both donors and civil society organisations (CSOs) are wary of the opportunities and challenges associated with using ICTs in a development context, and much effort has been placed on developing commercially viable and sustainable mobile services for agriculture, health and nutrition over the last few years. However, ICTs are only one piece in a bigger system and sometimes we need to step back a bit to discover how a programme is having an unexpected negative impact in the very same people it is trying to benefit.

My name is Alvaro Valverde and until recently I was working with Oxfam as Private Sector Adviser (ICTs). My work included leading two programmes that used mobile phones to advance Oxfam’s work on livelihoods and women empowerment. One of the programmes was mNutrition, which aims to improve nutrition, food security and livelihoods for people living in poverty in 13 countries, especially women and children, through increased scale and sustainability of mobile based nutrition-sensitive information services on health (mHealth) and agriculture (mAgri). The second programme was Women’s Economic Empowerment and Care (WE-Care), my role focused on the use of ICTs for building evidence for influencing change on unpaid care work (e.g. cooking, cleaning and taking care of the children) in Malawi.

The mNutrition programme in Malawi developed SMS and IVR services for agriculture and health in collaboration with Airtel, the government of Malawi and local content partners. The service arm concentrated on creating commercially viable services, while the content arm focused on developing scientific based behavioural change information and messages. In parallel, the WE-Care programme implemented three research methodologies to gather evidence on the current distribution of unpaid care work in Malawi and on the impact that access to mNutrition services and content had in the re-distribution and reduction of unpaid care work for women smallholder farmers in the country.

Through participatory action research the WE-Care programme identified the current challenges and unequal distribution of care related activities at the household level in Malawi. This research was followed by a household survey, where detailed data was gathered using mobile phones from almost 600 households. The findings from both methodologies supported the idea that women in Malawi have an extremely busy daily schedule, as they carry out the vast majority of care related activities within their households, apart from also engaging in income generating activities.

The third methodology was a Randomised Control Trial (RCT), which aimed to understand the impact that access to mNutrition services had on the allocation of time to unpaid care work. Participants in the treatment group received a total of 24 SMS on their mobile phones (health, agriculture and food preparation messages) while those in the control group received a total of 12 messages containing interesting facts and seasonal greetings. The findings from the RCT revealed that the mNutrition programme was having an unexpected impact on the lives of the participants: users of the services prioritized the application of those messages directly related to income-generating activities during the first two months of receiving the information, to the detriment of messages directly linked to health and food practices; this increase in the time allocated to productive work also resulted in a reduction of sleep hours and time dedicated to personal care, as well as a higher perception of the occurrence of domestic violence by participants in the treatment group.

While it is worth taking into account the short period of time in which the RCT took place, these results point to higher calorie consumption by the participants (more time spent in the field and less sleep hours) and no increase in calorie intake, which could result in a potential reduction of the nutrition levels of the beneficiaries in the short term. This would directly challenge the overall goal of the mNutrition programme and even its sustainability in the long term. These findings were used to create a set of recommendations for the redesign of the mNutrition programme and also to inform the development of future ICT4D programmes that target poor women living in developing countries. Read the complete research and recommendations here.

There are three main things I have learned from this experience: women in developing countries have an extremely busy daily schedule and successful behaviour change can only happen if women’s time constraints are taken into account from the onset of a programme; more research is needed to better understand what works and what doesn’t when using ICTs in a developing context, particularly for mobile based information services that aim to promote behavioural change; and ICT4D programmes should not be developed in isolation, but rather linked to ongoing development interventions and existing sources of information.

 

[1] http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/896971468194972881/pdf/102725-PUB-Replacement-PUBLIC.pdf

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,
What is the link between mobile value-added services and unpaid care work?
was published on 07.12.2016 by Alvaro Valverde. It files under sub saharan africa
You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
2 Comments AddThis Feed Button

Leveraging Information and Communication Technology for the Base Of the Pyramid

Despite possibilities of scaling projects with technology, many technology-based initiatives in social and economic development have failed to make it past early pilot stages or grow to scale. This study by Hystra, in collaboration with Ashoka and TNO, examines what successful ventures within four sectors can teach us about models for scaling Information and Communications Technology (ICT) -based applications and projects aimed at reaching bottom-of-the-pyramid customers (referred to as Base of the Pyramid in the report). The researchers focused specifically on these sectors: education, health, agricultural services, and financial services.

What Did the Study Review?

Initially considering 280 projects as promising models, researchers found that over half were not worth researching because projects lacked sustainability or replicatibility. Many of the projects were dead pilot projects or were small with no sign of the possibility or intent of scaling in size or reach.

From there, researchers homed in on 16 groundbreaking cases. These projects had reached scale (defined as having 10,000 clients or more) or had the potential to do so. All projects were assessed against three criteria: Is the solution solving the (specified) problem? Is the project economically viable? Is the project scalable and replicable? The researchers grouped projects into specific clusters based on business model type. All projects researched were value-added or market-based, because of the researchers’ belief that such models increase project sustainability and client investment in the project.

The models that the researchers looked at varied. For instance, researchers asked whether end-users accessed the technology themselves as opposed to being delivered trough an intermediary.

What did the Researchers Find?

Technology for development is a young and dynamic field. And, with many new fields, especially in the area of social change, the rhetoric doesn’t measure up to the reality of impact for many projects.

Researchers found, not surprisingly, that many projects turn out not to be sustainable and that those that have reached some semblance of scale are rare. Many ICT4D projects, being donor-funded and donor-driven, are also short-lived and lack an identified, economically viable revenue stream. Additionally, the impact of ICT4D projects is hard to single out and measure. Researchers also found that there are various degrees of financial viability across the education, health, financial and agricultural services sectors studied. The most viable cases could be found in the finance and agricultural services sectors.

The paper goes into great detail about findings, with a chapter dedicated to each business model and sector, detailing different types of capital for different models, pros and cons of models, challenges facing each, and strategies for scaling. The paper also analyzes the state of the education, health, agricultural services, and financial services sectors.

Highlights include:

  • Education – while demand is growing for ICT support, without governments procuring the technology, it remains to be seen if there is sufficient purchasing power at the BoP to support technology education services.
  • Health – mHealth has the highest proportion of dead pilot programs, especially programs that were grant-funded.
  • Agricultural services – some of the largest projects are in this sector, some serving millions of people. The most viable of these over the longer term link individuals with income generation.
  • Financial services – by far, the most mature and viable sector with some great successes, according to the research.

What Makes Successful Project?

With this detailed analysis, the researchers were abe to point to some characteristics of successful projects. These include, understandably, a focus on the end-users ability to pay, a project structure that could adjust through trial and error, an ability to capture a large share of customer’s mind and wallet (often through related services), and varied revenue stream through a wide-range of services.

The authors also described key challenges encountered by many projects in the four areas investigated: Conflicting and confusing policy frameworks to work through (e.g. telecom and health policies), a lack of understanding of local needs and demands, as well as a lack of technical and sectoral expertise; and inability to find adequate capitalization.  Technology, especially when a project is growing, remains an issue as well. Similarly, many of the social entrepreneurs who began a venture lack solid IT expertise.

Some Conclusions

The authors aptly note, that while an entrepreneurial spirit is needed to start successful services, the ability to work with other across sectors is needed for scaling projects to include partnering the public, private and civic spheres. The paper further provides several recommendations. These include, not surprisingly, a solid focus on problem-driven approaches and a bottom-up, customer-centric world view. The authors also recommend supporting existing entrepreneurs, promoting cross-sector synergies, and removing specific barriers to scale. The paper ends with the warning that efforts must be made to reach those who as of yet do not have access to mobiles to minimize the likelihood of further excluding already marginalized populations.

Source: Mobileactive
More details and the full report Click here.

Tags: , , , , , , ,
Leveraging Information and Communication Technology for the Base Of the Pyramid
was published on 24.10.2011 by Worlali Senyo. It files under global
You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
1 Comment AddThis Feed Button

New Journal of ICT Research and Development in Africa

The International Journal of ICT Research and Development in Africa (IJICTRDA) is a new journal on research, advanced analytical methods and techniques, leading e-innovations, and development policies in information and communication technology adoption and diffusion in Africa and around the globe.

Topics that will be covered in the journal include ICT applications in agriculture and rural development, agribusiness supply chain management, coordination and integration, food security, poverty alleviation, food and agricultural marketing linkages, and rural financial service delivery.

The Editor-in-Chief currently invites authors to consider submitting articles to be featured in the inaugural issue of the journal. Articles may report on empirical research investigations, theoretical frameworks, case studies and major trends in ICT applications in food and agriculture, and rural development.

Being member of the Editorial Advisory Board of IJICTRDA, I’m especially looking forward to seeing submissions on case studies with an emphasis on interaction design and the design process in general. We will also cover published articles on this weblog, once the first journal is out.

For more information visit the publisher website or see the journal brochure.

Tags: , , , ,
New Journal of ICT Research and Development in Africa
was published on 28.05.2009 by Martin Tomitsch. It files under sub saharan africa
You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
3 Comments AddThis Feed Button

|