In last several months, I had an opportunity to initiate and lead the process focused on changing the way my organization collects data on its beneficiaries and provided services. Usually, tracking the number of people served and services delivered is basic monitoring activity, but even such can be really challenging if you are part of the emergency intervention targeting large scale transiting population. Generally speaking, the whole change happened in two steps. The first one was focused on developing and rolling out new data collection format at all intervention sites; while the other one was more trendy and included introduction of technology, namely KoBoToolbox as the main data collection tool.
I have to admit that the whole process was challenging, sometimes frustrating, but at the end it was really rewording. Use of technology reduced paper work, unburdened field staff and enabled thorough data analysis. Finally, it was a great learning exercise. Throughout the process we overlooked some important and obvious things, while on the other side we invested to much energy in some quite irrelevant details. Here are our learning points and you are welcome to comment and share yours experience.
Monitoring system has to be developed before technology is introduced. KoBo or other similar tools cannot improve gaps/errors in the system.
Monitoring system should define which aspects of the intervention will be tracked, which information will be collected and which tools/instruments/forms will be used. Developed tools should have ensured that collected information sufficiently feed program decision making, but also meet reporting and accountability requirements. If monitoring system is focused on wrong or insufficient data, use of technology will not solve the problem.
Management and field support is essential
Institutionalization of quality monitoring system is not possible without strong leadership and field support. This is especially true if some kind of innovations are proposed. Basically, team leaders and senior management need to support the whole process, communicate its importance with the team and ensure that adequate resources are allocated for this purpose (more about this can be found here). In addition, for the operationalization of developed monitoring system (both traditional or technology based) understanding and support from the field staff is necessary. The field staff collect data on the ground so it is of highest importance that they understand why is this needed, who will use the data, how it will be used, and finally how will whole organization benefit from it.
Process is easier to facilitate and support if innovations are introduced in phases
To successfully roll-out new monitoring system and/or new data collection tools, you need to ensure support for the filed staff (front-line workers, coordinators, officers, etc.). If you offer and provide such support, field staff will feel more comfortable to use new system/tools and they will adopt it faster. In addition, this approach will ensure that all challenges are met as they occur. Providing support to different teams and implementation sites is much easier if it is not done simultaneously. Basically, by phasing the process, quality support will be provided to each team/site. In addition, teams that were involved in the process at early stage can act as peer support to other colleagues.
It is not about technology, it is about the people who use it in the right way!
Keep it flexible
There is no such thing as perfect plan, especially when you are introducing something new and innovative. Basically, it is almost impossible to predict every detail, so be ready to adjust it and adapt it to the context and new circumstances. We have done it for several times.
Finally, it is important to say that by introducing technology you may face some unexpected challenges. In my case, KoBo became a buzzword within the organization, a secret weapon and a silver bullet that can fix everything related to monitoring, evaluation, accountability and learning. So, be loud and clear: it is not about technology, it is about the people who use it in the right way.