Enumerators Christian Daniel Opio and Patrick review interview notes as part of the GiveDirectly project in Kiryandongo, Uganda. ©Heather Lanthorn/IDinsight
We thought 2022 would be the year of recovery. But was it?
As the world slowly emerges from the pandemic, global leaders have been met with the aftershocks of a world on lockdown – supply chain constraints, manufacturing slumps, unstable fuel prices – and a new war that has threatened the world’s food and energy security. Just when we thought things were going back to “normal,” new, unexpected challenges keep emerging and putting policymakers under continued pressure.
In recent years, we have seen government leaders in East and Southern Africa intensify their commitment to making data-backed decisions. We have witnessed an escalated effort among policymakers to test which programmes work and use these insights to inform decisions about how social investments are made at the national and sub-national levels. This year, with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, we began a scoping exercise to identify which Kenyan counties and national government agencies would benefit most from IDinsight’s embedded approach as they develop and implement Public Financial Management reforms. Our team will support select counties to identify and address critical evidence needs within their Departments of Finance and Planning, and other line departments, for more efficient raising, allocating, and spending of government resources.
At IDinsight, we have identified government partners as key channels to achieve meaningful impact. We are supporting Kenya’s Ministry of Health to better understand the major causes of illness among children aged 5 – 9 years; this will inform their investment policy design as well as how the Ministry tracks programme outcomes. Similarly, Zambia’s Ministry of Finance plans to roll out financial inclusion (FI) programmes. To optimise their investment, they need detailed information on FI stakeholders and the opportunities available. We are developing a partnership to support the Ministry to obtain the information they need to guide critical investment decisions that will impact millions of lives.
Earlier this year, we completed a digital randomised control trial of ~20,000 people in just one month! We worked with Praekelt and the National Department of Health (NDOH) in South Africa to test the impact of behavioral nudges on COVID-19 self-reporting among university students and staff members. We found that the nudges effectively improved honest self-reporting. To further assist the country’s overall pandemic response, we worked with Praekelt.org on a natural language processing solution, built into the existing “CovidConnect” WhatsApp line (managed by Praekelt.org) to address users’ COVID-19 vaccine-related questions. This solution has fielded over 195,000 incoming messages and questions from users since its launch in 2021. We’re looking for more opportunities to use data science approaches to support partners in the years to come.
We are also seeing opportunities for cross-learning arise. For example, our work in Malawi with the United Beneficiary Registry is extending to Kenya where we are exploring work with the State Department of Social Protection to enhance the Single Beneficiary Registry for better targeting of the most vulnerable households. This will support our partners in improving their services and the effectiveness of their work.
The increased appetite for evidence amongst policymakers has brought to light the insufficiency of quality, rigorous, and up-to-date data. In instances where the correct data is available, it can be inaccessible or stored in inadequate formats for interpretation and decision-making. To that end, we have spent the year scoping partners in Kenya who would be best placed to utilise our proprietary Data on Demand service. Data on Demand uses quick-turnaround household surveys powered by local enumerators. We then use innovative technology for data quality checks to turn household surveys into invaluable, timely, trustworthy feedback for decision-makers. This approach is faster and cheaper than traditional survey methods, enabling leaders to urgently respond to people’s evolving needs. We intend to spend next year laying the groundwork – building and testing the infrastructure necessary – to make rigorous data collection faster and more affordable.
One of our highest impact opportunities in East and Southern Africa this year has been with GiveDirectly, where we extended our evaluation partnership to study the dignity experiences of cash recipients. We received feedback from South Sudanese refugees and the Ugandan host community that they felt cash transfers upheld their dignity by ensuring representation, increasing their agency, and promoting equality by distributing funds in a non-discriminatory way. As the new president of GiveDirectly, Rory Stewart, has put it, “The idea is that it’s their dignity, it’s their choice on what they do.” This white paper on defining and operationalising ‘Dignity’ by IDinsight’s Tom Wein, Heather Lanthorn, and Torben Fischer deciphers what dignity means to development actors and the communities they seek to serve. Join our Dignity Research Agenda by signing this consensus statement and partnering with us to research and operationalise dignity in international development.
We’re committed to deepening our partnerships and extending our work within the East and Southern Africa region. When we know what works, resources can be directed to programmes that make a real difference in communities and improve people’s lives.
To our team that works tirelessly to provide timely support to decision-makers across the region, I sincerely thank you for your commitment and dedication to amplifying policy and program impact.
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