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IDinsight’s CEO Ruth Levine reflects on 2020

17 December 2020

Dear IDinsight community,

In early May, COVID-19 cases were rising at an alarming rate in Delhi. The government, faced with choices about how to deploy limited tests, hospital beds, and health care workers, needed to make sense of a stream of disparate information about people’s needs and available resources. That’s when the Chief Minister’s rapid response team called Ronald Abraham, IDinsight co-founder and India lead, and Dr. Divya Nair, IDinsight India’s COVID-19 response lead.

Could IDinsight create a simple data system to help the Delhi government track and support COVID-19 patients and healthcare professionals?

A few days later, a squad of IDinsighters based in Delhi, including Ron, volunteered to don masks and set themselves up in Delhi’s COVID-19 war-room with early-career civil servants. They worked from morning until late at night, figuring out what information would paint the clearest picture about the emerging conditions. With colleagues in the US on the team, the work continued around-the-clock. Within two days, they started interpreting the data and helping the government’s leadership make immediate decisions for the next day, as well as plan for resources needed over the coming weeks.

Simultaneously, the team started building a data management system for the city’s pandemic response. Partnering with Dimagi’s extremely dedicated team, they constructed a system that enabled the government to figure out who to test, how to triage care, and how to make beds available to critically ill patients. Data from this system was pulled into a public dashboard and mobile app to inform the city’s residents about bed and oxygen availability across Delhi’s hospitals. The framework of this early information system, built in a flash, has now been fully integrated into one that is owned, managed, and maintained by the government.

Hear more about IDinsight’s response effort in Delhi from one of the project lead’s, Dr. Karan Nagpal, in this video.

While the government matched health resources to people’s needs in Delhi, Divya led another team, which fed vital information to support the national response to COVID-19. IDinsight’s network of 1,000 community-based “Data on Demand” surveyors, which had been trained to collect high-quality data through in-person surveys, pivoted immediately to phone interviews.

When the central government wanted to know whether citizens were aware of how to protect themselves from the spread of coronavirus, IDinsight turned around a large, representative household survey in less than two weeks.

In the months since, this team conducted six rounds of state-representative phone surveys across nine states to understand the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on farming, workers in rural areas, and people’s access to food, cash, and other subsidies. They also studied how the pandemic affects men and women differently. Information from these surveys has helped focus the government, non-profits, and funding agencies’ attention on people facing the greatest hardship and what can be done to help.

What happened in India at lightning speed wasn’t the result of weeks of work. It was the result of years of refining a laser-focus on serving decision-makers faced with enormous challenges, building our organizational technical capabilities to respond to needs quickly and effectively, and establishing relationships in complex policy environments. Those assets also brought opportunities this year to help answer vital questions related to the pandemic response in Kenya, Malawi, the Philippines, and South Africa.

Watch Chris Chibwana, IDinsight’s Africa lead, discuss how African policymakers surprised many and kept cases down in their countries in this video.

Nearly a decade after IDinsight’s founding, the coronavirus pandemic has demonstrated that when leaders need to make decisions based on the best available evidence, we respond. This year, despite the many disruptions since March, we worked in more than 15 countries, amplifying the social impact of governments, NGOs, and funding agencies.

We deployed capabilities that range from conducting state-of-the-art impact evaluations, to analyzing implementation bottlenecks, to applying machine learning to complex decisions about reaching the most vulnerable.

Our work addressed numerous challenges – from how to nudge children to remember to wash their hands to how to retarget conditional cash transfers as part of a social safety net. While some of those projects focused on COVID-19, most spanned public policy and service delivery in agriculture, education, environment, health systems, youth employment, income support, and more.

Hear Aya Silva talk about how IDinsight helped UNICEF improve a children’s hand-washing program in the Philippines in this video.

We know data and evidence are just one element in complex policy and program decisions. But we believe that making information and knowledge available at the optimal time is an essential contribution to a better world.

As the year comes to an end and we look toward 2021, my colleagues and I are filled with energy and enthusiasm derived from our purpose: to bring the best analytic methods to bear on decisions that can improve the lives and livelihoods of people born into poverty in Asia and Africa. We know how to pair rigor with relationship-building, statistics with speed – all because what matters is whether the work we do, behind the scenes and in the weeds, helps programs obtain the greatest impact. The demand for our services far outstrips what we are able to currently offer, and we are counting on supporters of long-standing, as well as new friends, to make sure that we are able to take on the highest-impact projects.

We are grateful to work with remarkable teammates, clients, and financial supporters around the world. Thank you for your commitment this year. To follow our work, sign up for our newsletter, and follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Wishing for health, resilience, and solidarity in 2021,

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