This blog, the third in the series, presents how social development organisations can deliver digital-savvy, relevant, and properly targeted services to the poor. As discussed in my blog last week, delivering such cutting-edge development service to the poor, is built on the premise that the social development organisation is digital-savvy
It not useful discussing digital service delivery solutions at the social development entity if the entity has not attained the required paradigm shift. Suffice it to say that the social development entity discussed in this blog, has already attained a sufficiently high digital-quotient (DQ).
A model for digital-savvy service delivery:
Before you and I get into the specificities of a digital-savvy development service, there is a need to explore albeit at a very high level, the fundamentals of a social development organisation value-chain. What does it take the social development entity to deliver its services to the poor?
A typical social development organisation ‘thinks’ and ‘works’ from a PROJECT lens. Projects are the delivery vehicles for poverty eradication interventions and the modus operandi of most development entities. Development professionals like you and I, interchangeably use the words ‘project’ and ‘program’ but from where I stand, ‘programs’ are still considered projects, albeit, better analysed, grounded in a particular context and long term.
For social development organisations to conceptualise, design, and successfully deliver projects, a linear value chain is followed. I suppose the latter may explain why many believe they can wake up one day and walk straight into running a social development organisation.
The value chain of a social development organisation is likely to function like:
- Analysing and choosing an area of focus for the social development entity
- Development strategists like you and I taking further one above, by applying the what and how to do question, to whatever focus the organisation chooses. In development speak, the latter process culminates in a fully developed strategic plan. I never call it a strategic but business-plan instead. And I will explain why: strategic plans in development are notorious for not aligning with mundane business at the organisation, so why not plan for the mundane? After all, ‘the mundane’ is what makes or breaks an organisation. Steer clear of theoretical and academic like strategic planning models
- Project/programme design follows on from the business plan. The design is informed by a robust poor-people-needs analysis, context specific poverty eradication models, and obviously a donor environment scan. Unfortunately, resource limitations in both money and ‘right staff competencies’ limit exploitation of the abundant digital opportunities available to the social development entity under this part of the value chain
- Project/programme implementation. Implementation is the architecture regarding staff at the organisation, project governance structures and all processes and tools to deliver services to the poor
- Monitoring and evaluation. In the eyes of the orthodox development professional, implementation and monitoring/evaluation are one thing. Modern development increasingly considers monitoring/evaluation a separate arm of the social development value chain. Some agencies like USAID have gone ahead to contract monitoring and evaluation to external service providers. It makes perfect sense to me separating implementation from monitoring and evaluation. A no brainer, is it not? Let development entities stop mixing ‘knowledge management and learning’ (KM&L) which needs building into project implementation process and tools, from ‘monitoring and evaluating’ achievement. The latter is the equivalent of ‘audit’. When did organisations start auditing themselves?
- And finally in the value chain process, Project/programme close out. Ideally, it is at this stage that social development entities get judged on what they have achieved or not. You and I know that many social development entities simply get away with ‘murder’ on this. After all, how does one measure the ‘social-development bottom line’?
So, from the above value chain, what can the social development entity digitise to become more effective?
Let us try and show social development entities, if you and I can at all, parts of their value that can be digitised so they become more effective:
Three parts of the social development organisation value chain, for which digitization will result in much more effective poverty eradication models:
- Business plan development: social development organisation business plans are developed against a background of primary and secondary data analysis. The data certainly talks to the needs of the poor people, but mostly at a generic level. Organisations should consider deploying a crowdfunding like model, only in this case tweak the model so that the poor people can directly influence the focus for development interventions. Let us put this in the context of a country like Rwanda with fast-growing mobile telephone ownership and pro-poor apps industry supported by private driven sector incubators like THINK!. It is possible for social development entities to interface directly with the poor via simple apps on mobile phones. Such interface can be used to solicit views on what challenges poor people face as well as viable solutions. Imagine a business planning meeting where problems plus solutions are discussed based on direct and representative views of the poor people. You and I know that social development entities may not have the culture or staff to think and do things like this. Well, the time has come for us all to think different and especially because, what was impossible a few years back is now possible
- Project implementation: the other opportunity to digitise the development value chain arises in project implementation. Many poor people own a mobile phone. However, social development organisations are yet to take full advantage of such gadget ownership. Why travel long distances to deliver simple (yet critical) messages to the poor on hygiene like hand washing, infantile nutrition, and other social behaviour change? These messages can be delivered to many poor people via mobile phone. What is needed is to think through a strategy for digitization including the design of appropriate messaging and platforms.
- Project monitoring and evaluation: allow the poor people to decide directly on the usefulness or not of a project and in real time, and you will have many social development organisation CEO’s extremely restless. However, in such an approach hides incredible potential to improve the effectiveness of social development organisations. Let me share an example of a project I witnessed in my village in Uganda – Nakabugu. A project funded by one of the ‘big’ donors in Uganda and targeting the ‘poorest of the poor’ suffered from resource abuse and diversion to the extent that it benefited the ‘elites’ of the village and not the poorest of the poor. The project was directly implemented via a local third-party entity, in development lingo a ‘sub-grantee’. This rendered the project ‘lead’, an international development organisation, unable to monitor in real time what was happening on the ground. A simple phone app could have been deployed by the lead development agency to solicit views of the poor on project usefulness. Even if this app only asked one question to the Nakabugu poor: is this project helping you? After all, what more do we need to know for a start? Had this been done, corrective measures would have been taken and in good time, for the project to still achieve its goal and address a key failing in development – resource diversion!
My takeaway: Social development organisations stand to benefit from the digital age, and become much more ‘effective’ at what they do, as along they invest in improving their digital quotient (DQ)