The need for building better data and monitoring mechanisms in humanitarian action.
A challenge that education staff have always grappled with is getting real-time data collected (efficiently) from the field to inform the direction of programming. This is a challenge faced across the humanitarian sector and by multiple project partners in our Humanitarian Education Accelerator Programme (HEA).
The HEA Programme is an innovative, multifaceted programme managed through a joint partnership between UNICEF and UNHCR that is funded by the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID). UNICEF has the lead on providing an external impact and process evaluation for innovative education projects, whereas UNHCR is assisting the teams to enhance their Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) Capacity. The HEA hopes to achieve this by building the capacity of the project partners to accurately monitor, report, and analyse the data they collect.
The HEA is trying to bridge a gap in knowledge of what M&E should be used for, starting from the student who is the primary recipient of the programme, to those who run the projects, to those who define education strategies for the country and further to those refugees themselves. In 2017, we added two more projects to the HEA, making a total of five projects that are being supported in this process.
- Kepler University Programme – Tertiary blended online learning using a competency-based model to achieve an AA and BA degree;
- War Child Holland – Can’t Wait to Learn;
- World University Service Canada (WUSC) – Remedial education for girls;
- Libraries without Borders – Ideas Box, a mobile library containing multimedia centre, connectivity, and tablets;
- Caritas Switzerland – Essence of Learning, psychosocial support programme.
For one of the partners, a key HEA activity was the chance to build key skills amongst their staff and teachers by challenging them to develop their own mini-research programmes to understand problems they see in their classroom. One teacher noted that female students are frequently more absent than their male counterparts. They wanted to understand what was stopping the girls from regularly attending classes and set about to develop a Theory of Change, and a research plan to address this challenge. Through empowering the teachers to find solutions to their everyday challenges, capacity is being built, and students are receiving a better service.
Initially, we thought the funding from the HEA would easily fill a significant gap in the way the projects are run since often money is limited to conduct and strengthen M&E practices. The partners, however, were in very different stages of scaling, and it was difficult to find a uniform plan for capacity building. Each partner had different requirements, and it took on average five months to develop an M&E capacity building plan that suited their needs.
Digitising data collection is another aspect we worked on with one of the partners. From attendance registers to follow-up tools and classroom observations, the time it took to gather information from the field to the Head Office was very long. Using paper-based systems, the data and feedback mechanisms are slow. With the introduction of tablets and Kobo (a data collection tool) questionnaires, data can be stored and shared more securely. The analysis of programme activities will become more efficient and feedback to the teachers and community mobilisers should be more streamlined.
Why data must be fit for purpose
Commonly in humanitarian programming, it is not that the wrong data is collected but that field staff are not aware of the overall M&E strategy. This can lead to staff not being able to interpret how the analysis of the results will impact their project. Programme Officers conduct data collection and monitoring in order to report against their impact indicators which is then linked to their funding. More attention and focus needs to go into collecting a different kind of dataset and feeding that analysis back to the schools and teachers on why the data was collected, and how this could lead into a positive change in programme design.
This ultimately means the circle is not complete. In education programmes, data needs to be collected for the teachers who work directly with their students. They need this data in order to improve teaching techniques and improve the overall score that their students’ reach in exams. This data is different to the information needed by the project manager who has a results framework and is keenly following what impact the programme has on the students, i.e. the end user. This may differ again slightly to the data needed for overall reporting against the state of education for national governments and donors who fund the programme.
At the end of 2017, one of the key deliverables for some of the project teams was the development and implementation of a monitoring framework. Breaking down what indicators were measurable and could show the impact of the project, and how this data would be collected was the focus of a workshop held in November. Working with the M&E Officers guidance was given on how to improve data collection, using digital tools for collection and analysis as well as comprehensive tools on how to monitor projects.
Linking monitoring and evaluation with a pathway to change
We are only half way through the HEA journey, and in 2018 we will continue to work with the teams to ensure that M&E is streamlined across every staff member working on the projects. This M&E strategy will be linked to the further development and scaling of the project by showing clearly impact and evidence of what works.
The HEA will work together with the teams to streamline better processes of data collection through digitisation of data collection and enhanced software tools for analysis. And most importantly, it will aim to ensure that every person working on the project is trained and understands why certain methods are used in the monitoring of the project, and can actively engage with the M&E officers to improve the impact of the project. Through enhanced capacity of the teams, the HEA will ultimately provide a solid evidence base of how innovation in education in emergency and crisis settings can work.
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