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Since 1972, BRAC has been working with the objectives of poverty alleviation and empowering the poor with a holistic approach. As a top world organization, it has made notable contributions into multi-dimensional sectors on human development activities. In order to achieve the MDGs of reducing child mortality and halving the number of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation by 2015 (goals 4 and 7), BRAC has been implementing the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Programme since 2006 in 150 Upazilas (sub-districts) of Bangladesh.
Since 1972, BRAC has been working with the objectives of poverty alleviation and empowering the poor with a holistic approach. As a top world organization, it has made notable contributions into multi-dimensional sectors on human development activities. In order to achieve the MDGs of reducing child mortality and halving the number of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation by 2015 (goals 4 and 7), BRAC has been implementing the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Programme since 2006 in 150 Upazilas (sub-districts) of Bangladesh. Currently the Programme has extended its activities to 248 upazilas, which covers one-third of Bangladesh, reaching 51 million people. Thus it would be interesting to share how the BRAC WASH Programme is managing such a huge amount of data and information.
In the very beginning, data for all BRAC programme activities were collected through a manual process (paper-based). This was first done by the BRAC Health Programme, and later on by the Research and Evaluation Division (RED) and the Monitoring Department of BRAC. The paper-based method was quite time consuming and thus it was difficult to process the data within a reasonable amount of time. For the WASH Programme this meant that results were being fed too late into decision-making to improve the Programme, as this monitoring system was not able to identify quality outputs on a regular and timely basis as required. As a result, BRAC WASH set up its own information management systems.
Currently three monitoring systems are in place: The new Management Information System (MIS) was established in 2008, the Internal Monitoring and Quality Control (M&QC) unit was created in 2010 and the Qualitative Information System (QIS) was added in 2012. These three mechanisms ensure an appropriate information management for learning and ultimately management of the Programme based on evidence.
The MIS has been collecting quantitative data according to the logical framework from the field, which is called Monthly Performance Report (MPR), and it is consolidated on a monthly basis. The MIS at the head office has been maintaining information by using a Structured Query Language (SQL) database management software system. This system is maintaining a huge dataset but it also has its limitations. For example, some areas have more than 80% sanitation coverage but we do not know how many members within the household are really using their toilets. Also, some households intentionally break their latrine’s water seal due to water scarcity. So even though the MIS tells us that we have reached our output target, it cannot tell us if the hygienic behavioural practices have actually changed as a result of our intervention.
Focusing on real impact
The question we asked ourselves was how to measure the results of performance and ensure the integrity of results with the engagement of an “external” monitoring system. As a result, the internal M&QC unit was created to check the validity of the MIS data, verify its reliability, and ensure quality of the services being delivered. This unit acts as an integral part of field operations for greater transparency and accountability. It provides regular feedback on input, activities, output, outcomes and impact for sustainability. However, even with the M&QC there were challenges to get real-time information, and more importantly, a qualitative measurement on the outcomes of the overall programme activities. It was necessary to go beyond the “bean counting” and focus on collecting hard evidence on the real impact the Programme has been having on the lives of millions of people.
Consequently, BRAC and IRC have jointly developed and applied QIS to measure the progress achieved in terms of outcomes. The Qualitative Information System (QIS) quantifies qualitative process indicators, such as participation and inclusiveness, and outcome indicators, such as behavioural change, with the help of progressive scales (‘ladders’). Each step on the ladder has a short description, called a mini-scenario, which describes the situation for a particular score (Sijbesma et al., 2012).
For more information on the basics and use of QIS, please see “The QIA and QIS methods – Participatory methods for capturing and quantifying user’s views about their WASH service” published on the IRC website.
Mr. Saiful Islam Raju, System Architect of BRAC’s ICT department, mentioned that the system that manages the QIS information is based on open standard which is called xFORM used with smart phones that can scan bar codes and have image/video capturing features. Most importantly, they have the capacity to work with a low network signal and with capacity to store large datasets offline. They also have access to Global Positioning Systems (GPS), Geographical Information systems (GIS), as well as direct calling access through online outlook view, so that the enumerators can easily contact the support team and make decisions with real time data when there are problems with the data collection.
Regardless of the QIS in place, the system needs to be developed further for multiple uses to overcome the drawbacks associated with it. For example, barcode reading often provides wrong numbers after being scanned, and unreliable internet network access in some areas gives an error sign when data was being sent to ICT. This creates confusion among the data collectors regarding instant data transfer. In addition to that, the existing WASH MIS system needs to be integrated with QIS to promote reduced dependency on the ICT department as a backup plan.
“What is good about the monitoring system that we are using is that it is participatory, so that respondents also get knowledge,” says WASH Senior Sector Specialist Mahjabeen Ahmed. For more information please see the blog on “Participatory monitoring in the BRAC WASH II Programme in Bangladesh”.
Md. Mahidul Islam, Senior Sector Specialist, Monitoring and Quality Control unit of BRAC WASH Programme.