Updated: Jan 31, 2020
In the development world, specifically, the health sector, to assess achievement, improve interventions and ultimately achieve the intended result, an organization providing support to health facilities must collect and report strategic information to donors using a data flow that starts at the site level to a macro-level (central level).
To accomplish this, the organization generally puts in place a Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning (MEL) information system that relies on a substantial human resource presence to, periodically, visit each of the intervention sites to gather and report raw data into the MEL information system. This data is then aggregated and analyzed, at a macro-level, where the different questions for interpreting the data are made and then transmitted to the manager of the site and/or program, for answers.
However, the systems that are generally available at site level are focused on collecting data to report rather than for answering programmatic questions from the site personnel, which contributes to the minimal use of the data by service providers (data producers).
Improving Data Use
To maximize a MEL information system’s utility and ensure that all stakeholders are on the same page, decision-makers must ensure that the data is being used by data producers, as well as provide them with access to the macro-level information. This gives data users a dynamic picture of how each data element they produce contributes to their primary goal. Likewise, it is also important that decision making stakeholders at the macro level be able to dive into the detailed site-level data to, quickly, identify where a specific intervention may be needed.
How can we ensure that this happens, taking into consideration the scarceness of resources in those settings?
Where sites have electronic systems, decision-makers must ensure that these systems produce useful information to the site, allowing the data producers to visualize real-time and dynamic dashboards with trends on key indicators used to track performance.
Where the information is manually aggregated, the systems that aggregate the data at a macro level should be able to provide feedback to all sites in a timely fashion, with dynamic dashboards illustrating trends for key indicators and other critical information.
The main advantage that comes from the use of data by the personnel that provides services is the realization that what they are filling in the forms is reflected in the data that is being reported influencing the quality of the data and ultimately the service being provided.
Software programs can be used to boost the use of data, each program has its utility depending on what the aim is. The main criteria to be considered when choosing the best program depends on the answer to this question: what resources are available and can be enhanced without the need to buy new software and demand training from scratch to the data users, taking in consideration the variability of knowledge of data analysis and statistics?
In resource-limited settings, most computers come equipped with Windows operating system and Microsoft office installed and the personnel is minimally proficient in the Microsoft Office programs.
Microsoft Excel provides an immediate solution to maximize data use, enabling users to, quickly, analyze the data as they wish. With MS Excel it is also possible to have a descriptive analysis of the data, using pivot tables and slices to visualize it at the different granularity (site to central level).