You Should Stop Traditional Data Collection Right Now and Smarten up your Monitoring & Evaluation

A few weeks ago I published an article in which I was urging my fellow development professionals to stop traditional data collection in their programs and opt for a smarter alternative. This is something I have been promoting for years: traditional data collection distracts overworked, underpaid front-line staff (such as nurses and community health workers) from their work; it is tedious; it encourages misreporting and other errors; it is expensive; insights come in too late. Above all, it is a self-serving effort: it is only relevant to our industry. It adds no value to the people who collect it. Our job is to support these people not burden them with our own bullsh**t.

My solution is basically to implement a two-step validation process for milestones that define a given project (a community health visit; a visit to a clinic; attending a training; delivering supplies) and build your metrics and optimize your program in real time around the rich data that is generated by such validations. However, after I published that article I have been challenged – a lot – with the following question: “Yes, that would work for simple data, but in our project it is critical that we collect social/ demographic/ other specific data. So your process hack doesn’t work for us”.

I Disagree. It works, with a small tweak: you add a call-center to your operation.

At Triggerise we do this a lot: let’s go back to the experience of woman in my last article. She receives the visit of a community health worker at home. After the session validation, she gets referred to a service. When she shows up at the clinic for this service a simple validation happens there as well. This validation triggers an additional process – the woman’s phone number gets pushed to a call center. Within a few hours/ days she gets a call from a trained operator who asks her 5 questions or so, to determine exactly those pieces of information your program requires. This information gets imputed live into our platform by this trained operator.

That’s it. You have your information. No-one filled any form. The nurse did not do any paperwork. The info is already live in the database.

And there is a bonus: the operator gets to ask the woman how she felt she was treated. The woman gets to rate the provider (like on tripadvisor). You quantify this and reward the provider accordingly.

People power.

Sure, some women will refuse to take the call. But statistically that is no-where as damaging as the error margins that come with paper forms. No big deal. you do this consistently you have enough info to accurately inform your programming.

Sure, this costs a bit of money (depending on the country you operate, anywhere between $1 and $6 per call). But not as much as a traditional data collection set-up. Besides, what is the price of freeing up health practitioners from tedious paperwork and allowing them to focus 100% of their energy on health work.

Also, what is the price of quality, actionable, real-time data?

What is it worth to you?

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