Registration to the 2020 GeOnG Forum, taking place from November 2nd to 3rd, 2020 is now officially open! Please take 2 minutes to fill out the GeOnG registration form to attend this year’s edition.
For the first time ever, the forum will take place online. Expect a few twists: more participants, many live sessions alongside a video library of short presentations, and most of the content accessible for free!
We are very pleased to announce that Ben Parker, Senior Editor at The New Humanitarian will be opening the event as keynote speaker. You can learn more about the organizations expected to attend here.
We’ve scheduled 10 roundtables and an experience-sharing session on the impact of the Covid-19 crisis on data practices in the aid sector.
The GeOnG team will also strive to offer a selection of 15+ online workshops as well as 20+ short presentations on a wide range of topics related to the theme of the 2020 edition: “People at the heart of Information Management: promoting responsible and inclusive practices“. Most sessions will be conducted in English, but we will have a few workshops in French as well.
Our biggest edition so far: 500 participants expected online!
Free access to the majority of the content of the forum
A wide diversity of stakeholders: NGOs, IOs, donors, Global South actors, universities and more!
Watch and engage with sessions live or on your own time
Schedule time to network with fellow attendees and GeOnG sponsors & partners
Be part of the conversation on responsible data and more inclusive data management practices!
The GeOnG – the Humanitarian & Development Data Forum – is organized every 2 years by CartONG. Learn more about our organization!
Created in 2006, CartONG is a French H2H NGO specialized in Information Management. Our goal is to put data at the service of humanitarian, development and social action projects. We are dedicated to improving the quality and accountability of field activities, in particular through better needs assessments and monitoring and evaluation. We act as a multidisciplinary resources and expertise center, accompanying our partners’ strategies and operations. Our staff and volunteers also support the community as a whole by producing documentation, building capacities and raising awareness on the technical, strategic and ethical challenges of digital technologies.
CartONG has just released a new study on “Program Data: The silver bullet of the humanitarian and aid sectors? Panorama of the practices and needs of francophone CSOs“.
What place for program data management in a sector in the throes of a digital revolution?
Mirroring our society, the Humanitarian Aid and International Development (HAID) sector is in the throes of a digital revolution. Whilst the latter is undeniably impacting day-to-day management of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) – whether in their administrative duties or in those related to fundraising – it is also generating radical changes in actions being implemented for the benefit of populations.
Although it has become a key element in the coordination of operations, data management remains somewhat invisible from the perspective of the sector, in spite of its many ethical, financial and human implications, and above all its impact on project quality. In the field and at headquarters, project teams are therefore devoting an increasing amount of time to data management, often at the expense of other activities. Poorly trained and ill-equipped, these teams can produce substandard performances with regards to these tasks, and without the topic necessarily being regarded as an operational issue by most CSOs.
Program data management – also known as Information Management (IM) – is both a topical issue and the source of numerous debates within francophone Humanitarian Aid and International Development CSOs.
A unique study in the world of French-speaking CSOs
At present and to our knowledge, no equivalent study with a view to examining, as a whole, the practices of (francophone) CSOs, or to identifying their needs in terms of program data management, has yet been carried out. A number of analyses and articles do exist, yet these generally approach the subject either from a technical standpoint or as if these were still innovations for the sector and thus with limited constructive hindsight.
The organisational dimension is moreover relatively unexplored and very little consolidated data at the inter-CSO level is available. Lastly, although CSOs have been handling large amounts of data for almost 20 years, there remains much debate: what level of attention and investment should data management be subject to? Does the activity require a dedicated person in-house and, if so, which profile should be given priority? In fact, where does the scope of data management begin and where does it end? Do CSOs working in humanitarian situations have different needs than those working in a development context? Do differences in approach exist between francophone and anglophone CSOs, the latter often deemed more advanced in the field?
Based on a survey of CSOs, a literature review and interviews with key stakeholders, this study designed by CartONG aims to explore and provide preliminary answers to these questions. It also aims to make a valuable contribution to bolster the debate on data management. To this end, we have thereupon sought to synthesise and formalise often scattered and at times contradictory considerations.
Based on the concept of Information Management (IM), program data management is a term whose scope of application continues to fluctuate and whose definition remains unclear. With a view to facilitating its ownership, readers of this new study will be given an accessible definition (synthesised in the diagram below) and a relatively small scope of application (see illustration below), at the juncture of Monitoring & Evaluation (M&E), Information and Communications Technologies for Development (ICT4D), information systems and knowledge management.
Main components of Information Management
Simplified diagram of the place of Information Management vis-à-vis related topics
Program data management & Francophone CSOs: an overview of the main stakes and of the existing relationships by categories of CSOs
Despite studies still being relatively sparse as to the link between project data management and project quality, the available evidence shows that good data project management makes for greater efficiency and transparency in organisations. The evidence gathered suggests, however, that project data management is widely used today for the benefit of bottom-up accountability – towards decision-makers and financial backers – rather than for day-to-day project steering.
The reasons for this state of affairs are manifold, but it appears that chief amongst them is a significant lack of maturity from francophone CSOs in matters relating to data and digital issues. Six main weaknesses and levers for action have thus been identified (see illustration):
an insufficient data literacy within CSOs
unduly fragile, siloed and insufficiently funded program data management strategies
a lack of leadership and often overly vague responsibilities;
a technological environment that is neither controlled nor influenced by CSOs
the use of approaches that foster information overload and neglect qualitative data; and
an under-estimation of the responsibilities carried by CSOs and of the ethical issues at stake with regard to the data they manipulate.
Confronted with these challenges, it appears that francophone CSOs are somewhat lagging behind – at least in terms of awareness and strategic positioning – compared to their anglophone counterparts. Moreover, program data management continues to be approached by the various CSOs in an inconsistent manner: the study therefore proposes a classification of CSOs and reflects on the main existing differences – between types, sectors and sizes – and in particular points out the difficulties encountered by the smallest organisations.
What types of IM support are expected by Francophone CSOs and on what priority themes?
This study was also an opportunity to identify both the type of materials and on which priority program data management themes a support is expected by francophone CSOs (see below); especially to enable specialized organisations, including H2H/Support CSOs such as CartONG, to better define their priorities of support toward CSOs.
The study also reveals that CSOs are mainly waiting for accompaniment on the following topics (in this order):
selection of solutions
responsible data management
data quality control
data sharing and, for the smaller ones also
database design and
simple map visualization.
What follow-up does CartONG intend to give to this study?
The study closes with a series of some fifteen recommendations to the various international aid and development actors, especially CSOs, who would benefit from being more proactive on the topic, as well as to donors and network heads who play a pivotal role to advance these issues.
By clarifying the various elements feeding the debate along with the issues at stake, we hope that this document – which remains a first for CartONG – will help feed current discussions. Many of them should actually be taken up again during the next GeOnG Forum that will be held online from November 2-3, 2020.
Carried out as part of the project Strengthening program data management within francophone CSOs carried out by CartONG (and co-financed by the French Development Agency – AFD over the 2020-2022 period), this study should be the subject of presentations during face-to-face or remote events before the year is out. It will also be enriched in the coming months by the release of many other resources.
Do not hesitate to follow us on social media or to write to us to be added to the project mailing list to stay informed.
By Mala Kumar, GitHub Social Impact, Open Source for Good
I lead a program on the GitHub Social Impact team called Open Source for Good — detailed in a previous MERL Tech post and (back when mass gatherings in large rooms were routine) at a lightning talk at the MERL Tech DC conference last year.
Before joining GitHub, I spent a decade wandering around the world designing, managing, implementing, and deploying tech for international development (ICT4D) software products. In my career, I found open source in ICT4D tends to be a polarizing topic, and often devoid of specific arguments. To advance conversations on the challenges, barriers, and opportunities of open source for social good, my program at GitHub led a year-long research project and produced a culminating report, which you can download here.
One of the hypotheses I posed at the MERL Tech conference last year, and that our research subsequently confirmed, is that IT departments and ICT4D practitioners in the social sector* have relatively less budgetary decision-making power than their counterparts at corporate IT companies. This makes it hard for IT and ICT4D staff to justify the use of open source in their work.
In the past year, Open Source for Good has solidified its strategy around helping the social sector more effectively engage with open source. To that aim, we started the MERL Center, which brings together open source experts and MERL practitioners to create resources to help medium and large social sector organizations understand if, how, and when to use open source in their MERL solutions.**
With the world heading into unprecedented economic and social change and uncertainty, we’re more committed than ever at GitHub Social Impact to helping the social sector effectively use open source and to build on a digital ecosystem that already exists.
Thanks to our wonderful working group members, the MERL Center has identified its target audiences, fleshed out the goals of the Center, set up a basic content production process, and is working on a few initial contributions to its two working groups: Case Studies and Beginner’s Guides. I’ll announce more details in the coming months, but I am also excited to announce that we’re committing funds to get a MERL Center public-facing website live to properly showcase the materials the MERL Center produces and how open source can support technology-enabled MERL activities and approaches.
As we ramp up, we’re now inviting more people to join the MERL Center working groups! If you are a MERL practitioner with an interest in or knowledge of open source, or you’re an open source expert with an interest in and knowledge of MERL, we’d love to have you! Please feel free to reach out me with a brief introduction to you and your work, and I’ll help you get on-boarded. We’re excited to have you work with us!
*We define the “social sector” as any organization or company that primarily focuses on social good causes.
by Mala Kumar, GitHub Open Source for Good program
My name is Mala, and I lead a program at GitHub called Open Source for Good under our Social Impact team. Before joining GitHub, I spent the better part of a decade wandering around the world designing, managing, implementing and deploying tech for international development (ICT4D) software products. Throughout my career, I was told repeatedly that open source (OS) would revolutionize the ICT4D industry. While I have indeed worked on a few interesting OS products, I began suspecting that statement was more complicated than had been presented.
Indeed, after joining GitHub this past April, I confirmed my suspicion. Overall, the adoption of OS in the social sector – defined as the collection of entities that positively advance or promote human rights – lags far behind the commercial, private sector. Why? You may ask.
Here’s one hypothesis we have at GitHub:
After our team’s many years of experience working in the social sector and through the hundreds of conversations we’ve had with fellow social sector actors, we’ve come to believe that IT teams in the social sector have significantly less decision making power and autonomy than commercial, private sector IT teams. This is irrespective of the size, the geographic location, or even the core mission of the organization or company.
In other words, decision-making power in the social sector does not lie with the techies who typically have the best understanding of the technology landscape. Rather, it’s non-techies who tend to make an organization’s IT budgetary decisions. Consequently, when budgetary decision-makers come to GitHub to assess OS tools and they see something like the below, a GitHub repo, they have no idea what they’re seeing. And this is a problem for the sector at large.
We want to help bridge that gap between private sector and social sector tech development. The social sector is quite large, however, so we’ve had to narrow our focus. We’ve decided to target the social sector’s M&E vertical. This is for several reasons:
M&E as a discipline is growing in the social sector
Increasingly more M&E data is being collected digitally
It’s easy to identify a target audience
Linda is great. ☺
How We Hope to Help
Our basic idea is to build a middle “layer” between a GitHub repo and a decision maker’s final budget. I’m calling that a MERL GitHub “Center” until I can come up with a better name.
As a sponsor of MERL Tech DC 2019, we set up our booth smack dab in front of the food and near the coffee, and we took advantage of this prime real estate to learn more about what our potential users would find valuable.
We spent two days talking with as many MERL conference attendees as we could and asked them to complete some exercises. One such exercise was to prioritize the possible features a MERL GitHub Center might have. We’ve summarized the results in the chart below. The top right has two types of features: 1) features most commonly sorted as helpful in using open source and 2) features potential Center users would actually use. From this exercise, we’ve learned that our minimum viable product (MVP) should include all or some of the following:
Use case studies of open source tools
Description of listed tools
A way to search in the Center
Security assessments of the tools
Beginner’s Guide to Open Source for the Social Sector
Installation guides for listed tools
Aggregation of prioritization exercise from ~10 participants
We also spoke to an additional 30+ attendees about the OS tools they currently use. Anecdotally, mobile data collection, GIS, and data visualization were the most common use cases. A few tools are built on or with DHIS2. Many attendees we spoke with are data scientists using R and Python notebooks. DFID and GIZ were mentioned as two large donor organizations that are thinking about OS for MERL funding.
In the coming weeks, we’re going to reach out to many of the attendees we spoke to at MERL Tech to conduct user testing for our forthcoming Center prototype. In the spirit of open source and not duplicating work, we are also speaking with a few potential partners working on different angles to our problem to align our efforts. It’s our hope to build out new tools and product features that will help the MERL community better use and develop OS tools.
How can you get Involved?
Email firstname.lastname@example.org with a brief intro to you and your work in OS for social good.