Real-time data applications in international development
There are a wide range of applications of real-time data in international development programs, including:
- Gathering demographic and assessment data following trainings, in order to improve outputs and outreach for future trainings;
- Tracking migration flows following natural disasters to understand population locations and best locate relief efforts;
- Analyzing real-time disease outbreak data to understand where medical resources will be most effectively deployed; and
- Analyzing of radio and social media to understand and adapt communication outreach.
Using digital tools (such as mobile phone based text messaging, web-based applications, social media platforms, etc.) or large digital datasets (such as satellite or cell phone tower data) for collecting real-time data helps programs and projects respond quickly to community needs or potentially changing circumstances on the ground. However, these digital tools and datasets are often not well understood or mapped into decision-making processes.
Real Example of Real-time Data
In USAID/Ghana’s ADVANCE II program, project staff implemented a smart card ID technology that collects and stores data in an effort to have more accurate monitoring and evaluation data on project beneficiaries. The ID cards allowed USAID and project officers to see real-time results and build more effective and targeted programming. ADVANCE II has been successful in providing unique beneficiary data for over 120,000 people who participated in 5,111 training sessions. This information enabled the project to increase the number of trainings tailored to female farmers, a previously underrepresented population in trainings. This is a great example of how to incorporate data use and digital tools into a project or activity.
Data to Action Framework
At MERL Tech DC, we presented the ADVANCE II project as a way to use the “Data to Action” Framework. This is one approach to map how information flows and how decisions are made across a set of stakeholders in a program. It can be used as a conversation tool to identify barriers to action. You can also use it to identify where digital tools could help move information to decision makers faster.
This framework is just one tool to start thinking about uses of real-time data to enable adaptive management in development programs.
USAID explores these and other topics in a newly released portfolio of research on Real-time Data for Adaptive Management (RTD4AM), which give insight into the barriers to real-time data use in development. We look forward to continuing to build the community of practice of adaptive management within the MERL community.