Human Face to Data as a Contemporary Approach to Decision Making in the Development Sector

Human Face to Data as a Contemporary Approach to Decision Making in the Development Sector

Ishret Binte Wahid (CARE, Bangladesh), Mohammad Raquibul Hasan (CARE, Bangladesh), and Walter Mwasaa (CARE, Bangladesh)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-3473-1.ch039
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We live in an age of development where the need for accountability in using aid resources led to big data generation. This paper revisits such data in a food security program in Bangladesh. The program initiated a longitudinal study that measures effects on the adoption of agricultural productivity, women empowerment, and health and nutrition practices of participants. The results of this study have been impressive and in line with the program logic. However, the program deduced a need to move beyond numbers to understand individual experiences. The paper builds the case for using ‘human face', a qualitative approach to gain a comprehensive understanding of data. The program purposively selected eight respondents from the sample of the longitudinal study, interviewed them using a semi-structured checklist, and, later analyzed the data using a case study approach. The results revealed that not every increasing pattern had positive implications, nor did limited progress meant a negative impact on subjects. The program utilized this insight for reviewing program implementation strategy.
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The need to ensure transparency and accountability of development aid has become a global topic of discussion. There is a growing body of literature that looks into the effectiveness and impact of development aid and identifies that many development projects current and past have not met their stated goals (Cronin & Regan, 2002; Wenar, 2006; Leve, 2007; Panday, 2009; Williamson, 2009; Eneh, 2011). In response to such critique, development projects more than ever are faced with the need to incorporate effective, meaningful, and innovative monitoring and evaluation mechanisms to ensure progress is tracked throughout the program cycle (Bamberger, Rao & Woolcock, 2010). On the other hand, it is important to consider that despite having these mechanisms in place, the reliability of the data can still be questioned (Quibria and Islam, 2015). This book chapter offers evidence from a development project in the global south that effectively managed and applied data to inform decision making and therefore enhancing its chances to achieve its goals.

Bangladesh, a South Asian country, joined the global cohort of lower-middle-income countries in 2018 (World Bank, 2019). The country has recorded robust economic growth in recent years, which reached a new peak with about 8.1 percent GDP growth rate in 2018 (Centre for Policy Dialogue, 2019). Since its liberation in 1971, foreign aid has remained crucial to the socio-economic development of this country. Bangladesh received about US$132,060.6 million of foreign aid (Economic Relations Division, 2019) up to 2017. In 2018, foreign aid accounted for about 16 percent of the national revenue of Bangladesh (Chattopadhyay, 2018). In the 2017-18 fiscal year, the third-highest amount of the external grant (excluding loan) came from the United States and was worth US$2,796 million (Economic Relations Division, 2019).

Strengthening Household Ability to Respond to Development Opportunities (SHOUHARDO) is a food security program funded by the United States government and the Government of Bangladesh (CARE Bangladesh, 2019a). The program is implemented by an international non-governmental organization, CARE Bangladesh, in eight northern districts of Bangladesh that fall under char (riverine islands) and haor (natural depression) regions (Ibid). Both char and haor are prone to natural disasters, and people suffer from multiple vulnerabilities caused by seasonal flash floods, river, and wave erosion that affect their agriculture, fisheries, livestock, and wage labor livelihoods. The program interventions are geared at addressing livelihood challenges, namely- food insecurity, malnutrition, inadequate public service provision, gender inequality, and disaster-related vulnerabilities for 384,000 ultra-poor people (Ibid).

To achieve its goal, SHOUHARDO III has put significant efforts into ensuring a robust monitoring mechanism (CARE Bangladesh, 2019b). One of the refinement approaches that the program has been using to monitor its results is a longitudinal study. The longitudinal study was designed to track progress on several indicators in 680 randomly selected households that were surveyed every six months. Drawing inference from the quantitative longitudinal study findings was difficult for the program management as some of the trends and changes in some variables were inexplicable; therefore, the program commissioned separate qualitative research to deconstruct and interpret findings from the longitudinal study. The program applied an inductive ethnography to interpret quantitative results by confronting these with data obtained from the qualitative research. The application of this research findings helped the program to make adjustments in the design and implementation.

This chapter begins with the background and methodology for initiating an inductive ethnography and poses descriptive narrative on the findings, and finally, argues that research of this kind can be of significant value if the findings are taken into account while making decisions in the development program. It also delves into implications of this research for program management and puts forth the case of similar research at large scale.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Transformative Capacity: Transformative capacity requires engagement with issues of power at two levels: changes in the social structures that influence decision-making and changes in individual values, capabilities, and choices.

Absorptive capacity: Absorptive capacity is the ability of social systems to absorb and cope with the impacts of climate variability and extremes. The absorptive capacity indices is constructed from eight indicators, which include Bonding social capital, Access to cash savings, Household assets, Productive assets, Livestock assets, Informal safety nets (ISN), Shock preparedness and mitigation and Access to financial institution.

Male Champion: This refers to men and boys who raised awareness in communities on norms and practices that hinder women’s empowerment.

Couple’s Dialogue: Couple dialogue was facilitated at both village and union level, where several couples interact with each other on benefits of improved relationship that leads to nutritional outcome, mutual decision making, and preventing domestic violence.

Longitudinal Study: Longitudinal study is an observational research method that employs continuous or repeated measures to follow particular individuals over prolonged period of time – years or decades.

Recurrent Monitoring Survey (RMS): The regular RMS method is triggered after a shock. FLAIRb was set to be conducted with or without a shock with a bigger time gap in between data collection periods; it was also expanded to include non-traditional indicators such as women empowerment, health, and agricultural practices.

Char: ‘Char,’ a Bengali term, refers to Mid-channel Island that arises periodically from the river bed due to sediment accretion.

GDP: Gross domestic product (GDP) represents the monetary value of all final goods and services produced within a nations’ geographic border in a given time.

Farmers’ Field Business School: Farmer Field Business School (FFBS) was an informal platform for local farmers to share knowledge on agricultural production as well as to buy inputs/sell crops collectively.

Haor: Haors are bowl-shaped natural depression lying between the natural banks of rivers or high lands, mostly seen in northeastern Bangladesh.

Adaptive Capacity: Adaptive capacity is the ability of social systems to adapt to multiple, long-term, and future climate change risks, and also to learn and adjust after a disaster. The adaptive capacity includes Bridging social capital, Linking social capital, Human capital, Livelihood diversification, Access to financial services, Asset ownership, and Exposure to information.

Thick Description: An inherent part of descriptive case study analysis that includes not only describing and observation (usually of human behavior) but also the context in which that behavior occurs.

Courtyard Session: The program disseminated information on dietary diversity, intra-household food equity, Infant and Young Child Feeding (IYCF) counseling focusing on exclusive breastfeeding, promotion of handwashing at critical times, maternal and adolescent nutrition including Iron and Folic Acid (IFA) promotion, separating children from animal feces, hygiene and promotion of sanitation behavior through regular courtyard sessions with pregnant women and lactating mothers.

Idiosyncratic Shocks: Idiosyncratic shocks are a type of shocks that are unique to an individual or family. Loss of jobs, loss of livestock, excessive medical treatment treated under such category of shocks

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