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How Do Francophone Organizations Manage Program Data?

By Guest Writer on October 8, 2020

program data management

The Humanitarian Aid and International Development sectors are in the throes of a digital revolution. Digital solutions are undeniably impacting day-to-day management of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) from their administrative duties to fundraising, and it is also generating radical changes in programmatic actions for their constituents.

Within digital solutions, data management remains somewhat invisible from the perspective of the sector although it has become a key element in coordinating operations and brings with it many ethical, financial and human implications, and above all its impact on project quality.

Data management isn’t regarded as an operational issue by most CSOs. As a result, project teams in the field and at headquarters are devoting an increasing amount of time to data management, often at the expense of other activities. Poorly trained and ill-equipped, these teams produce substandard data management performances.

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.

Francophone CSOs’ Data Management Challenges

Although Francophone 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?
  • 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?

At present and to our knowledge, no study has looked at the program data management practices and struggles of French-speaking CSOs, or to identifying their program data management needs.

Program Data: Panorama of the practices and needs of francophone CSOs [English PDFFrench PDF] designed by CartONG aims to explore and provide preliminary answers to these questions based on a survey of CSOs, a literature review and interviews with key stakeholders.

The study 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.

6 Program Data Management Weaknesses

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:

  1. An insufficient data literacy within CSOs;
  2. Unduly fragile, siloed and insufficiently funded program data management strategies;
  3. A lack of leadership and often overly vague responsibilities;
  4. A technological environment that is neither controlled nor influenced by CSOs;
  5. The use of approaches that foster information overload and neglect qualitative data;
  6. 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.

CartONG Follow-Up

The study closes with a series of 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 be taken up again during the next GeOnG Forum that will be held online from November 2-3, 2020.

By Nina-Flore Eissen, Communications Coordinator at CartONG

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