In recent years, CartONG's information management unit has continually grown and progressively expanded its fields of activity, in particular by accompanying more and more frequently consortia in their management of information. Often called to the rescue, several months after the launch of consortia to facilitate information management within them, CartONG had the opportunity this autumn – a quite exceptional situation – to intervene before the launch of a consortium at the request of its partner, the operational NGO Solidarités International. Indeed, CartONG was deployed in October 2018 to carry out a preparatory assessment of information management needs within a newly created consortium, of which Solidarités International was to be the lead.
At the request of the partner and given the context of operation, the name and exact location of the project cannot be mentioned.
A context overview: facing multiple challenges for good Data Management within a consortium
The implementation of projects through consortiums of partners is becoming more and more widespread in the aid sector. This implementation modality, however, raises some very important data management issues that are often overlooked when designing and initiating a consortium:
Should all partners' data be centralized? If so, how? How to make different approaches (or ideologies) and technical levels of partner coexist within the same consortium? How to ensure that the structure put in place can meet the needs of each member and sector of activity of the consortium while remaining "agile"? If members work with the same beneficiary communities, how can individual data be synchronized and cross-checked? How to make sure to avoid double counting between partners? How does one abide by the principles of data protection when dozens of people from different organizations have to access the same data? How can data protection not be used as an excuse to refuse data sharing between partners? What data sharing agreements should be signed between partners? Should collection tools be harmonized across organizations? Should a data centralization tool be deployed? How roles and responsibilities should be shared among members and the coordinating structure (including who is in charge of monitoring the quality and traceability of data)?
However, one must admit presently and overall, that it is still difficult to adequately respond to these questions: the practices and, more importantly, the feedback from consortia on information management are still in their infancy. In addition, for the most part, the existing tools present interoperability difficulties and data centralization platforms, at the individual or household level, are almost non-existent.
A preparatory mission to support Solidarités International’s coordination work
In order to anticipate as much as possible the difficulties that may arise, and try to answer these questions, Solidarités International decided to carry out, before its launch, a rapid information management needs assessment for the consortium it was about to start coordinating. An information management specialist from CartONG was sent to Amman (Jordan) for about ten days to exchange with the four international partners of the consortium. Aiming to provide a multi-sectoral response in Water-Hygiene-Sanitation (WASH), Health, Shelter and Protection for no less than 400,000 beneficiaries, it was built around organizations with very different information management practices and cultures.
For this rapid assessment of information management needs, CartONG interviewed the key players to evaluate their expectations, fears and difficulties; reviewed the policies, procedures and tools used by each partner; and finally, conducted a review of project documents to identify needs by activity and constraints related to funding modalities. The result of this needs and practices assessment, is a – confidential – status report and a list of recommendations and priorities that CartONG sent to Solidarités International following the mission.
Post-mission: lessons learnt shared during the 2018 GeOnG Forum
Following this 10-day mission, and despite the confidentiality of the status report, Solidarités International was keen to share the main lessons drawn from CartONG's needs analysis during the round table "Information Management strategies within consortiums: pitfalls & successes" organized during the 2018 GeOnG Forum which brought together the representatives of three consortiums or meta consortiums currently implemented.
Two main types of information management strategies are generally used in a consortium: the "reactive" approach based on decentralized roles and responsibilities vs. the "preventive" approach based on a centralized approach:
Centralized & single approach
Decentralized & specific approach
All partners follow an integrated Information Management approach
All partners have separate IM approaches.
Either pre-existing or newly developed
Consortium role: creating standards that partners abide to. Data collection and management is harmonized between partners
|Consortium role: data compilation. IM teams closely work with sectorial specialists|
The lessons learned by Solidarités International from CartONG's preparatory needs assessment focus on four key points:
Beyond the case of Solidarités International, some lessons learned about information management in consortia
Based on the past experiences of CartONG (support of consortia in Syria, Iraq and Central African Republic), the following recommendations can be made. It is naturally and above all important that the investment in information management - that is to say the financing of a specialized and dedicated team and of technical solutions - be proportional not only to the issues of the consortium but also to its implementation duration. It is, for example, inefficient for a one-year consortium project, to want to deploy a data centralization solution at the individual level. Contrary to the presuppositions, consortia structuring issues do not necessarily concern only the "upper" layer of information management (analysis and centralization), but also the initial layer of "data collection", which predetermines the upper scales; and which, in the absence of standardization or at least harmonization, could be a major obstacle to any future desire for data sharing and synchronization..
As in all technological projects, the key to success does not necessarily lie (and in any case not only) in the choice of tools but: i) above all in the anticipation of the subject through a detailed analysis of information management needs within a given consortium and of existing practices / constraints / red lines among its members; (ii) in the quality and relevance of the processes and modalities (including legal ones) for data sharing that should be detailed as much as possible; and (iii) in clarifying the roles and responsibilities between each partner and function, and the harmonization of protocols. Finally, it must be kept in mind that consortia also remain opportunities to change the information management practices of its different members, by investing in such practices but also by confronting them with the practices of counterparts.
Would you like to learn more about the incredible work done by Solidarités International teams in the field? Visit their website.