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Improving data collection and reporting

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My attention during the workshop was caught by a joint presentation made by Indonesian government officials and Water and Sanitation Program (WSP) on Improving Data Collection and Reporting in East Java. Use of short message service (SMS) to monitor the progress of household access to improved sanitation was not only interesting but also a learning point where I thought we can adopt the same system in Malawi through arrangement with a Mobile Phone Service Provider.

Of much interest to learn was how the whole system operates. The major questions that I had in mind about the system included: Who is responsible for sending the SMS text messages and what kind of capacity building training do they receive as well as who trains them? How is the SMS information linked to the national level set of statistics especially as regards to automation between the M&E systems at District and National Levels? I also wanted to find out why the M&E systems currently being employed in Indonesia are not functional in some districts and what the major barriers are. Quality checks was also another area where I wanted to learn especially on how WSP and government ensure that data collected through this method is not doctored to suit policy makers.

Responding to these questions after the presentation, the team indicated that the costs of the coded short messages are born by the respective districts using this system at a rate of USD0.60/month. Three messages are entered for each new community. These include important information such as a community profile including population and number of households. Another set of information is on baseline sanitation data for the community such as latrine availability and lastly the progress being made to attain improved sanitation after triggering. Selected persons such as the community leaders in the triggered villages are responsible for sending a monthly SMS to their local Sanitarians (Health Centers) who in turn send the information to the District Health Offices.

Networks have been put in place at district level to enable for smooth data collection which reaches the national level for input into one national database on Sanitation. The SMS based reporting requires a few materials to be operationalized at district level: a basic cell phone, a computer set and establishing proper channels of reporting at different levels especially district, area and community/village levels.

The presentation indicated that the CLTS Approach in Indonesia has reached out to 400 districts, a country where more than 40 million people are faced with challenges relating to sanitation. The use of SMS text messages for monitoring and reporting provides a ready opportunity for practitioners in CLTS to inform implementers and policy makers about where to concentrate their funding.

Dan Kapatuka works for Plan Malawi in Mulanje

Date: 16 October 2012