How unique identification codes are transforming community programming

Understanding who you are reaching with which services is an onerous task for any organisation. Yet it is the key to accurate and informed decision making. 

Like many development organisations, one of the ways the Alliance reports on its impact is through the number of people reached.  However, as the services become more comprehensive, tracking them becomes more complicated.  With one person likely to be benefiting from several services in the same period, the risk of double counting increases and an overestimation in the number of people reached becomes more likely. Last year, improvements in how a single Alliance Linking Organisation reported its own reach exposed such errors in the organisation’s total global impact figure.

As a result of this error, the Alliance launched a new Data Quality Project, a two year initiative which is prioritising the use of unique identification codes (UICs) as part of a new, more intelligent approach to community-led data collection.

Pehchan

Not alone

As part of its work to improve the quality of its data, the Alliance commissioned a benchmark study of ten international NGOs who deliver multiple services to similar groups in order to understand how they approach this increasingly complex area.

“We discovered we weren’t alone in this problem,” says Jill Russell, Associate Director of Programme Impact at the Alliance. “People from other organisations were facing similar challenges. And some hadn’t even thought of it before. In no case did anyone say ‘oh we have this handled’. Some were saying they couldn’t even engage with the issue because they weren’t in service delivery.

“But we did not pull away from it. We are prioritising it as one of our main technical development areas. This has gone from being an M&E function of the organisation to a programming priority. It’s a big shift.

“It sounds complicated but in reality what we are talking about is simplifying what we are doing so that we can better understand who we are reaching with which services, not just how many people we reach. In order to do that we’re simplifying the sheer amount of data we are collecting and using technology more as a way to decentralise data collection.”

Expanding the use of UICs

Central to the success of the Data Quality Project are Unique Identification Codes (UICs). Clients are given their own code, which registers when a person receives a first service from the respective programme. This simple innovation enables an organisation to know the number of people reached with a service as well as the services each individual is receiving. Whether someone is a new or existing client can also be tracked, as can a person’s support journey over time.

The benchmark survey found the Alliance to be forward thinking in its use of UICs and willing to learn and adapt. The goal of the Data Quality Project is to roll out the use of UICs so that 70% of all the people reached by the Alliance are tracked using UICs by 2017. The current level of use is 20%. A total of 12 Alliance Linking Organisations in Asia and Africa are central to the success of the project, with at least half undergoing training-of-trainers training that will enable them to support other Linking Organisations in quality data collection.

Central to the UIC roll out is the introduction of the SyRex Cloud mobile app to track data. Funded by an investment through the Alliance’s strategic innovation fund, and launched by Alliance for Public Health at the International Harm Reduction Conference in Malaysia in October 2015, SyRex Cloud uses smartphone mobile technology that allows outreach workers to record and analyse comprehensive service delivery at the community level. The technology uses UICs for each person receiving services. The SyRex Cloud app is also enabled to scan QR (quick response) codes, fingerprints, or barcodes to help enable more accurate UIC recordings. The app enables every outreach worker to access real time information about who has been reached and with what services, showing continuums as well as gaps in service provision. This in turn allows for better planning and programme delivery, and crucially enables the effectiveness of programmes to be continuously evaluated during the lifespan of the programme itself. SyRex Cloud has been shown to be particularly useful for tracking services aimed at reaching groups who are considered to be ‘hard to reach’.

“UICs are making a big difference,” says Jill. “They are really changing the roles of community based organisations [CBOs].” She gives the example of Pehchan, a Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria programme being implemented by India HIV/AIDS Alliance that is building the capacity of 200 CBOs to deliver HIV prevention programmes for men who have sex with men, transgender people and hijras in 18states.

“At one point, local government complained that transgender people were getting more services than they actually needed but through the use of UICs those CBOs working on Pehchan could show officials this wasn’t the case,” says Jill. “They could show how many people were testing, on treatment, adhering to treatment, and receiving follow up services. After seeing this, government officials were amazed.“  

“Before, they may not have considered the CBO to be an organisation with something like this to offer but this has really changed perceptions. Officials now see a partner that is offering data which can help to understand, and support, the national AIDS response. They are meeting with some CBOs regularly to conduct monitoring meetings, where they discuss and share the latest data.”

Mistakes are the key to learning

The confidence gained by good data, born from the ability to know what is and isn’t working as a project unfolds, is causing those Linking Organisations involved with the Data Quality Project to increasingly put data collection at the heart of programming.

“Before many community-level outreach workers would view M&E as a series of forms to be filled out according to a set of instructions handed to them by funders. But it’s now becoming a meaningful part of the planning, decision making and effective programme delivery process,” says Jill.

“If it hadn’t been for the initial error I don’t think we would have chosen to spend the limited amount of time and resources we have on this work but it has been hugely beneficial. There are still lots of improvements to be made but the one shining thing coming out of it is the tangible difference it is making to CBOs.”