October 15, 2014

How Small Organizations Can Use Affordable ICT-tools to Measure Impact

What if nonprofits and social enterprises had an affordable way to report real-time, large-scale data on their social impact? This question inspired Kopernik to create the “impact tracker technologies’” catalog in online and print forms.

Organizations are under pressure to measure their performance and results. Many low-cost, information communication technology (ICT) -based tools already exist to help collect data on a large-scale, real-time basis. Yet, while both supply and demand for ICT-based tools exist, nonprofits and social enterprises often fail to take advantage of them.

The issue is access. There isn’t a central marketplace at which organizations can access ICT-based tools and come to understand their pros and cons as well as their applications to specific needs.

The other issue is technical language. “Free and open source” doesn’t mean no-cost, turn-key solutions ready for immediate deployment. Rather, it means that people with specific skills, such as IT programmers, can use open source tools to build something useful for organizations. However, most nonprofits and social enterprises do not have in-house programmers to help use such tools.

A user-friendly catalog showing options and recommendations

In addition to addressing these gaps, Kopernik’s impact tracker technologies catalog goes a step further by providing recommendations that help users make decisions in some categories of tools (e.g., digital data collection apps and SMS communication platforms). Beyond these targeted recommendations, the catalog displays all relevant research findings so that users can draw their own comparisons.

This catalog aims to show the options as neatly and simply as possible so that the catalog’s audience — small-to-medium organizations — can understand and take action. But such a simplification poses the risk of cutting out some of the nuances and complexities of individual tools. The result is a careful balancing of simplicity and complexity, rigor and practicality, subjectivity and objectivity.

This field of impact tracker technology is dynamic and fast-moving. New tools come out on the market on a regular basis. Existing tools frequently expand their features to cater to users’ needs and challenge their competitors. Given this dynamism, the online version of catalog will be updated as regularly as possible.

The catalog groups a total of 39 ICT tools into four categories. These categories are described in turn below.

1. Digital data collection apps – no more paper-based surveys

The digital data collection apps are solutions to eliminate paper surveys in the field and reduce the time it takes to compile data. These apps work on smart phones and tablets, allowing for easy and robust data collection. They often allow users to develop digital questionnaires using a pre-programmed form builder, deploy these forms to mobile devices, collect data on devices, and sync forms with the cloud when connected to a data network. Some of the apps can also produce charts and maps from the collected data, generate PDF reports, and allow users to download aggregated data to conduct more complex analysis. Of the 12 tools featured in this category, our top recommendations include Magpi, Commcare, and iFormBuilder, which are user-friendly, affordable, and comprehensive in their features.

2. SMS communication platforms – keep in touch with your remote clients

The SMS communication category features tools that can efficiently manage large-scale communications with clients and beneficiaries through SMS so that organizations can reduce the number of phone calls and physical visits to project sites. Many of these platforms are cloud-based and can be accessed using any web browser straight from your computer, as well as via the platform’s dedicated Android apps where available. Our top recommendations include TextIt and Telerivet, which offer the most comprehensive sets of features that can be easily set up by users with limited IT knowledge.

3. Geospatial mapping tools – visual information at your fingertips

Geospatial mapping tools enable users to visually compile information from various sources in the form of a map. These maps are useful for tracking information, analyzing data, and presenting updates. They operate on web-based applications on which administrators build data forms to be filled out by individual users via their phones or tablets. Information can be sent through web browsers, mobile apps, email, or SMS. Once submitted, information will be automatically aggregated on a map. Organizations can use the produced maps both for internal and external communication purposes.

4. Remote sensors – additional eyes and ears in the field

The remote sensors category features low-power and low-maintenance remote sensors used to monitor and measure the use of cook stoves, water filters, and other devices, as well as to evaluate changes in environmental conditions. These sensors were developed to address the challenges in collecting unbiased and precise data on technology adoption and program interventions. Taking advantage of growing access to the Internet and sliding costs of IT components, many of the sensors have the capability to send data wirelessly with very minimal internet connectivity. This eliminates the need to physically go to the field and download data from the devices.  Each featured sensor measures something particular such as stove usage, air quality, and forest logging.

Tomohiro Hamakawa
Tomohiro Hamakawa is the Principal Investigator of this impact tracker technology work and serves as a Project Manager at Kopernik, responsible for its advisory services and research projects. Kopernik delivers simple, life-changing technologies to last mile communities to reduce poverty.
Interest Categories: Data
Tags: apps, Data, Evaluation, Open Source, program evaluation