Study - Program data: The silver bullet of the humanitarian and development sectors? - Panorama of the practices and needs of francophone CSOs [EN/FR]

Originally published



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 (HAID) Civil Society Organisations (CSOs). Based on a survey of CSOs, a literature review and interviews with key stakeholders, this study is intended to feed into sector discussions on the topic.

Based on the concept of IM, program data management is a term whose scope of application continues to fluctuate and whose definition remains unclear. With a view to facilitating its ownership, readers of this study will be given an accessible definition - based on the data life cycle - and a relatively small scope of application, at the juncture of Monitoring & Evaluation (M&E), Information and Communications Technologies for Development (ICT4D), information systems and knowledge management.

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:

(i) an insufficient data literacy within CSOs; (ii) unduly fragile, siloed and insufficiently funded program data management strategies; (iii) a lack of leadership and often overly vague responsibilities; (iv) a technological environment that is neither controlled nor influenced by CSOs; (v) the use of approaches that foster information overload and neglect qualitative data; and (vi) 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.

Finally, this study is an opportunity to identify both the type and the content of materials required for program data management by francophone CSOs; it should also be put-to-use to suggest recommendations to the various international aid and development actors, especially CSOs, who would benefit from being more proactive on this topic, as well as to donors and network heads who play a pivotal role in these issues.