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Decisions, decisions, decisions

November 20, 2010

Being one of the most indecisive people I know, I find it somewhat amusing that I’m spending a large part of my time helping the district make better decisions about siting and planning of water infrastructure. It’s possible however, that it makes me just the person for this job.

As an indecisive individual, I know that good decisions are not easy to make, and require effort.  I understand that decisions take data. Making a decision without understanding what’s going on is a very uncomfortable feeling for me.  Trying to make a decision without the required information is taking a shot in the dark.  Planning where to install boreholes or other water points without knowing which communities already have them, where they are working or aren’t working, and how many people can access them, is like playing pin the tail on the donkey, or throwing darts at a map.    Your chances of success are small to none.   Its dynamic data that’s constantly changing.  Efforts in the past to collect this information have required large amounts of efforts and resources, resulting in out of date and incomplete information.

So how does a district, with limited budgets and human resources, collect information about over 5000 water points, and keep it up to date and accurate in order to make effective decisions? Well, it’s not an easy task.

The chicken and the egg. In order to spend limited time and resources in data collection, you need to see value in what you are collecting. But how do you see the value of the data unless you have it and understand it?  One of the roles that I am playing is helping to understand what this data can be used for, with the idea that if District staff appreciate and value how this affects their work, then they will be motivated to figure out how to collect it.

We all get by with a little help from our friends. There’s no way that the seven field staff from the Water Office can visit all 5000+ water points on any sort of regular basis, and still perform their regular duties of overseeing installation, community sensitization, and other operation and maintenance activities.  There are just too many villages and water points.  But the Water Department is not the only District office working in communities that is interested in water.  The District Environmental Health Office, has over 500 Health Surveillance Assistants (HSAs) working in communities throughout the district.  They are concerned with increasing the health of communities, of which access to safe water is a key component.   On top of this, they already collect water point data on a regular basis, so it’s not a new concept for them.

Let’s talk about it. So, you have the incentive to collect data, and you have the resources, but is that enough?  I’m not so sure.  It’s not just important to understand what data is used for, but knowing how to collect accurate data that meets the needs of the decisions it’s being used to make, is also required.   It’s true that HSAs already collect water information, but this information is in a form that isn’t very useful for making water point siting decisions, but it’s not connected to village level population, and therefore not.   On Monday, I’m attending a meeting in Mzuzu, with HSA Cluster Managers.  These are the people who be taking the data collection forms to the HSAs and managing their completion.  The goal of this meeting is to provide incentive, gain cooperation and communicate collection requirements.   We’ll talk about why this is important, and how it’s going to be used to build motivation and gain cooperation, we will practice filling in forms, to make sure the understanding of what to collect is strong.

So, with forms in hand, Cluster Managers will begin the process of acquiring the information required to base decisions on.   My role in the process, has been one of reflector, collaborator and learning partner.  In fact, I haven’t had to make many decisions at all.  In sharing perspectives on decision making, and supporting the District to make the decisions, we are hopefully developing a system that is reflective of their needs, resources and requirements.

ps If all goes according to plan, the result of these cluster managers actions will be access to a good set of data about water infrastructure.  But is just having data enough to be able to make good decisions?   In your experience, what else do you need to make good decisions, besides data?  More to come in subsequent blogs!


5 Comments leave one →
  1. November 20, 2010 1:22 pm

    wow, another great post Alyssa. glad I got to read this interesting update before phoning you next week. this post sure helps me understand issues and goals of your current work. am hoping your meeting on monday goes really well ! by the way, how did your move to the village go? ttys

  2. Pat Dunstan permalink
    November 20, 2010 5:31 pm

    Hi from Canada on another frosty morning! Auction was last night at St. James and your Dad did his usual great job pleading for a higher bid. It was fun and I believe it raised over $11,000. Wonder how many bore holes and how many Malawans (?) would be drinking clean water with funds like that. It makes me realize again at how unjust the world is. Our needs seem great to us but in the whole picture …..I read that 2 weeks ago you folks selected 40 villages to receive boreholes. That is awesome and will affect so many lives so positively. What an exciting achievement, Alyssa. You are doing something to make a change for the better in so many lives. Love you and what you’re doing !! Pat

  3. Karen Forgrave permalink
    November 20, 2010 9:57 pm

    The decisions you are making there make our “big decisions” at the auction last night seem so insignificant!! (“Should I raise the bid on that item or not…?”) Hee hee!! It was a fun night, though!! I second Pat’s comment that your dad did a great job as auctioneer!! Good luck in your decisions that lie ahead. (In terms of your question about decision-making…I always find that listing pros and cons can help you make decisions, and talking to other people, but in the end, sometimes you just need to go with “what feels right”!).

  4. Holly permalink
    November 22, 2010 5:49 am

    You certainly have your work cut out for you. Mark reminded me to tell you that my dad ended up winning the election. Very interesting time for my family and I. We miss you and are so glad to get your posts. Love-Holly and Mark


  1. decisions, Decisions, decisions – Part 2 « Lyss Into Malawi

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