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decisions, Decisions, decisions – Part 2

February 9, 2011

A couple of months ago I wrote a post about the importance of data in decision making for a District Water Office.  At that time, I was supporting the district in data collection about village water supply in the district.  Well that data is all coming back now, and it’s time to move forward.

The trouble is, it’s just not all that easy.

Imagine someone dumped a pile of data collection forms on your desk today, listing villages, with their populations and numbers of functional and non-functional water points.  Then they said “here’s your data, where should I put a borehole?”   Would you be able to answer just like that?

No, probably not.

But, why not? That is the more important question, I think.    What do you need in addition to data to make good decisions?

Here’s some of my hypothesis:

1)      You need to have the data in a format that allows it to be easily analyzed;

2)      You need to be able to evaluate that data once it’s in a useable format;

3)      You need to have criteria to base your decision on (how many people can a borehole sustainably service? How far can people travel to a water point? Is it better to completely service one community first before moving on to another, or partly serve many communities at once?);

4)      You need to present or communicate the decision as well as the data and criteria you based it on; and

5)      Above all else, you need to know how to do each of these things.

What I think all of these can boil down to, is that in addition to data, making good decisions also requires knowledge.   Knowledge of how to manage data, knowledge of how to analyze data, knowledge of what factors contribute to making a good decision.

Now, you may assume that some of this knowledge would already be in the district water office.  And while it’s true that it does to some extent, it’s also severely lacking in many ways.  If you’ve never had a reliable set of data to base decisions on, how would you ever develop the skills to do so?

That’s why along with helping districts develop processes to collect data, EWB is also working with districts to understand how they can use data.  For the past four months, I’ve been spending an hour roughly every other week individually with six district officers who are active in the water and sanitation sector; we explore how they currently use data, develop a better understanding how they could use data, and build skills to reach that point.  Those principles form the basis of a learning program that we are calling ‘Evidence Based Decision Making’.   Each meeting consists of a new skill that we discuss, practice and use in their everyday work.  The aim is for it to be ongoing, integrated and applicable.

Overall the program has been one of the highlights of my work here.  I love seeing the excitement when someone sees how a new skill will improve their current work, or the moment of realization when a new concept is fully grasped.  The real test is coming up now though.  Now that our data is coming back, how will this program have helped the staff to prepare to use the data?  How thorough is the learning and understanding?  Will individuals be able to pull out skills and apply them to new situations and contexts?

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Don McMurtry permalink
    February 9, 2011 3:48 pm


    I wonder if the six district leaders you work with would generate a similar list of things needed beyond data. I imagine they would generate several examples that fall into your item #3 category – the criteria. EWB’s ACT campaign (Canada’s foreign aid should be Accountable, Creative & Transparent) makes a good framework for that criteria. Perhaps a future session would be to facilitate making that list and then digging into each item. Improved Excel skills may help with #2 and #4; the other items rely upon abilities that may be more complex to develop.

  2. February 10, 2011 3:05 pm

    nice idea Don! I just happen to be working on the EBDM curriculum articulation right now, and that suggestion is going to slide right in there nicely.

  3. Leslie permalink
    February 23, 2011 1:46 am

    Hey Alyssa, sounds like you’re doing some really interesting work, and it’s nice to see on a more detailed level what some of the overseas volunteers might be working on. Anyways, just wanted to say hi and tell you that I’ve missed you this ski season! Wishing you all the best!

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