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Using Evidence To Influence Program Design

USING EVIDENCE TO INFLUENCE PROGRAM DESIGN

Breakthrough’s Early Marriage Campaign, implemented in three districts of the Indian States of Jharkhand and Bihar, aims to utilise a media (mass and community) programme that challenges existing norms around gender and sexuality, for discouraging the practice of early marriage.

We are the impact evaluators for the campaign, to assess what changes it has brought about in the knowledge, attitudes, and behaviour related to early marriage — in extent and in intensity. For the study, we employed a mixed methods design that was implemented sequentially. This helped the client to better understand which component of the campaign has been most effective in influencing/ changing knowledge, attitudes, and behaviour related to early marriage in the community.

While the evaluation is still on, the midline findings indicate that modification of program design through evidence generated by evaluation studies can strengthen the outcome potential of the program. There is a complex play of factors that determines the effectiveness of delivery mechanisms and efforts in programme implementation. Under the campaign, media interventions (which include traditional mass media channels, as well as, community-based media such as street theatre, wall painting, youth trainings etc.) approached all in the community in a similar way. Through our evaluation methodologies, we found that the families were generally well aware of the ills of early marriage, but decisions regarding it were made by the fathers. We shared our findings with Breakthrough and recommended that they modify the program design to include mechanisms that focus the intervention on fathers to discourage the practice of early marriage. Here, the willingness of the organization implementing the programme to consider evidence-based recommendations to modify programme design is a crucial element. Breakthrough was highly receptive to evidence, and took up our suggestions to relook and modify its programme design. Understanding the need for the prescribed revision, it promptly adopted a mechanism for targeted communication with fathers (of young girls and boys) to influence behaviours.

While we are yet to see what impact this will bring, through the endline assessment, we know the change is positive for the programme, being based on evidence. This experience provides significant insights. It implies that if evidence generated through effective evaluation of an ongoing programme can be used to influence program design, it can reduce errors in assumptions, tap resources better, and create scope for course correction, thereby improving the programme outcome possibilities.

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Scaling Big Data in Agriculture

SCALING BIG DATA IN AGRICULTURE

Small and marginal farmers account for more than 86.2 % of all farmers in India. With fragmented land holdings, depleting natural resources and climatic variations, the marginal farmers have experienced prolonged low productivity and inefficient production. Actors including the state, civil society, nonprofits are working in their own capacity and in tandem to address the livelihood problems of small and marginal farmers. The common thread of solution that resonates across the ecosystem is the need for innovation. Big data could be the innovation that would trigger the paradigm change in achieving efficient agricultural production in the context of developing countries. There are existing platforms that have already leveraged agricultural production with the aid of big data around the world. Picture Based Insurance (PBI) by International Food and Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) is one such innovation which aims to deliver comprehensive crop insurance to the farmers with the use of their smartphones. Farmers capture pictures of their crop cycle from sowing to harvest. The extent of damages is then measured and the insurance payments are made directly to their bank accounts. This in turn creates a platform for leveraging the data from the farmers to develop sustainable cropping practices.

Big data are large sets of structured and unstructured data from various sources ranging from administrative data, survey data, satellite data and user data from various platforms which can be computed and made sense statistically to understand patterns. For example, patterns from large sets of weather data can be used to predict natural disasters. Through a combination of information analytics and affordable technology, insights from big data can enable farmers to reduce the information asymmetry on efficient agricultural practices. In the Indian context, the past decade has seen a spur in growth of AgriTech innovations. Agri tech solutions leverage data from a wide range of data sources and provide precise advisory to farmers in cropping pattern, soil usage, fertilizer applications and harvesting cycles. Big Data is one of the key factors to sustainable farming, for instance Geographical Information Systems (GIS) enabled technical support enables farmers to increase productivity of the land without expanding agricultural land. This article tries to focus on key challenges and approaches to address those challenges at the ecosystem level in order to enable scaling of Artificial Intelligence for the benefit of smallholder farmers.

While big data cannot be considered as a silver bullet to solve the agricultural crisis in India. Application of big data in tandem with the existing agricultural interventions might prove fruitful and ensure sustainability of the solution in the long run. One approach could be a model in which the AgriTech companies could work with the farmer cooperatives. Farmer cooperatives are one of the most successful interventions in the Indian agriculture space that harnessed the strength of the communities. Through collaboration with the cooperatives, AgriTech companies can achieve reach to gather quality farm level data from individual farmers. The cooperatives in turn can create a value chain where the farmer’s information and data are translated to income.

There are also considerable challenges in leveraging big data in the Indian agricultural context. The question of ownership, targeting beneficiaries for advisory and technological infrastructure in the rural areas seem to pose a big challenge in the context of India. Most of these problems can be addressed and the solutions can be further enabled through a systems approach. With contributions from different stakeholders in the ecosystem, the problem of collection of quality data, institutions for regulation on ownership of data and implementation of advisory solutions can be addressed in the long run.

Big data and AI technologies have sparsely made inroads in rural India. With an ecosystem approach big data and related technology can be adopted, enabled and scaled up to reach a large population of marginal farmers. Indian nonprofits have proved time and again on their capability to scale up innovative solutions to achieve impact. Scaling up big data and AI in the agricultural space will not only enable marginal farmers in providing them backward linkages through inputs and advisory but also enabling them in forward linkages in identifying consumption gaps and patterns that exist in the market to produce efficiently and increase their income levels. The impact of big data in other fields such as health, urban infrastructure, education have already created ripples across their sector. Big data is both an opportunity and challenge that can’t be looked away in the agricultural sector. Collaboration and partnerships are the key in leveraging big data and AI technology for the marginal farmers in the Indian agricultural space.

The author, Nelson Mathews is a Research Analyst with Catalyst Management Service

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Measuring the Immeasurable

MEASURING THE IMMEASURABLE
Why is the sky blue? What are black holes? How did the world begin? Familiar questions to many parents. Curiosity plays a fundamental role in learning. It keeps you wanting to explore the world and constantly ask questions.

Agastya International Foundation works to spark curiosity in school children from economically disadvantaged backgrounds in India through innovative hands-on science education.Using fully kitted mobile-science labs and science centres, it gives children the opportunity to engage with science in a direct, interactive and engaging manner.

Agastya views the school curriculum as too restrictive and sees sparking curiosity as a means to nurture creativity. They see creativity as not only a way for these children to access a better future but also as an enabler to help them find solutions to the real-world problems their communities face.

The uniqueness of Agastya’s interventions lie in its focus on curiosity as opposed to learning outcomes, unlike most education based interventions in the country. This uniqueness posed an interesting challenge to us as evaluators. challenge. When Agastya approached us to assess the impact of their Mobile Lab and Science Centre Initiative, their interest was not to measure changes in knowledge or educational attainment in the children, but to capture the curiosity generated from the project.

Curiosity captures the desire to want to learn more, to keep asking ‘Why?’ and ‘How’, to want to explore the unknown.It is a multi-dimensional concept that can have several manifestations.

We, therefore, employed a mixed methods design, keeping in mind the complexity of the issue being assessed – a change in curiosity levels. A variety of tools — from basic non-participant observations to student interviews — were designed and used, and we were able to demonstrate that Agastya had been successful in engendering a sense of curiosity in the children and encouraging experimentation and exploration.This was particularly true for children for whom such hands-on learning is a new and novel experience. Our findings also provided a more nuanced understanding of curiosity. For instance, simply playing with models is also an indication of curiosity.

As evaluators, we often come across a challenge as this — assessing something fundamental but abstract — and it’s a challenge worth taking. Every time. As social impact catalysts, we welcome the opportunity to be curious, to have originality of thought, and to push the boundaries of what is possible.