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Location

Zambia

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Sector

Government and Civil Society

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Type of Investment

Grant

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Project Stage

Pilot

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Length of Investment

2018+

Investment Overview

A $230,000 grant to IDinsight in Zambia to pilot and test an innovative approach to building information systems to track progress on issues immediately and directly relevant to citizens, such as health, education or agriculture. The approach – Nano Information Systems – will produce cheaper, faster, and more user-friendly information systems to ensure better execution on the ground and improved performance of local level officials.

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The Development Challenge

Arguably one of the biggest challenges in development is weak state capacity. In particular, public systems suffer from weakness in execution of policy. This is made worse in the absence of proper decision-making support for frontline officials, which is crucial for effective execution. Cheap, accurate, timely, and relevant data are scarce. Attempts to address this have been confined to large, top-down management information systems (MIS) which help provide aggregate monitoring support, but not executional decision-support. Although information systems are recognised as effective solutions to this problem, most MIS efforts fail. Successful MIS efforts tend to be small, flexible, and context-specific. It is rare to find a well-functioning MIS, especially in a public sector developing country context.

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The Innovation

Nano Information System is a decision-support system for frontline officials to improve the quality of policy execution. It is a ‘process innovation’ that changes the approach to building information systems by using a fast, cheap, and flexible design, concentrating on a limited number of priority outcomes, on issues immediately and directly relevant to citizens, and which emerge in a bottom-up manner reflecting the needs of frontline staff. The bet that IDinsight is making through the Nano process is that it can produce cheaper, faster, and more user-friendly information systems for use by frontline officials in low-capacity settings to help improve last-mile implementation of priority policies, especially those which directly impact the daily lives of citizens. Importantly, both the Nano process itself and the resulting information system products (depending on the use case) will improve state capability.

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Our Investment

During the pilot, the objective of GIF funding is to support IDinsight to create a functioning IS system and process for one chiefdom in Zambia that is ready to be replicated elsewhere. The pilot will provide evidence and documentation on data collection, data analysis, and data visualisation parameters that can be successful in the chiefdom setting, consultation requirements and processes with different stakeholders, the range of use cases relevant for a chiefdom setting, as well as time and cost estimations and projections for a scaled-up NANO scenario. The team then hopes to move quickly to testing the tools and processes developed during the pilot in other settings (for example, with other chiefs and/or local government officials), focusing on the replicability of the NANO process, in particular exploring time, cost, quality, and data use dimensions.

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Investment Objective

To develop a fully functioning Nano Information System in accordance with the local need to improve public service delivery and demonstrate it successfully in a Chiefdom while generating evidence and learning to scale the System and enable third-party replication.

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Why we invested

Weak state capacity is arguably the biggest development challenge. Modern technologies present a great opportunity to use data as decision-support to improve quality of execution, an important dimension of state capacity.

An innovative approach to building an information system using iterative adaptive learning processes and leveraging known predictors of success, which also helps frontline functionaries effectively address concerns of direct and day-to-day relevance to citizens.

Strong team with a good understanding of context and proven experience of Zambia, and beyond on user-based evaluation and monitoring systems, which also provide pathways to scale. Aligned with GIF on the mission to provide evidence and learning as a public good.

Potential to improve the quality of GIF’s venture support by helping investees use an approach to use of data that can help improve operational efficiency and increase the likelihood of demonstrating success with execution.

Strong GIF additionality in working directly on state capacity improvements, and with local governments like traditional chiefdoms, both of which receive less attention and funding from mainstream donors and aid agencies.

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Nano MIS in numbers

$230,000

GIF grant provided for the creation of a functioning Nano IS system

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Nano MIS Impact Brief

Public service delivery succeeds or fails based on the fidelity of its field execution. And execution critically depends on the capacity of frontline functionaries. It is an irony of our “age of data” that, despite acutely weak state capacity and the undoubted value of data in improving service delivery, frontline officials anywhere rarely use data as decision-support to directly improve the quality of execution. Instead, information systems are designed top-down to help higher level officials monitor execution in the aggregate, which neither captures known success predictors of development problems, nor issues of direct concern to ordinary citizens.

Nano MIS seeks to address this problem, primarily by documenting a process which leads to the emergence of appropriate solution outputs – cheap, fast, and flexible IS systems – that empower and strengthen frontline officials. Nano IS is a decision-support system for frontline officials to improve the quality of execution. It is a ‘process innovation’ that changes the approach to building information systems by using fast, cheap, and flexible design, concentrating on a limited number of priority outcomes, on issues immediately and directly relevant to citizens, and which emerges in a bottom-up manner reflecting the needs of frontline functionaries.

Use of GIF Funds

GIF provided IDinsight with a grant of $230,000 to create a functioning Nano IS system and process for one chiefdom in Zambia, assessing data needs, collecting primary data through lean enumeration techniques, and developing relevant technology for the presentation of findings.

Objectives

To develop a fully functioning Nano Information System in accordance with the local need to improve public service delivery and demonstrate it successfully in a Chiefdom while generating and making available evidence and learning to scale the System and enable third-party replication.

Impact to Date

The pilot achieved the core objective – to develop and demonstrate Nano IS in one chiefdom, the Mukobela Chiefdom in the Namwala district Southern Province. The pilot resulted in the development of a functional information system for the Mukobela Chiefdom. The IS system included information on a number of indicators on access to public services agreed in a consultative process with Chief Mukobela, including on proportion of households that drink treated water, distance to health and education facilities, child marriage, incidence of diarrheal diseases in children under five years of age, and other indicators. Chief Mukobela reported that the data showed challenges that he and his team were not aware of, and the evidence helped the Chief take action and secure additional support for the chiefdom, for example mobilising the community to make a contribution for the construction of a clinic in an underserved area.

Click here to read Nano MIS' Completion Assessment.