In the ever-evolving landscape of rural extension and community development, adopting digital data collection and monitoring tools has emerged as a game-changer. Community-Based Extension Agents (CBEAs) and Community Health Officers (CHOs) play a crucial role in the grassroots implementation of the Generating Revenues and Opportunities for Women to Improve Nutrition in Ghana (GROWING) project which is led by the International Potato Center and co-implemented with CARE International, the Ministry of Food and Agriculture, and Ghana Health Services. Integrating digital tools into their workflow has streamlined monitoring processes and significantly amplified the positive impacts of GROWING. In this article, we delve into the importance of this digital transformation and how it has catalyzed the success of the GROWING Project.
Traditional methods of data collection, which often involved pen and paper, were time-consuming and prone to errors and inefficiencies. Enter the digital era and a myriad of technological solutions have been developed to address these challenges. Digital tools, ranging from mobile applications to cloud-based platforms, have revolutionized extension, communication and data monitoring by providing a structured, efficient, and accurate means of gathering and managing information.
For our Community-Based Extension Agents and Community Health Officers, this transformation means that they can now focus more on the core aspects of their work, such as knowledge transfer on agriculture and nutrition technologies and practices, engaging with communities, providing essential services, and fostering development. The burden of manually compiling data and deciphering illegible handwriting has been lifted, allowing them to allocate their time and energy where it truly matters.
The GROWING Project serves as an exemplary case study of how adopting digital tools, such as tablets, can create a ripple effect of positive change within communities. The project aims to enhance the overall nutritional and financial security of women, youth, and young children in six (6) selected districts of northern Ghana.
Before the digital transition, data collection for the GROWING Project would have been a formidable challenge based on past experiences. The Community-Based Extension Agents and Community Health Officers would have struggled with deciphering hand-written records, managing vast amounts of paper-based data, and timely reporting. However, with the integration of digital tools, the project’s approach underwent a paradigm shift.
As part of the 2023 plans, 37 Community-Based Extension Agents (CBEAs), who are literally male and female farmers, volunteered to act as extension agents and 36 Community Health Officers (CHOs) were trained on the use of digital tools for monitoring the various technological, institutional, and organizational interventions in their respective communities. With the high coverage of telecommunication networks in Ghana, the GROWING project provided CBEAs and CHOs tablets, each beneficiary household with QR identity cards for scanning, properly set up the ODK application, developed and installed forms for the integrated agriculture-nutrition and marketing gender transformative interventions and continuously monitor them to collect intervention delivery data and submit it using mobile phone internet.
Observed positive effects of digital monitoring on the GROWING Project:
- Efficiency and Accuracy: Digital tools enabled real-time data entry and automated validation, significantly reducing errors and ensuring that accurate information is collected. This has empowered decision-makers with reliable data for informed planning and resource allocation.
- Timely Reporting: Digital platforms facilitated instant data transmission to central databases, enabling quicker generation of reports and assessments. This speed has allowed the project team to respond promptly to emerging needs and challenges.
- Data-Driven Decision-Making: With a robust digital database in place, the GROWING project has been able to analyze trends, identify patterns, and make data-driven decisions. This has led to targeted interventions that have a more profound impact on community development.
- Community Engagement: The use of user-friendly mobile applications for data collection has also increased community engagement. Residents are now more involved in the data collection process, as they see first–hand how their information contributes to positive changes in their neighborhoods.
- Resource Optimization: The streamlined data collection process has optimized resource allocation. Precious time and funds are no longer diverted to manual data entry, allowing extension agents and health officers to focus on building relationships and delivering essential services.
- The CBEAs, who are literally less educated farmers, may have a low capacity to operate the tablets properly for digital monitoring. Hence, a lot of support is required initially to the extent that some of the CBEAs may need to be supported by either a family member or a neighbor who is capable of operating the tablets.
- Poor access to an internet connection through the data system can hinder and obstruct prompt transfers of digital data.
In conclusion, adopting digital data collection and monitoring tools has been a transformative journey for Community-Based Extension Agents (CBEAs) and Community Health Officers (CHOs). GROWING Project stands as a beacon of positive change, showcasing how this digital transformation can amplify the impact of developmental initiatives. The effect of digital monitoring on proper implementations of gender-transformative approaches and women-friendly innovations has yet to be empirically evaluated. As we move forward in this digital world, it is imperative that more projects recognize the immense potential of digital monitoring in revolutionizing data collection and community development. By harnessing technology, we can ensure a brighter and more equitable future for all.
Article written by Sherifdeen Abubakari. Contributions made by Issah Mohammed, Birhanu Temesgen, Jan Low, and Joanna Dove
This activity was made possible through support provided by the Global Affairs Canada (GAC). CIP partnered with CARE International, Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MOFA) and the Ghana Health Services (GHS) for the implementation of the GROWING Project. The opinions expressed in this activity are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of GAC, CARE International, MOFA and GHS.