COSA is excited about its new multi-year Agile Data program to develop and test innovative monitoring systems with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. With the foundation’s Agricultural Development team we’ll evolve much faster methods and more inclusive metrics for measuring results and tracking performance. It’s a significant step toward making better data widely accessible.

Rural development programs are often unable to make timely course corrections in the absence of rapid decision-oriented data to test assumptions and measure performance while programs are still in progress. Like most development institutions, the foundation’s multi-year investments typically face changing conditions and circumstances. Agile Data approaches will enable them to benefit from having key data much more frequently and at a very low cost. Thus, up-to-date, even real-time information opens up better data-based management of grants or programs that can tangibly improve the likelihood of achieving their objectives. 

The project addresses major impediments to that so as to better inform not only the foundation’s evidence-based decision-making but also benefit other rural projects or investments that seek to improve their effectiveness. COSA’s approach to human-centered technology – functional and useful for the end-user will further help to ensure that the foundation’s investments best serve their purpose by simultaneously engaging local stakeholders in the process to enhance the relevance and accuracy of the data. When asked “what innovation do you think is changing the most lives in the developing world?”, Melinda French Gates affirmed the value of such an approach to development in “Meeting people where they are and really taking their needs and feedback into account. When you let people participate in the design process, you find that they often have ingenious ideas about what would really help them.”

With these innovations, many of the current cumbersome approaches to development data stand to become obsolete because they waste resources and do not adequately serve their purpose. With rigorous analytics and technology, data can actually be much more productive. 

Daniele Giovannuccci, COSA president, is emphatic that “We must learn to ‘measure what matters’ to not only ensure that data can improve accountability and performance but that it can also foster inclusiveness.” The ability to actively capture the realities of marginalized groups such as women, the poor, and minorities, is as important as data quality. “Some segments of society can be invisible to data collection efforts. Proactive design and execution must ensure that they are not left out.” 

By respecting the value and contribution of the farmers and communities whose data we use, we can establish, with an open approach to data, a functional “Data Democracy”. Increasing the flow of data and learning through semi-automated analytics directly to the people who provide the data gives them frequent and iterative value and guidance that will serve to lower their risks and speed their journey to sustainability. 

So, we will not only be getting the right data but also transforming that Data into actionable Knowledge (D2K). When D2K is applied well, we learn beter and enable managers to make smarter decisions. 

Partnering with experienced data leaders that include the International Centre for Evaluation and Development (ICED) in Africa and GDi Partners in India, COSA will pilot agile approaches that blend technology with rigorous metrics to achieve high data credibility. 

“This approach can be critical for influencing a thriving future for rural agricultural communities” says Daniele Giovannucci, “and there are clear benefits along the entire supply chain, from households to businesses. We are honored by this opportunity to develop innovative monitoring that we believe will be game-changing for everyone connected to global agriculture.”  

In addition to the agile technology framework, we will focus on specific areas of learning that include: 

  • Motivating factors and typology segmentation that drive farmer adoption of new practices 
  • Improved understanding of beneficiaries and the ongoing outcomes they experience 
  • Inclusivity levels in the foundation’s investments and their correlation to outcomes
  • The critical systemic contexts affecting an investment or program

The learning in different countries will span five years of iterative innovation and testing with an aggressive “fail forward fast approach” to achieve goals rapidly.

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