Monitoring outputs and results of development projects involve communities much more in the age of hotlines, text messaging, the internet and social media. Now beneficiaries have many channels to make their voices heard, while project providers can get quick feedback and keep track of outcomes.
However the need for service providers to fully include women in the monitoring and feedback process still has some way to go.
A good example of this came up during a recent discussion I had with a government official about a new inter-city bus service. He noted that information technology helps governments with the determination to “jump ahead” in their development efforts and the courage to try something new. He was particularly proud of their SMS-based user comments system, with the passengers texting their feedback about the new, privately-run inter-city buses directly to his staff. What about women, I asked, which technological tools do they use to access and help monitor these services? “Women don’t jump” was his matter-of-fact response.
Technology is a vital tool in development work by allowing faster and easier communication, which ultimately improves outcomes for projects and programs. This is increasingly the case as cash-strapped governments look to partner with the private sector to run and monitor projects and to gather beneficiary feedback. While there are still some shortcomings in the way monitoring and feedback systems are reflecting women’s needs and inputs, technology is nevertheless bringing women’s voices to the beneficiary table.
About two years ago Sadia, a beneficiary of the Benazir Income Support Program which provides cash transfers to women, had beamed as she showed me the text message on how much money she had in her account. Money to buy food for her children. “Nobody gets this but me in the family – not my husband, not my son. Just me.” she had declared as she carefully tucked the phone into the folds of her shalwar kameez. And she could monitor the transfers, letting people know if the bank handling them was late with a payment.
Another example is Haykanush, an Armenian small entrepreneur known for her wedding cake business in Sevan, northeast of the country’s capital Yerevan. Last year she showed me the text message she received about business development services being offered under a public-private-partnership arrangement. “I don’t have time to watch TV for announcements or to check with the government office every day,” she had said in a no-nonsense tone. “But when I get the text message, I go to Yerevan and attend the course. That’s how I learned to write my business plan and to apply for a bank loan which got a loan this year!”
Women can and do use information technology to help monitor project outcomes. They also can be valuable partners in ensuring results monitoring systems put in place under development projects are sustained. Three months ago I talked to Armine who lives in a community in Armenia where the main road is being maintained under a public-private-partnership arrangement. I asked Armine whether she is happy with the road. She was not – every winter there was too much ice on the road when she had to go to the market, every spring too many cracks and potholes. She said she used to call the service number to complain before, but the number no longer works. Potholes have gotten worse.
Women are jumping.
As policy makers and development practitioners we just need to pay attention to how and where. Let half the population lend their voices to monitoring infrastructure and services provided by public and private sectors.
Let’s listen to them.
Let’s help them jump higher.