Insights from MERLTech & ICT4D: Where tech & development meet

June 29, 2018

2018 has been a busy year for Andrew Pham, our co-founder and Head of Data & Partnerships. Not only has he been instrumental in the growth of TolaData so far, this avid globetrotter also hasn’t slowed down his momentum in flying out to different corners of the world. More recently, he was in London, UK, to attend MERLTech, as well as Lusaka, Zambia, for the ICT4D Conference. We sat him down for a chat when he got back to Berlin find out some of his main takeaways from these two conferences.

1. “One size fits all” doesn’t work

At both conferences, Andrew learnt that organisations are skeptical of the “one size fits all” approach commonly adopted by monitoring & evaluation (M&E) or ICT vendors. Because of the sheer number of tools out there, there were doubts over whether any one of them alone could solve an individual’s and/or organisation’s needs. To that, Andrew suggests using complementary tools that would add value to existing ones, such as Impact Mapper for qualitative analysis.

2. Advice on M&E practices is just as, if not, more important than providing the tools

Tools are only one part of the equation in M&E practices, as there is also a high demand among practitioners for service providers who could “speak the organisation’s language” — not only for expert guidance in handling unstructured data, but also to bounce solution ideas off each other.

3. The advent of the digital nonprofit

At ICT4D, NetHope presented a session on the digital nonprofit, a collaborative approach which guides international nonprofits to “do good better” by bringing their real-world experience together with the tech sector’s expertise. They believe that organisations can shift from being impact-seeking to impact-driven when they apply technology to transform their organisational models, and that the key obstacles in an organisation adopting a digital strategy lay not in technology and funding, but rather, in its people and agility.

4. With better technical skills comes a greater demand for more sophisticated tools to handle complex data

Organisations these days tend to use commercial products and tools to meet their M&E needs, which explains why hybrid solutions of pairing up a data collection tool, such as one based on the ODK standard with an enterprise-tested Business Intelligence (BI) tool, is increasingly popular within the NGO sector. As field workers become more proficient in their technical capacities, they demand tools that are as advanced as those used in the private sector.

5. GDPR’s influence in the way organisations handle data

GDPR, which came into effect on 25 May, was a big topic at both conferences, especially around responsible data and data protection. For instance, many showcases of tools at the conference made sure to demonstrate how one could scrub personally identifiable information (PII) data from raw datasets. Andrew was pleased to find out that TolaData was more than GDPR-ready, largely because we’ve embraced its principles since our early days of development. As a company based in Germany, we’ve also had to comply with the strictest of EU regulations around data privacy and look forward to building new features to make it easier for organisations to comply with GDPR requirements.

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