How BetterData business process apps can help you improve data quality

Sometimes change is the only constant in international development.  Because of this BetterData, our web-based monitoring and evaluation system, was designed to be easy to change and adapt as your needs change.  

This makes it is easy to do things like:

  • Add new indicators to your library or edit existing ones
  • Create new criteria for disaggregating your data or modify existing ones
  • Create new data collections forms, update existing ones to add new fields
  • Configure a search to show a list of data on a page, filtered by tag or other criteria
  • Create new reports that export your data in XLS, PDF or DOC formats

BetterData also has a powerful application programming interface (API).  This allows it to communicate directly with other web-based applications to exchange data or perform other actions.

BetterData apps are a simple way of packaging up a specific configuration or integration with another application.  Once packaged as an app it is then easy to add to your version of BetterData.  Adding apps is a great way to quickly configure BetterData in powerful ways.

We distinguish between two types of apps on BetterData - those that add functionality and those that add business processes.

Functional apps

Functional apps are designed to enhance the functionality of BetterData by integrating with another application - typically using an API.  This might mean integrating with an SMS platform to enable you to define an indicator in BetterData that is monitored using data drawn from the SMS platform.  Or it could mean communicating with a government database of citizens to help validate ID numbers or other data for the people engaged in your programmes.

Examples of functional apps we have available are:

Google Drive - This app allows your users to securely link their Google Drive account to their BetterData account.  This is done using the secure OAuth method which does not store your Google username or password.  Once linked BetterData can then use your Google Drive account to import data in bulk into the system or export data in bulk from the system.

Participant payments and payroll - This application is designed to help organisations or programmes that need to manage and process cash or other types of payments for thousands of people on a regular basis.  The Community Work Programme in South Africa uses it to pay $9 million a month to 170,000 people.

Eldis - Eldis is an online information service providing free access to relevant, up-to-date and diverse research on international development issues. It includes over 30,000 summaries and links to free full-text research and policy documents from over 8,000 publishers.  This app allows you to search documents on Eldis and import into BetterData with their meta-data.  The imported document is displayed alongside documents added manually.  This makes it easy to build up a knowledge collection to support your work.

Business process apps

BetterData also offers apps that model specific business processes.  Don't get put off by jargon from the business world.  As others have commented, the role of business analysis has a lot to offer development practitioners.  Put simply, business processes are one way of documenting and standardising things you do in your organisation.  There is a strong body of evidence from the private sector about the effectiveness of this approach.  If implemented in a way that is aware of the context of international development it can offer the following benefits:

  • Helping team members working on different projects or sites follow the same approach
  • Ensuring that common data quality issues like double-counting or different understandings of indicator definitions are addressed from the outset
  • Linking the process of monitoring and evaluation directly into the process for implementing the activity
  • Embedding cross-cutting issues like value for money, climate change or gender into existing processes
  • Defining reports needed for management and donor reporting and ensuring data needed for these reports is collected as part of the process

Clearly there is a time and a place for introducing this level of rigour.  For practitioners trying out new approaches or working on a small scale the return is not worth the investment.  However, as organisations begin implementing the same approach in more than 15 sites or projects then the benefits become clear.

BetterData business process apps are linked to specific approaches or methods.  For example:

  • General project cycle management
  • Community score cards
  • Social audits
  • Tracking proposals and contracts
  • Managing the production of publications and media products

Each business process app combines the following ingredients in one package:

  • Dashboard - a page on BetterData that gives project managers an operational overview of all the projects or sites, grouped by workflow status
  • Data collection forms - for example a form to register a group of participants on a project site or to record information about a meeting or an outcome
  • Workflow - The workflow is made up of a series of steps that relate to different stages of the implementation.  For example, a registration stage might be following by a community engagement stage.  Stages help break the process down, making it clear which activities are needed at that stage and what data collection forms are needed.  The workflow can include data quality review stages where managers are asked to review the data submitted before the process moves onto the next stage.
  • Profiles - apps have profiles for each site or project that is carrying out this process.  Profiles have pages that show the workflow status, team members and data collected for that site or project.
  • Indicators - Typically the indicators you monitor on your logframe or results framework rely on data collected as part of a step in a process.  BetterData comes packages with common indicators relevant to the process.  It also ensures that the indicators are linked to questions on your data collection forms.  This links data collection for M&E directly to your field activities.
  • Reports - Indicators are the tip of the iceburg.  Since the data collection forms collect operational level data there is typically a wealth of data available for learning, analysis and management.  Pre-defined reports allow you to quickly export this data in PDF, XLS or DOC formats.  Reports can easily aggregate and group data to help speed up your analysis.

The following screenshot is an example of the the workflow.

Example workflow from a social protection project

Example workflow from a social protection project

Once you've added a specific business process app to your version of BetterData you can then customise each area of the app.  This could mean adding new forms, tweaking the workflow or creating new reports.

As we work with more partners we will add to library of business process apps.  If you feel that this approach would help strengthen your work then get in touch.  We can offer a free review of your own systems or a demo of BetterData and any apps that interest you.