Implementing an MIS for the Community Work Programme

The Community Work Programme (CWP) is part of the Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP), a South African government programme.  CWP is designed to tackle issues of deep structural un-employment in the most marginalised areas in South Africa.  Instead of short-term work opportunities (as with EPWP), it offers regular and predictable part-time work for a longer period.  

CWP currently provides regular work for close to 400,000 people

The programme is implemented by NGOs who must work in a collaborative and participative way to decide on project priorities with the communities the programme serves.  While the aim of the programme is to address structural issues driving un-employement, the projects that employ people must also have a social objective.  This promotional video gives examples of the types of projects it runs.

Following is a great introduction to the programme by Dr Kate Philip, who is a member of the CWP steering commmitte.

Kwantu was first requested to assist with the programme in 2011 by Teba Development, one of the lead agents.  As the programme grew rapidly the systems used to manage those working on the programme and make payments to them were rapidly becoming un-manageable.  As an implementing agent, Teba Development needed a Management Information System (MIS) to help with this.

In an earlier project we were commissioned to implement an MIS for EPWP.  While the two programmes have similar goals and processes they do have different requirements.  This meant returning to the operational processes again to see where CWP differed from EPWP in it's day to day activities.  To develop a detailed understanding of the operational processes carried out by staff in the field we held a series of Process Mapping workshops with CWP staff and partners.  

These covered: 

  • Reviewing the life cycle of a number of different projects to identify how a standard framework could be documented that covered all local requirements
  • Identifying a series of stages to guide the implementation process on each project. This included agreement on points where review or sign-off is needed. With local government this included the option for sign-off on projects managed by sub-contractors.
  • Documenting the data requirements of the monitoring and evaluation and programme teams
  • Mapping data requirements to a set of simple forms that can be completed by the implementing partners at the appropriate stage of implementation
  • Mapping the forms to the standardised workflows required for data collection

Having understood the project cycle processes we then linked these to both management and monitoring and evaluation requirements.

Tracking and managing participant attendance

One important difference was at the site level.  CWP implementing NGOs need to track attendance for people working on the sites.  If not managed in a standardised way this had potential to introduce significant data quality problems.

To cover this we modified the existing project cycle workflow to incorporate a daily attendance process.  Each site (which may have up to 1000 people) was broken down into a series of smaller workgroups.  As with EPWP, staff managing the sites enroll people in a central participant database which assigns them into specific workgroups, each with a supervisor.  For CWP, the MIS then automatically generates PDF timesheets for each workgroup which are emailed to the supervisor.  Back-office staff then enter the completed timesheets into the MIS to track attendance.

Data from the timesheets is used to report on work opportunities created and to manage payroll for those working.

Large-scale payments direct into bank accounts

In the next phase of work we further extended the workflow to cover a payroll process.  This was becoming a major challenge as the programme grew.  Staff were spending weeks reconciling failed payments and updating bank details.  This resulted in delayed payments to the people working on CWP, which was un-acceptable.

This takes attendance data and wage rate data to begin a payroll workflow.  Payments for each participant go through a four step approval process, before the payment is cleared to be sent to the bank.  The payments app manages this process automatically, communicating with the banking system to authorise payments direct into the 200,000+ bank accounts and receiving updates back on if the payment was successful or not.

Failed payments are flagged in the MIS with the reason (for example the bank account number is in-correct or the account was suspended).  This information is relayed to supervisors making it easy for them to follow-up with people to obtain the correct information.

Automating payroll in this way was essential to the growth of the programme.  The system currently processes over $9 million a month in wage payments to over 200,000 people.  While previously reconcilliation of failed payments would take over 30 person days, it now takes only a day.  This means that people who most need the money are getting paid faster and more reliably.

Streamlining reporting with a data warehouse

All data from the MIS is available in a comprehensive data warehouse.  Instead of lead agents and other implementers sending monthly reports, the data can be extracted as and when needed by COGTA, the department running the programme.  Since the data warehouse contains data at an operational level, the kind of data available is much more detailed than you would find in a normal monitoring and evaluation system.  This makes it easy to define new reports that help answer new questions not considered when the MIS was originally designed.

What has the programme achieved?

When Kwantu first started working on CWP the number of people employed stood at 35,000.  Since then it has increased consistently and is now around 200,000 people.  A 2013 evaluation found that CWP had significantly expanded participants capability set and contributed to improving both individual and community wellbeing.

The MIS has continued to support the programme as it grows.  Since starting our work with Teba Development we have subsequently been contracted by the other lead agents and now with COGTA directly.  Data quality issues have been largely avoided due to the operational approach taken to monitoring.  This has ensured that on time reporting remains at close to 100% each month and that data is validated at an operational level.

Are you working on a programme that needs an MIS?  Perhaps we can assist.  We offer a free system review and can arrange a demo of existing work.