Monday, December 31, 2018

Innovations, learnings and growth: 2018 at Sambodhi

This was a year of trying new things and many wonderful new firsts. As 2018 draws to a close, we think it would be a good time to reflect on the progress we have made so far. Especially the journey to some major milestones for Sambodhi.

As we begin the new year, we would like to celebrate our partners, our clients, and our community of employees. Here is a quick look at what all happened in 2018!

We launched our data collection platform TheSurveyPoint

At Sambodhi, we are deeply invested in improving data quality and speed of data collection. This year saw the culmination of our efforts with the launch of our own in-house data collection platform- TheSurveyPoint. This next generation user-friendly solution can be easily used to create surveys, collect data with near/real time efficiency as well as analyze the data to render beautiful visualizations and insights.

Hardly 4 months old, and TheSurveyPoint has already been used to make 8 programs, collecting over 2,20,000 data points from 1400 stakeholders across different sectors.  We are really excited about our new platform that has been built to collect, manage and analyze large volumes of multivariate data, even without internet, from the remotest corners of the world. TheSurveyPoint has endured extensive testing and is now ready to take on data problems of all types and sizes.

Want to know more about TheSurveyPoint? Try the free demo here.

We welcomed a refreshed brand and a new online home

October was an important month for us as we pulled back the curtain on an evolved Sambodhi mission and a refreshed brand.

Our new look is inspired by our widening global presence, our evolving portfolio of services and the innovative ways in which we think and analyze. Often, when we interact with our clients, partners and other stakeholders, we hear from them how Sambodhi is catalyzing impact and driving transformations in ways big and small. These stories make us believe that Sambodhi is a part of something bigger than itself, and that’s what inspires us to innovate and improve. Our new brand reflects the optimism, clarity, and confidence that Sambodhi instills in our stakeholders, and that they, in turn, give back to us.

Did you see our new website? Check it out here

We refined our policies to make our work environment more secure

At Sambodhi, we have always been proactive about fostering a progressive culture that creates a positive work environment and motivates our people to form deeper connections with their work. As passionate as we are about this sentiment, we also believe that every great idea and every noble intention should backed up by consistent and flawless execution.

To that end, this year, we have not only strengthened our policies to ensure a safe and positive work environment, but we have also invested heavily in strengthening communication platforms and putting suitable response structures in places. We had partnered with specialized HR firm, who worked closely with our functional teams to assess and devise effective policies. Further, we had dedicated sessions that focused on helping our employees understand the nuances of the policies. The most interesting ones, however, were the exploratory sessions on gender sensitization, wherein people shared freely their experiences, expectations and more.  We believe that these efforts will make us more accountable and involved in sustaining the healthy work environment that has always been a matter of pride for this organizations.

Want to work with us? Read more about our team here

Our emerging footprint and encouraging growth

2018 was a milestone year for us at Sambodhi. There were great successes, some failures too, but most importantly there was growth. This year, we have grown as professionals, as a team and an organization in many ways. We have worked in newer geographies, we have solved problems in newer thematic areas and we have partnered with federal bodies on some exciting long-term assignments, on our mission of empowering organizations and individuals through evidence.

One of the earliest mandates of Sambodhi is our quest to disseminate knowledge. We always try to ensure that we share our learnings and lessons with others. While this continues to happen over daily conversations and weekly sessions, this year saw our growing participation in international conventions and summits to engage with our clients and partners, share about our progress, show off our achievements, take feedback, find ways to collaborate, and contribute towards mutual goals. We were also thrilled to have some of our work published in international peer reviewed journals like JSTOR and The Lancet, which helped us to foster a global dialogue on driving efficiencies with data.

You can learn more about our work here and see our publications here.

Our promise for the future

In 2019, while Sambodhi will reflect on its past and continue to reinforce its current expertise and practice in monitoring and evaluation, we will also take on a more critical role to meaningfully utilize and influence how newer technologies and data sciences impact lives. We will keep on progressively investing in contemporary measurement discourse in the Global South and we are hopeful that the innovations you see from us in 2019 will help bridge data science with development and measurement decisions.

We’re excited about what’s coming in 2019. And we’re grateful for your support along the way.

Want to know more about us? To get regular updates, click here

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Friday, September 28, 2018

Data Driven Solutions for Complex Development Challenges

The world that we live in today is far from ideal; but does not stop motivated individuals from working towards mitigating societal, economic and environmental challenges. Across the world, various stakeholders such as government organizations, humanitarian organizations, corporates and investors are working towards designing and implementing interventions in the social sector to bring about positive impact. However, riddled with strategic and operational challenges, these stakeholders often require the assistance of adept development consultancies. A trusted ally for the development sector is Sambodhi Research a global development consulting organization.
Founded in 2005, the firm holds expertise in monitoring, evaluation & learning (MLE), data analytics, capacity building, technical assistance, “Through our services, we produce high quality, statistically significant and robust evidence to enable informed decision making in the policy and implementation realm for interventions,” explains Sudhanshu Malhotra, Vice President Business Development, Sambodhi Research. Headquartered in Noida, the firm’s services have so far aided interventions in sectors such as energy access, environment and climate change, agriculture, livelihood, public health & nutrition, wash, skill development, education, financial inclusion and governance.
Countering Operational ChallengesThe social development sector often treats measurement and learning as after thoughts. This causes various operational challenges such as inadequate budgeting for measurement and monitoring, unrealistic expectations from the programme outcome/impact and unrealistic expectations from research activities. Sambodhi counters  these challenges by engaging early on with stakeholders at the programme design stage and thus creating visibility and awareness on potential MLE and research. Working in the niche area, Sambodhi’s MLE support services include impact evaluations, process evaluations, concurrent monitoring, process monitoring and embedded long term MLE .
Using statistically sound experimental and quasi experimental methods, innovative techniques in data analytics and collecting data itself to ensure quality, the company also carries out large scale multi surveys in both urban and rural settings. To cater to need of handling composite data that is rapidly transitioning from numerical to complex-textual and audio-visual. Sambodhi is also heavily invested in mastering and applying evaluative methods based on qualitative inquiry The company also holds expertise in research and data analysis which includes data analytics support by applying big data as well as lean data principles to the development context. With its data services extending from descriptive to predictive and prescriptive analytics, Sambodhi has built strong proficiency in rendering research support for cross sectional studies and assessments. Formative research and other activities falling under the gamut of social research. “We see ourselves as research service provider bridging the gap between traditional and main stream consulting, and this positions us very uniquely in the development consulting space,” adds Sudhanshu.
Building Capacities in Social SectorThe social development sector is constantly evolving. Equipped with the right expertise, Sambodhi also works towards supporting and updating the capacities of its developmental partners through its capacity building and training services. The company’s trainings focus on areas such as research design, data analytics. MLE techniques, results based frameworks, statistical software and proposal writing, amongst others. The firm undertakes class room and customized training in the field of MLE and has so far trained over 8000 senior mid career professionals.
Over the years, Sambodhi has succeeded in harbouring trust in the social development sector and has worked with prestigious clients such as the Government of India, various State Governments, the World Bank Group, various UN Organizations, Academia such as Duke University and LSHTM, and foundations such as the the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Rockefeller Foundation, amongst others. Although headquartered in India, the company has offices in Cambodia and Tanzania. “Apart from South Asia, we are actively pursuing international growth in the Sub-Saharan Africa and South East Asia regions,” adds Sudhanshu. Engaged in work which has an impact on the lives of the poor and the marginalized, Sambodhi certainly has its heart in the right place.

Gender and Global Health

Former President of USA George HW Bush once remarked,” Let me tell you, this gender thing is history.” At that time, this caused instantaneous outrage not just in political but non political circles as well. However, it soon died down. I believe Bush was excused (or at least wasn’t taken to the cleaners, literally) because he is a Republican. But when Larry Summers, then as President of Harvard University, and an advisor to many Democrat presidents mentioned the unmentionables regarding gender, this caused serious angst amongst people, leading to his resignation. It is a different debate altogether whether to consider a Democrat a more rational person than a Republican. But when Summers’s faux pas led to that uproar, it surely didn’t come as a surprise that Harvard chose a woman, Drew Faust to replace him. The point I wish to make here is times have changed—just being politically correct is no longer acceptable. How are things like gender juxtaposed in the true sense of the word in modern discourse is what really matters, especially when it comes to discussing global health issues.
According to the WHO, definition of gender is: “socially constructed roles, behaviors, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women”. However, while gender mainstreaming is well documented in programmatic interventions on health universally, the picture on the ground reveals a different story. During my stay so far in India, I have observed that often there a blurred vision when it comes to discussing gender which is often confused with only women’s health issues. For instance, I have observed in field visits that most men perceive MNCH issues solely the prerogative of women. One such program Sambodhi recently evaluated for BBC Media Action tackled this problem head on. Called the Chaar Gaanth program, the program initiated rural men to take active role in preparing for child birth. This is a novel program and its reach is limited. I believe in order to meet the MDGs, and to actually reduce gender inequities a lot needs to change, not just people’s perception on gender.
Sambodhi helps evaluate many maternal, newborn and child health (MNCH) programs for many bilateral and multilateral agencies. In most cases, however I have noticed the programs have been designed such that the health of women is complementary to, but not synonymous with, the promotion of gender equity in health. Further, I have noticed that global health policies and programs focused on prevention of and care for the health needs of men are notably few in number. To overcome entrenched ideas within global health is imperative and even more important to convince donors and governments to ensure that programs address the health needs of both women and men. Galvanizing gender into global health necessitates these thoughts and actions are more political to influence interactions among the prevailing ideas, relevant interests, and institutions which determine health policies.

Using Analytics Advantage For Data Mining

What data could do without analytics? Nothing, it would have just been a data collection with no meaning. Analytics defined data using data mining.Google defines data mining as an analytic process designed to explore data (usually large amounts of data – typically business or market related – also known as “big data“) in search of consistent patterns and/or systematic relationships between variables, and then to validate the findings by applying the detected patterns. Analytics can be used in data mining process to the extreme content.
Here are the Data mining classes of tasks:
  1. The identification of unusual data records or data errors that require further investigation.
  2. Searching for relationships between variables.
  3. Discovering groups and structures in the data that are in some way or another “similar”
  4. Generalizing known structure to apply to new data.
  5. Regression – to find a function this models the data with the least error.
  6. Compact representation of the data set.
Now let’s look into each step and understand how analytics play a vital role in data mining.
The first two steps are the most crucial ones. Depending upon the data, you have options of straightforward predictors for a regression model, to elaborate exploratory analysis. This is the basic yet most important step in data mining. If this goes wrong, the complete analysis would have an incorrect basis.
The next two stages incorporates the technique of applying the correct on once choice. It involves various models and predicting the best one. The variables you choose are independent and predictive analysis comes in play for these steps. You may have to apply different techniques on same data set and get the most desired output.
Now let’s talk about the final two stages of data mining which produces results. The model which you have selected in the previous two stages would be applied to the new data and produce predictions. What future could react to our stimulus is predicted in this step.Errors are eradicated to the maximum and if the desired results are not generated, re-evaluation is done.
Almost every field in business requires data mining. Custom relationship management is one such area wherein customer related data is scanned and explored to get into the minds of customer. The return on investment is high and this is profitable as you get to know what your business would be most likely to behave to changes. Science, engineering, social business, everything encompasses this beautiful tool.
The area is wide, put on your thinking caps and start exploring.

Whither Impact Evaluation

Public programmes are designed to achieve certain objectives. Different governments, international organizations and multilateral aid agencies fund and implement interventions that intend to reduce poverty, improve public health and improve quality of education, among other things. However, these interventions work in a complex ecosystem involving myriad players and it is not straightforward to determine whether the interventions have worked or not. It requires rigorous impact evaluation methodologies to find out whether there were any changes due to the intervention.
The main aim of an evaluation exercise is to find out whether there were any changes after an intervention, and if there were changes, how much of it can be attributed to the intervention. In other words, it is the science and art of finding out what works and what does not work in the public policy sphere. Over the years, impact evaluation has become almost mandatory requirement to any large intervention. Many organizations have developed state-of-the-art expertise in providing impact evaluation services to governments, international organizations and aid agencies.
As the discipline expands, two basic questions can be asked about the nature of the role that impact evaluation plays in development sector programmes. The first question is whether impact evaluation makes the actual objectives of a development intervention redundant. The first thing should be kept in mind that the prerequisite of any impact evaluation exercise is a carefully planned intervention. So, the primary focus of the agencies should on implementing the intervention.
The second question raised is whether impact evaluation does really make a difference. When we ask this, we would like to know how many policy decisions were actually taken based on the results from an evaluation exercise. Are the learnings from evaluation able to change the way policy making is approached by different governments, international organizations and multilateral aid organizations, which forms the main consumers of impact evaluation reports? If it is not happening, there is something wrong, and valuable learnings from years of experience in the field are being lost into voluminous reports that hardly anyone reads to any effect. These questions are better asked to the evaluators themselves.
There is an urgent need for the evaluators around the globe to ponder on these issues and find ways to rediscover the discipline. Impact evaluation must not be reduced to a routine exercise which is carried out for the sake of it. It is imperative that every researcher asks one simple question, “How can I make my work count?” The good news is that there are ways to make it happen. The best way to do it is to make sure that the learnings from evaluation reach a wider audience.
The broader goal is to create a voice in favour of evidence based policy making. Making the learnings of research accessible to the public is the first step towards achieving it. Evaluators can make more use of their research by owning the research outcomes and making them available through diverse forms of media. Bringing together everybody in the profession through seminars, workshops etc. and creating a strong and vibrant community of evaluators for knowledge sharing will be very helpful in this regard. The power of information & communication technology (ICT), internet and social media can be leveraged to this effect.

5-points researchers may consider while conducting large scale surveys in slums

Metro cities are cosmopolitan in nature. The population in the cosmopolitan cities are generally heterogeneous which constitutes migrated people from different parts of the country. Especially in developing countries, the migration of labor is an important phenomenon of the urbanization process. These cities have changing trends in terms of demography and development. Sizable proportion of the population in most Indian cities lives in slum areas, especially in Mumbai and Delhi in India. According to Census 2011 figures, approximately 37% and 11% of the total population dwell in slums in the cities of Mumbai and Delhi respectively. The increasing slum population have witnessed an indication of worsening living conditions and increasing poverty in cities in India. Disparities in health condition of the population between cities and among different groups of the population in the same city are increasing. This has led to increased need of attention for specific interventions to urban slum areas. And with these enhanced attention by the government, foundations, donors, NGOs and corporate, several studies are also being carried out in the slum populations.
The article seeks to describe challenges faced while conducting research in metro cities, with special mention of my Mumbai experience. This article aims to help researchers who are contemplating of conducting large scale research among slum dwellers. This article is a reflection of our research experience on community based survey for a communicable disease in Mumbai. The study was conducted in slums of 15 wards of Mumbai covering the slum areas. Broadly the article focuses on the issues of identifying the location and boundary and seasonal habitation pattern, seasonal challenges in collecting data, instability in the habitat, problems faced in conducting research on communicable disease, getting correct information from the respondents, non-response rate, expectation of community from the survey, survey fatigue due to large number of surveys happening in the slums.
1. Locating Maps
Location identification as well as identifying their boundary is paramount before conducting a large scale study among slum dwellers. Usually for surveys of these nature, maps are procured from NSSO (UFS maps or the Urban Frame Survey maps), Census (CEB maps or the Census Enumeration Block maps), and other government offices. Sampling frame for our study was slums in 15 wards for Mumbai. Almost all the maps we procured from an agency were poorly drafted with recurring issues like – incorrect directions, untraceable landmarks and improper use of designated symbols for classifying the buildings/structures. Most of times, instructions etc are hand written and the hand writing on the maps were illegible. Many areas were redeveloped. Ideally one Primary Sampling Unit (PSU) / cluster map should consist of around 160-200 households, but there were many that had around 1000 HHs.
Now in order to identify the slums within those maps, list of slums was procured from the office of another government agency, which were matched with the cluster maps. We experienced, although aome areas were marked as slums as per the list but when actually visited, some of those areas were very well developed and clean. On the other hand some slums which are newly developed did not feature in the list. Since the list is not updated on a regular basis, these lists may not represent the entire slum dwellers of a city. As researchers, we have no control over this and we will have to live with it perhaps.
2. Seasonal habitations
Availability or non-availability of the target respondents are very much dependent on the season when the data collection is planned in India. This is more concerning when we plan a study in Mumbai, considering a huge migrated population. So, if the survey is planned for the month of April/May/June, we need to be careful. Owing to the summer vacations in the schools, most of families originally from northern part of the country, would go to their native places. The families left, may not be a complete representation of the population. The rainy season that follows summer, poses it’s own challenges in Mumbai due to frequent cancellation of local trains and water logging here and there. Therefore, if possible one should plan for data collection between October and March.
Since, most of the times, all the members of the household go out for work, we often find a substantial number of locked houses. Moreover, as most of these people work in informal settings, to meet with these people the survey team needs to be very flexible for timing, ie. Plan for late evening, as in the early morning too, the respondents are extremely busy in their daily household chores like washing utensils, fetching and storing water, preparing breakfast and lunch for the members etc. In order to take time and elicit good response provision of small gift in our budget can be made if it is possible.
3. Attrition of Research Investigators
Researchers need to be cognizant of high attrition of the field team workers. It is not at all easy conducting a study on communicable disease where we run the risk getting infected. I have personally experienced half of the team members dropping out in just 3 days of field work. The biggest reason being the difficulty in reaching, locating, moving in slums areas. Mumbai also known as the city of dreams, has several opportunities. Also, knowing the nature of project, which are generally short term, the team members do not did not have the motivation to perform. Therefore, it may be a good idea to train 50% more people than planned.
4. Survey Fatigue
Due to the increased development focus on the urban slums, the studies conducted amongst the slum dwellers have also increased. And with these surveys, they do not get any direct tangible benefits. As a result, they have started getting cynical about these studies. We have also seen, sometimes, some of our field team members, make some false commitments in order to seek their time, which goes unfulfilled. These false promises may be catastrophic for that study and for future studies as well.
5. Perceived Health Hazard in case of communicable diseases
If field people are engaged in the field work for any communicable disease, there are high chances that they will be very reluctant in participating in the study. This is quite natural, especially if the study area is a slum. A possible solution to this could be by engaging a senior medical doctor, practicing in that field, who takes several sessions with the field workers on the actual and perceived risks.
Careful planning can help researchers execute the field work within the planned time line and budgets. Though, some of the solutions suggested above like training additional people, offering gifts, engaging senior medical consultants etc, apparently seems be cost enhancing, but in actual terms, all of these gets compensated if the field work completes on time without major hassles. To conclude, as the scenario is significantly changing in cities, many new issues can arise, which can be resolved then, but some of the issues as indicated above can be thought upon before conducting a survey.