Digital Development for Feed the Future: Building an Innovative Community of Practice to Respond to Smallholder Farmers’ Needs

This post is excerpted from the first blog post in a two-part Agrilinks series focusing on data-driven agricultural development. It was authored by Karina Lundahl, Facilitator for USAID’s Innovation for Data-Driven Agriculture Convening on April 27–28, 2017.

With the continued global proliferation of smartphones, sensors and advanced analytics, opportunities and challenges relevant to smallholder agriculture in emerging economies are increasing. In the focus countries of the U.S. Government’s Feed the Future initiative, smartphone adoption increased an incredible 800 percent between 2010–2015 according to data from GSMA Intelligence. And in 2017, the combined processing power of global smartphones will surpass the processing capacity of all servers worldwide. To create an agile and informed response to technological opportunities addressing the context-specific problems faced in developing regions, a diverse group of thinkers and innovators is required.

Addressing this, USAID, in collaboration with the Sustainability Innovation Lab at the University of Colorado, Boulder (SILC), hosted its second convening focused on building a cross-industry community of practice in data-driven agricultural development. Representatives from the U.S. Global Development Lab and Bureau for Food Security at USAID joined a group of researchers, tech innovators, funders and development practitioners to discuss the state of the industry as well as paths forward for data-driven approaches to agricultural development. Through a series of presentations, panels and workshop activities, three major themes emerged:

1. Opportunities and challenges in the data landscape: collection, analysis, open sharing and distribution

2. How to better incorporate smallholder farmer concerns during design and implementation

3. Engaging a diverse community of practice

Convening facilitator Karina Lundahl unpacks these themes with proven examples in the full Agrilinks blog. Read the post to see case examples of how these themes respond to smallholder farmers’ needs.

Digital Development for Feed the Future is a collaboration between USAID’s Global Development Lab and the Bureau for Food Security and is focused on integrating a suite of coordinated digital tools and technologies into Feed the Future activities to accelerate agriculture-led economic growth and improved nutrition.  

For more information on Digital Development for Feed the Future’s work on data-driven agricultural development, please read the Key Findings Report from the Innovation for Data-Driven Agriculture convening in April 2017. 

Photo credit: Tanya Martineau, Prospect Arts, Food for the Hungry

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Submit Session Ideas for ICTforAg 2017

This blog is modified from the originally published blog on ICTworks.

ICTforAg is a one-day conference which builds on ICTforAg 2015 and 2016, bringing together 300 thought leaders and decision-makers in agriculture and technology from the international development community and the private sector. Community-driven sessions examine how new innovations can empower smallholder farmers, and the communities that support them, through information and communication technologies (ICT).

We are looking for the ICT4D community to sign up to present or register to attend ICTforAg 2017 and examine these trends with an exciting mix of educational keynotes, lightning talks, and group breakouts. An evening reception will be held to foster networking across sectors. Session submission ideas are due April 14!

While this year’s conference takes a particular interest in new ICT solutions that can boost the productivity of both smallholder farmers and agricultural value chains, all possible ICTs, including traditional media platforms, agribusiness IT systems, and existing government support systems, will be discussed.

To answer the real challenges smallholder farmers and agriculture value chain stakeholders face, the conference will have four focus areas:

  1. Where are Digital Financial Services improving farmer finances?
  2. How can Digital Extension Services succeed where analog versions have failed?
  3. What does Private Sector Partnerships – Version 2.0 look like?
  4. Where is Climate Smart Agriculture having impact in mitigating increased variability?

Like previous conferences, ICTforAg 2017 will be a community-driven event. Please submit your ideas for presentations and session topics in one of the four areas listed above. Our aim is to create a day of intense exploration of the already possible and soon-to-be potential of tools like blockchain, drones, sensors, augmented reality, predictive analytics, big data, gamification, and automation, that will move us from talk to ICTforAg action.

Presenters and session leads will play a central role in developing the event and have their ticket costs refunded. Session ideas that also include voices from the field and these cross-cutting themes will be at an advantage:

  • Gender equity
  • Youth engagement
  • Private sector engagement
  • Climate change resilience
  • Fragile and conflict environments
  • Monitoring, evaluation, research and learning

Submit session ideas, register, and read more about the event here.

2016: A Year of Digital Development in Action

In 2016, mSTAR implemented 41 activities.

It was a year of dedicated work towards mSTAR’s goal of using technology to improve lives in underserved communities.

Read our 2016 Annual Report.

Our 2016 activities spanned Central America, Asia, and Africa. They included  diverse activities such as the Innovations Awards for original uses of data for resilience; a widely-received report on alternative business models for connectivity; and a Financial Inclusion Forum highlighting Bill Gates. All 41 activities were exciting and meaningful; here are our most noteworthy:

First of its kind digitally-enabled micro-credit in Bangladesh.
One of the biggest challenges farmers face in Bangladesh is that they pay back loans weekly. Paying loans so regularly can cause a snowball effect of debt for farmers who, due to the nature of farming, don’t have a steady weekly income. Once crops are in the ground, it may be a few months before they have income. To pay back the original loan farmers are often forced to “take out other loans…and rush to sell their crops immediately after harvest,” Josh Woodard, mSTAR Regional ICT and Digital Finance Specialist, has said. Rushing to sell  crops means farmers often don’t get their full market value. To address this, mSTAR has worked with two different banks in Bangladesh, Bank Asia and IFIC Bank Limited, to launch two new digitally-enabled micro-credit products for farmers; the first using NFC-enabled debit cards, the latter using mobile wallets. Both of these products have much lower interest rates than alternative options offered by microfinance institutions, as well as much more attractive repayment terms—a single repayment after six months, instead of weekly installments. With these products, farmers can now pay after harvest. No longer in a rush to see their produce, they are more likely to receive a better price. In a country where most people work in agriculture, these new products could be critical to stemming poverty and breaking a cycle of debt. Over 250 farmers have signed up for the initial pilots of these two products, and both banks are already eyeing expansion to thousands of more farmers.

Mobile money salary payments for teachers in Liberia.
Through mobile money, mSTAR is transforming the daily lives of teachers in rural areas. In 2016, mSTAR successfully rolled out mobile salary payments for teachers in Nimba County. Sixty-seven teachers received payments in the first mobile payment payroll. 100 percent reported saving time compared to traditional direct deposit. Mobile salary payments also helped teachers save money. Before, teachers reported spending approximately 13.5 hours and $25 of their salary to pick up their money. After mobile payments, they spent an average of 25 minutes and $2 in service fees to cash out their mobile money. The success of the rollout has resulted in buy-ins to roll out mobile money to health workers and to teachers nationwide.

Addressing the data gap in mobile phone users.
mSTAR, USAID/Mozambique and DFID, through DAI’s Financial Sector Deepening project, set out to clearly understand the landscape of growing mobile phone users. mSTAR and partners interviewed over 6,000 mobile phone users and non-users. The survey garnered valuable information and data about the availability and accessibility of mobile technologies and the way people use mobile phones in their daily lives. The findings will allow USAID staff in Mozambique to make smarter programming decisions as they increasingly rely on digital technologies to deliver better results.

In 2016, mSTAR used technology for better development outcomes across sectors. We encouraged innovative uses of data for resilience and rolled out mobile money products that show real promise in improving daily lives and diminishing the threat of poverty. In 2016, we continued to establish digital technologies as some of the most exciting and promising avenues to improving lives among the most vulnerable throughout the world.

Review our 2016 Annual Report (with pictures!) here. 

Call for Case Studies! Responsible Data Practices in Digital Development

Do you have a digital technology project that manages personally identifiable or otherwise protected/sensitive data on beneficiaries in the field?

Have you struggled with and addressed challenges around balancing the need for information, protecting it from misuse, and mitigating privacy risks?

Would you like to engage with and inform USAID on development of best practices for ethical data collection, use, and management in field-based programs?

We want to hear from you!

mSTAR is looking for up to three projects where we can test and apply our draft good practice guidelines for ethical collection, use, management, sharing and release of data in field-based digital development programs.

The use of digital technologies is increasing in development programs. This has the potential to yield tremendous benefits but also increases the chances of exposing individuals and communities to harms and privacy risks related to poorly managed and protected data. USAID and its implementing partners recognize these challenges, especially the need for good practices to guide collection, use and sharing of data in a responsible manner.

Therefore, in collaboration with Sonjara, Inc., Georgetown University and the USAID Global Development Lab, mSTAR is conducting research on existing practices, policies, systems, and legal frameworks through which international development data is collected, used, shared, and released. Based on this research, the team will develop good practice guidelines for USAID that will be tested against real world experiences in field-based digital development programs and that will help:

  • Mitigate privacy and security risks for beneficiaries and others
  • Improve performance and development outcomes through use of data
  • Promote transparency, accountability and public good through open data

mSTAR is looking for digital development projects to assess how our guidelines would work in real world settings. Once selected, the research team will conduct field visits of 1-2 weeks per project, in order to understand “on-the-ground” context and project needs. The research team will work with the project management team to apply draft practice guidelines to each case, help identify what practices work and any gaps in the guidelines. The team will also capture feedback from the project management team and partners on implications for project costs and timelines, as well as document existing good practices and lessons learned from the project on how they manage their data. These findings will be used to further refine the USAID Responsible Data Practice guidelines.

What types of projects are we looking for?

  • Ongoing or recently concluded projects that are using digital technologies (SMS, IVR, mobile based data collection, USSD, software, social media platforms, sensors/IoT, etc.) to collect, store, analyze, manage, use and share individuals’ data.
  • The data could include personally identifiable information (PII) and/or other personal information such as health records of pregnant mothers, teachers’ attendance, financial transaction history of individuals, HIV/TB status, and/or other potentially sensitive information like LGBTQI status, membership in vulnerable groups (disability, ethic/tribal minority etc.), geocoded information, etc.
  • The project should have informal or formal processes for privacy/security risk assessment and mitigation especially with respect to field implementation of digital technologies (listed above) as part of their program. These may be implicit or explicit (i.e. documented or written). They potentially include formal review processes conducted by ethics review boards or institutional review boards (IRBs) for projects. Submissions of cases are NOT limited to only projects that have conducted formal ethics review. Projects that have been clearly defined as “research,” however, are excluded from this analysis. Note that, while information security processes are highly relevant to the overall problem of mitigating privacy risks, we are NOT looking for case studies that are entirely about information security/cybersecurity practices.
  • All sectors of international development are welcome to submit case studies. We are looking for diversity in context and programming.
  • Projects from all geographical regions are welcome.
  • We prefer case studies from USAID-funded projects but are open to receiving case studies from other donor-supported projects.

If your project or activity falls under the above criteria, please take a few minutes to share your project information here. We welcome multiple submissions from one organization; simply reuse this form for each case study proposed.

Contributions must be received by March 1, 2017.

Your help and support are much appreciated! Please share this call with others who may be interested in contributing case studies.

Click here to submit your case study. 

A Plea to the Development Sector: Ignore Privacy at Your Own Peril

By Josh Woodard, mSTAR Technical Advisor

Next year is the 20th anniversary of Time Magazine’s declaration of the “death of privacy”.

Of course, privacy never died, but it has been under continuous pressure from pretty much everywhere, particularly in the digital realm. Our every action is in essence under constant surveillance from many of the digital platforms that we use every day. The insights digital platforms glean from our personal data and habits serve as a core component of their revenue generation. We are literally trading our privacy in exchange for using their services. This will only get worse as the Internet of Things expands to include ‘always on’ devices that passively listen to conversations—like next generation personal assistants that monitor our households—think of Samsung’s recently released smart refrigerators.

We are literally trading our privacy in exchange for using their services.

While one can make the case that we voluntarily sign up to these services and their terms, the reality is that not all companies are adequately protecting our data. In 2015 alone, almost 500 million identities were exposed by corporate data breaches. A study by PwC found that only 37 percent of companies have a cyber incident response plan. This is all not to mention that a number of technology companies have actively permitted governments to access their clients’ personal data, including Yahoo, which created a backdoor to its email servers for the NSA.

It’s Not Just the Surveillance Economy

Government intrusion into internet privacy is not unique to the United States. Freedom House’s Freedom on the Net 2015 report found that internet freedom declined for the fifth year in a row, and that “governments in 14 of 65 countries passed new laws to increase surveillance over the past year.” China has even tested out a social credit system that collects personal data and assigns people “scores” as citizens. While that may sound benign, just imagine how that data can impact those in society deemed to have a lower social credit score, such as minorities or those with unpopular political opinions. Moreover, cybercrime laws in a number of countries are being used to criminalize certain types of free expression.

One study found that the two most popular passwords are ‘123456’ and ‘password.’

As digital users, we’re certainly not helping ourselves much either. One study found that the two most popular passwords are ‘123456’ and ‘password.’ More than half of people in a recent experiment conducted by German researchers clicked on a link from an unknown sender. It should come as no surprise then that millions of people—including my mother, twice!— are victims of cyberscams annually. Our worst impulses also sometimes manifest themselves in online vigilantism and public shaming that threaten the anonymity of average citizens. One such example is the Saudi student in the United States whose photo went viral on social media in the hours and days after the Boston marathon bombing by people claiming he was a key suspect. The student, it turns out, had nothing to do with the attacks.

Development Actors and Privacy Naiveté

Given this backdrop, one would think that development organizations, which often work with vulnerable populations and are supposed to be serving their interests, would place a higher premium on protecting individual privacy. The reality, however, is that often times, as development organizations, we are completely oblivious to privacy issues. Privacy controls, like informed consent, are often done simply to check a box. Development organizations consider it an extra step to encrypt and store personal data, and frequently share it with others fairly cavalierly. What’s worse is that we too often skim the terms of services we are using to collect people’s information. For example, an NGO in Papua New Guinea once shared with me how they had paid a data collection firm to conduct mobile surveys of their program participants. This NGO did not realize that the terms of the agreement entitled that firm to keep those participants’ contact information and sell it out to third-parties to conduct their own surveys.

All it Takes is a Little Effort

While all of this may seem doom and gloom, protecting people’s privacy is actually not that hard, it just takes effort. Development organizations can start by putting greater emphasis on training their staff on how to handle data privately and securely, along with promoting concepts such as individual sovereignty over personal information. Some fixes are easy, like improving informed consent and data management. The Responsible Data Handbook is a great resource for much of that. And for more complicated issues, like secure data storage and communications, other useful resources, such as Security-in-a-Box, exist.

Protecting people’s privacy is actually not that hard…

Development practitioners should also stay abreast of changes that could impact privacy. In addition to following news reports on technology and privacy, organizations such as Freedom House, Privacy International, Reporters Without Borders, and local netizen groups are all helpful sources of information. The Responsible Data listserv is also a place to learn from and share with fellow development practitioners.

For those who work at the policy level, the EU has been leading the way in developing protections for their citizens’ privacy and control over their personal data. There is much that can be learned from their work. For the practitioners among us, look for digital platforms and service providers that emphasize security, privacy, and transparency. It is also worth keeping an eye on shared ownership platforms, which while not necessarily more secure or private, are at least potentially more accountable to their users (who are also generally their owners) than privately-held companies.

Finally, it is crucial for those of us who care about privacy and individual sovereignty to make their voices heard. Share with colleagues why they should take these issues more seriously and the relatively simple adjustments they can make to do so. Express your concerns about these issues with digital platform providers and local governments to help to make sure that these issues are on their radar. Education is the first step towards creating a culture of smart privacy protection in development, and I’d encourage each of you to start taking that step today.

The following blog post was adapted from a presentation given by the author at USAID’s Next Generation Technologies for Empowering People event in Bangkok, Thailand on November 14-15. It is not meant to be comprehensive in its analysis of this complex topic, but rather to be a starting point for conversation.

Josh Woodard serves as a technical advisor for the mSTAR project, where he oversees technical quality and provides technical direction to several activities in Asia focused on digital development, including digital financial services. He also led mSTAR’s efforts to organize and facilitate the Data for Resilience Summit.

The First Step in Developing Effective Mobile Programs: Understanding the Landscape

Over the last decade, Mozambique has witnessed a transformative time in communications and mobile technology.

In 2005, with 1.5 million mobile subscriptions, mobile phone use had already far outpaced landline connections. By 2015, subscriptions had skyrocketed to 20 million. This transformation in connectivity marks a fundamental shift in how people, government and businesses communicate with one another across the country. As increasing numbers access mobile services across Mozambique, private and public actors alike are recognizing opportunities to apply mobile technology to accelerate development outcomes.

While this is an exciting time to leverage new possibilities and integrate mobile technology within programming, those seeking to design mobile programs or new products are often faced with a profound dearth of data on who is using mobiles and how. This is a particular challenge for the development and humanitarian communities who often work with some of the most vulnerable populations. Statistics available through industry and trade groups are often outdated and mask critically important differences in access. There are also few statistics captured on usage, yet we know that understanding the mobile features and services users are comfortable with, as well as unique borrowing patterns, are critical for ensuring success. Without better data on ICT access and usage among these key populations, designing effective and efficient programs that successfully take advantage of mobile technology has remained a challenge.

mSTAR set out to address this data gap in Mozambique with the unique Mobile Access and Usage Study (MAUS). Proving that donors are in agreement on the need for data on technology, USAID/Mozambique and DFID, through DAI’s Financial Sector Deepening project, partnered to commission the study. This multi-faceted study examined the availability and accessibility of mobile technologies, and the dynamic ways they are being used in the daily lives of Mozambicans.

mausobjectivesThe MAUS household survey employed traditional face-to-face interviews on access, usage and barriers with adults across four provinces: Manica, Nampula, Tete and Zambezia. The study also included a Computer Assisted Telephone Interview (CATI) survey utilizing remote data-collection via mobiles. The CATI was designed to not only gather a more complete understanding of how active mobile users are using their phones, but also to measure change in that use over time, and to test methods for retaining participants in mobile phone surveys.

mSTAR recently completed the study and hosted a presentation in Maputo, Mozambique to provide a first view of the findings with our many collaborators. The opening and closing remarks featured John Irons, USAID’s  Agriculture, Trade and Business Office Chief, Shahnila Azher, Team Leader of DFID’s Growth and Rural Development and Dr. Americo Muchanga, National Director of the Instituto Nacional das Comunicações de Moçambique (INCM). The coordination and collaboration achieved in working with the mobile operators, government agencies, and donor groups is a testament to the importance of this activity, as well as the shared value in understanding the mobile landscape in Mozambique.

Combined, the surveys completed over 6,000 interviews with both users and non-users in the four target provinces. As presented in Maputo, the study surfaced unique mobile landscapes for each target province and significant variations in access across geographies, gender and education.

Check back to this blog soon to get the full report and additional analysis!

In the meantime, this infographic presents the highlights of the survey results to date. It is hoped that the results of the study will help drive the deliberate and responsible use of technology in development.

Towards an Inclusive Digital Economy: Video

An inclusive digital economy has unprecedented potential to expand and accelerate development outcomes, driving not only economic growth but also the provision of life-enhancing information and services across health, agricultural, education, and more. In becoming an active participant in the global digital economy, citizens like Mary can have access to an array of digitally integrated tools and services that can help them achieve their aspirations.

The development community has an important role to play in shaping the “building blocks” of an inclusive digital economy: the enablers that can shift behaviors, close gaps, and create new pathways to prosperity; and a healthy enabling environment which supports the critical policies, regulations, and infrastructure that underpin the digital economy.

This brief video provides an overview of how an inclusive digital economy can support our development objectives.

mSTAR-supported Free Online Mobile Data Collection Course

Mobile technologies offer transparent, timely and affordable solutions for collecting and disseminating data about people, projects, and programs.

USAID and its implementing partners can utilize this powerful technology to improve the efficiency and quality of the data we use to make decisions and to better meet USAID goals related to the Forward Reforms, the Evaluation Policy, and the Open Data Initiative.

This two hour interactive on-demand online course developed by the Global Development Lab at USAID, FHI 360, and TechChange will help build the technical capacity necessary to achieve these goals.

Access the free online course here.

Paper-to-Mobile Data Collection: A Manual

This toolkit is written in order to give USAID program and contracting staff, implementing partner M&E and program staff, and researchers a better idea of what mobile data collection is, to evaluate its suitability and added value to a given project, and to give guidance in how it can best be put to use. It is directed at USAID Missions and implementing partners engaged in monitoring and evaluation, and offers the resources necessary for making an informed choice and an effective transition process from paper and pen to mobile. It will lay out the benefits of MDC use for implementing partners, as well as incorporating these methods in M&E related solicitations (RFAs and RFPs), when appropriate.

Access the tool here.