By CInI Team

About the organization
Central India Initiative is an outcome of Sir Ratan Tata Trust's (SRTT) keen interest in making a tangible impact in the central Indian tribal belt -- home to almost 80 per cent of tribal communities in India. Over two-thirds of poor households in India reside in the central Indian plateau, across 110 districts identified between 18 degrees and 25 degrees north of the equator, and spread across Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Jharkhand and West Bengal. Notwithstanding the rich vegetation and good rainfall, the tribal people living in these districts live in conditions of poverty and often face acute food insecurity, high rates of malnutrition, and higher infant and child mortality rates. These indicators are a reflection of the historical social exclusion of these communities.

Central India Initiative was initiated with a research process in 2004-05 under the IWMI-TATA Water Policy Programme to identify and develop a roadmap for interventions in this region. The research study recommended the promotion of water-centric tribal livelihoods through focused and localized interventions and identified four zones based on agro-ecological, infrastructural and socio-economic status of communities.

Central India Initiative partners with 30 civil society organizations and 400,000 tribal households in the central Indian tribal belt. As the nodal agency, Collectives for Integrated Livelihood Initiatives (CInI) is responsible for developing Central India Initiative projects as demonstration sites for comprehensive tribal development and for influencing policy and practice based on these experiences. CInI provides technical backstopping to partners and focuses on piloting and scaling up new learning and disseminating it across various locations. This article is based on the experience of CInI and its partners in establishing a monitoring and evaluation system for food security programmes in the state of Jharkhand, particularly since 2007.

Evolution of monitoring and evaluation system
CInI developed the Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (MEL) system to streamline programmes, create a steady flow of information and establish platforms for learning and dissemination at different levels, thereby helping stakeholders to make informed decisions.

In its initial years, Clnl focused its MEL activities on giving inputs into project implementation based on reviews and evaluations with external thematic experts. As CInI has evolved in its role as a resource agency, this has undergone a significant shift. Clnl recognizes that change in the field requires de-bottlenecking on a regular basis. Systems within the projects have to be strengthened and the learning dimension needs to be enhanced for change to be sustainable. Clnl is therefore now focused on providing ongoing support and capacity building to partners through inputs in programme development based on village planning, establishment of quality indicators and systems for generating these, standardization and smooth flow of information using a management information system. Thus, there is a conscious shift away from an extractive and externally driven approach to one that is internally driven, inclusive and learning oriented. CInI believes that lessons generated from the MEL system should get ploughed back to different stakeholders, including the community.

CInI works in diverse and geographically spread out areas in different agro-climatic zones. It has always been a challenge to collate information across multiple locations while maintaining commonality. The following tools are being developed to help in collating information systematically and intelligently tagged to context, to allow for further analysis.

Impact Monitoring Information System (MIS)
CInI has conducted more than 12 baseline and impact assessment studies of projects each year, reaching approximately 24,000 of the most marginalized households in some of the remotest areas of the central Indian tribal belt. Until last year, this was done through standalone studies that followed different methodologies and could not be juxtaposed or compared with secondary data. In order to streamline this function and also make collected data available to a wider stakeholder group, CInI has developed a software application. (http://cinihhsurvey.mwtestsite.com/cinihhsurvey).

This process has involved:

  • Standardizing study methodologies and defining indicators for key elements of CInI programmes such as food security, income enhancement, access to savings and credit sources. A stratified random sampling technique has been adopted in which stratification of households is done at the hamlet level, based on results of well-being ranking exercises.
  • Using trained data collectors to collect and enter data in an offline Windows-based software. Offline application enables data collectors to use the software even in locations with intermittent or poor internet access. The software is linked with the online Windows-based software. Analyses on key indicators have been done across various well-being strata.
  • Making information available for each project that can be drilled down at various levels, from the state, district, and block levels, to the village level. Since the data collection is based on fixed parameters, an analysis across geographies and change over time can be seen. The functionality of comparing this with secondary data is also being developed.

This MIS tool is an effective mechanism to enable policymakers and project implementers to prioritize key issues. The system also effectively captures the high level of diversity across the villages in this region.

Future plans: The impact MIS software is running successfully and data from almost 1,000 households from seven districts, 11 blocks and 45 villages from across Jharkhand and Orissa, have been entered into the system. Currently, CInI is trying to link this software into a Geographical Information System that will allow for spatial analysis. CInI is making the MIS software available as a platform for other stakeholders in the central Indian tribal belt. Over time, this has potential to become a repository of reliable information on the impact of development interventions in this region.

Food Security Monitoring Information System (FSMIS)
CInI's major objective has been to ensure year round food security for tribal families from their own farms. Paddy and maize are the major staple crops of tribal communities in eastern and western tracts, however, low productivity leading to food insecurity, and hence migration, have lead CInI to work on the stabilization of Kharif, or monsoon crop. Nineteen non-profit organizations and 70,000 farmers are involved in this initiative.

CInI and its partners needed to develop an FSMIS to enable an efficient MEL loop and streamline the information flow from the farmer level to the programme. Clnl introduced a farmer field diary to capture pictorial information on the crop-specific package of practices. Using FSMIS, Clnl and its partners record a baseline of 7,000 households, along with farmer level data on performance against the recommended package of practices. The field supervisor is responsible for managing this data and its flow; the farmer retains one perforated sheet and the supervisor submits the other sheet to the data entry operator located at the partner's office. The baseline information is entered into the online database. After the data entry is complete, the software provides the scope for analysis of the data generated, thereby allowing CInI and the partner to see the results.

The 2011-12 Monsoon (Kharif) season was the first time that Clnl rolled out the FSMIS. At the end of the season, Clnl undertook a reflection exercise with partners and farmers on the usability of the tool. The tool emerged as an effective means of providing field-level monitoring support to the farmers. The data generated helps partner organizations to identify issues faced by the farmers at the field level, and thereby take corrective measures. The analysis generated at the end of the season also assists CInI and its partners to understand the progress of the entire season and areas of improvement for the next season. The modified FSMIS building on the feedback from partners will include: a) data collection from all farmers on a census basis, so that timely discussions based on the information generated from FSMIS take place at partner and farmer level; b) online entering of data on sample basis, thereby helping CInI and its partners to refine programme delivery for the next year.

Figure 1. CInI MIS platform

Way forward
CInI, in its endeavour to improve food security among tribal households, is working to effectively integrate the community learning and reflection process within its current monitoring framework. In doing so, every interaction with partners is rich in process-oriented learning. This learning is further discussed and shared through various events, such as write shops and thematic seminars where mutual learning across diverse locations is established. Over time, processes of learning and review by the community for the specific contexts in which we work will continue to evolve. Going forward, Clnl will continue its efforts to integrate a practical and contextualized approach to monitoring, evaluation and learning into programme design and implementation.

(References available upon request)