In this era where development is fast becoming one of the constants in society, technology has proved to provide various influences on how we live today. Connecting people through electronic means and other forms influenced how society works.

But it is far beyond just entertainment and connection. Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) brought about a transformation in gathering, analyzing, and packaging data and information in the workplace. In essence, ICT is deemed to be one of the important assets in this generation, most especially in developmental work.

In Mindanao, a Department of Agrarian Reform and IFAD-funded development project utilized ICT in the pursuit of developments for the agricultural sector. Project ConVERGE is a programme that focuses on the value-chain approach to improve farmers’ lives in the different clusters of Regions 9, 10, and CARAGA through various interventions such as input provisions, training, and marketing. ConVERGE is one of the best examples of how ICT expedited the gathering, analysis, and generation of information. Further, these techniques aided the project in making fast and informed decisions.

During the early phase of the project’s identification and profiling of beneficiaries, a noteworthy innovation was implemented by the Zamboanga del Norte Resettlement ARC Cluster, one of the rubber enterprises in Region 9. This cluster was the first in the Project to pursue the geotagging of production areas and profiling of beneficiaries during the early phase. Moreover, it integrated both of these features into one application to expedite the entire process. This was spearheaded by Engr. Noel Credo, the monitoring and evaluation coordinator, and a program officer of the project in the said province. With his passion for computers and everything that technology can offer, he developed an application with the goal of accomplishing two tasks in one go.

What technology can do for development  projects

One of the challenges encountered in profiling, aside from long and tiring treks to the households was handwriting the data on paper. Printing of paper-based forms was costly, and legible handwriting became rarer and rarer as more households were profiled. These used to slow down the entire process.

“I really wanted to simplify the entire process both for our enumerators and the office. So with the knowledge that I have in the technologies I learned, I developed a mobile application that could eradicate the challenge of paper-based documentation, which for me could also help in lessening carbon footprints,” Credo said.

In addition, he also wanted to hit two birds with one stone, where the geotagging can also be done in one application. With the assistance of various technological extensions, the 2-in-1 geotagging and profiling application was achieved. This android application uses the integration of survey forms developed and deployed using the app extensions like Computer Assisted Personal Interviews and Kobo Toolbar, which are a suite of tools for data collection in challenging environments. Every data input can be turned into a graph visualization via another system called the Microsoft Power BI, which is a system that can unify data to develop into immersive dashboards for reports.

The enumerators could download the forms and fill them up on the field even offline. The forms of every beneficiary will be safely stored and can be uploaded anytime there is an internet connection. In addition, accessing the forms can be done reliably by anyone authorized, wherever they are. The geotagging could also be done and uploaded in the same manner, minus the forms used for profiling. In addition, the beauty of the app is that it would be able to see who is accessing the dashboard and the app server in real-time.

With the app implemented, the geotagging and profiling went on smoothly and brought forth favorable results. For one, the ZN Resettlement Cluster had a speedy process in completing the beneficiary profiling and geotagging. The cluster was one of the first to complete the process which was even commended Project-wide. Issues of Credo’s initiative in maximizing the use of the free technological applications to develop a data visualizer caught the eye of the central office, and thus, his data dashboard was integrated into the Project ConVERGE Monitoring Information System (MIS) published on the website. The data visualizer, developed through Microsoft BI, provides a look at the project implementation and its beneficiaries at first glance to aid the management in making informed decisions. And with this implemented, the data analysis came faster as data collected is presented right instantly.

Where your passion brings you

Credo always had his heart for promoting technology after experiencing firsthand the benefits it brought to users. Having an interest in the different features and services the applications could offer, he practiced the art of technology and what it could provide. He was then able to apply his knowledge in developing and deploying survey forms, resulting in the opportunity of introducing his self-developed applications to the office.

However, he discusses instances where some may find technology as a chokepoint, rather than an aid: “One of the reasons was the reluctance to let go of the traditional way of manual monitoring, which had been the norm since way back. As much as the technologies are up, it could not be maximized at the time.”

Prior to this, one of Credo’s first applications introduced to the office was a monitoring system used by DAR field staff during ITEMA assessments in Zamboanga del Norte. This application has been utilized for five years now.

His initiative in the project made him recognized and recently last April, he was invited for training on Computer Assisted Personal Interviews (CAPI) for IFAD-supported partners headed by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. Credo was the selected staff from Project ConVERGE. The training’s goal was to ensure that the needed computer-aided applications for the projects are properly handled and cascaded in project implementation. The workshop demonstrates how technology is fast becoming the standard for surveys and data collection activities nowadays.

What Credo has started, others have followed. His works led his fellow staff to be receptive to using technology. As of date, another notable innovation currently being done by the same cluster is the implementation of the Quick Response (QR) Code in every farmer-beneficiary that will be used to scan their details during their monthly rubber consolidation and marketing spearheaded by the Monitoring and Evaluation Specialist Edgardo Hipega.

Moving forward with technology

The applications that Credo introduced to his office were free, so it did not provide any expense issues. But as free apps or tech services can only provide limited features, Credo still encourages offices to invest in full-service apps for the complete experience the applications could offer.

“We cannot opt for free forever. Some features can be best used if you get it in full, but this will not be a problem as we can see the return of investment this would bring if it was learned and done right in their respective organizations,” he added.

As such, he looks forward to the upcoming situation where the offices would adapt and allot a budget for the inclusion of ICT/software purchases. “We need to keep up,” he said. “Besides, we would really see good results if we implement, teach and use these technologies properly.”

Keeping up with the modern generation means adapting to its trends, especially in the development sector. Reaching our beneficiaries, providing our inputs, and connecting them to their respective markets now requires efficient and improved strategies. And if these can be solved with the assistance of technology, then it is high time that we maximize its usage.

Further, to make ICT more effective in an organization, Credo recommends training/orienting the management firsthand, as this will make it easier for the learning to be cascaded to their members, and not the other way around.

This is most needed during this time of the pandemic, when channels have changed and adapted to maximize the technological tools available in the absence of physical gatherings. In a way, the pandemic may have opened the eyes of everyone to be more inclined to technology, and now it is the norm everywhere we go and whatever we do.

From manual to automated — what used to be done through paper, mail, and days of computation is now easily achieved through technology. Just as society adapts as years go by, technology does too, and now we get to try various electronic innovations through simple instructions and means.

It all boils down to how it’s being learned and used. For our future development projects to succeed, the integration of technological training, tools, and software is imperative to improve the organization for the better.

At the end of the day, it’s not technology that runs us, but us that runs it. And when it’s done well, it will bring forth better outcomes.

by: Jullienne Tuazon & Katrin Arcala

Engr. Noel Credo during one of the geotagging and profiling activity in Zamboanga del Norte