2020: a recap

Although uncommon, 2020 was still a very intense year in which I kept learning and contributing to enhancing the use of data innovations to inform and improve the implementation of development programmes and initiatives around the globe.

This post intends to summarize my work in 2020: countries, organizations, and projects I worked for, my experience working remotely, blog posts that I wrote, and the top 3 lessons I learned.

Countries where I worked:

Because of COVID-19, most in-country missions were canceled. We all needed to adapt and get used to working remotely via MS Teams, Skype or Zoom.

Organizations and programmes which I collaborated with:

The route followed while working remotely:

At the beginning of the year, Marti and I decided to work remotely in low densely populated areas where social distancing could be guaranteed and maximized. This was an attempt to make the so-called ‘nomad’ lifestyle work. Thus far, we have driven 4,780km 🚗.

We are writing a blog about this experience.

Projects I worked for:

Analysis of IOM Data on Socio-Economic Integration of Venezuelan Migrants and Regugees
The data was collected by IOM’s Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM) in 2019 in 11 countries to understand better the movements, profiles and needs of refugees and migrants from Venezuela in those countries. My role was to analyze and visualize the data, to define innovative approaches to dynamically present the results (interactive documents), and to provide capacity building in dynamic reports to IOM’s team.

Dashboard to Track Daily Reported Cases of COVID19 in Mexico
A personal and voluntary project to provide citizens with the most up-to-date information on the evolution of the emergency in Mexico. The objective is to make official data more accessible to everyone and facilitate its visualisation. http://andresarau.com/shiny/covid19mx/

Evaluation of UK Partnering for Accelerated Climate Transitions (PACT)
Design and implementation of results management systems and online dashboards to track the effectiveness of the programme’s in enhancing actions and reducing climate change in target countries https://www.ukpactmel.com/

Female Economic Empowerment in Mozambique (MUVA)
Leader of several large data collection activities (Survey Solutions) and monitoring systems intended to assess the impact that MUVA has on securing a brighter economic future for disadvantaged young women in urban areas. Deployment of real time dashboards to monitor the implementation of projects. https://andresarau.shinyapps.io/education_project/

Interactive Map to Track the Location of ‘Health Agents’ Trained on COVID19 Prevention
OPM’s MUVA programme has a cadre of young facilitators trained by the Ministry of Health on the basic messaging for COVID 19 prevention. My role was to develop and interactive digital tool to monitor this nation-wide and to spatially visualize where these ‘agents’ have been deployed https://www.andresarau.com/shiny/agentesCovid

IOM-X Waka Well Campaign To Raise Awareness Towards Safe Migration
WAKA Well by IOM X is the International Organization for Migration’s (IOM) campaign in West Africa that seeks to prevent exploitation by empowering young people to make informed decisions about their future, both at home and abroad. My role was to analyse and report the impact of the campaign on the Knowledge, Attitudes, and Practices (KAP) of the community towards safe migration. The findings will help to inform the design of the WAKA Well campaign activities in Ivory Coast and the Gambia.

Mapping Tool for Assessing Risk Factors for Severe COVID-19
OPM has been invited to join the Mozambican Scientific Advisory Group on COVID-19, which aims at providing the Government with evidence-based advice on how to best respond to the pandemic. My role was to use novel geospatial mapping techniques to provide the Government of Mozambique with information at the right spatial resolution https://ins.gov.mz/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/RMCS_2020.pdf

Rural Sanitation Operational Research (CLTS)
Management of the water and sanitation household survey, CAPI coding (Survey Solutions), and design and deployment of quality assurance system for the survey.

Social and Economic Impact Assessment of Mutation Breading Projects Under the RCA
Design, development and deployment of a data management system, including online forms and dashboards, for the monitoring and evaluation of mutation breading projects implemented by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)

Strengthening Local Development in the Highlands and Rainforest Areas Project (PSSA)
Training of enumerators, program of CAPI questionnaires (Survey Solutions), and development of quality assurance tools to ongoingly monitor an agricultural survey to assess the impact of PSSA on the livelihoods of Peruvian farming families.

Uganda’s Education Response Plan (ERP)
This programme focus on the implementation and delivery of Uganda’s Education Response Plan and its impact on both refugee and host communities. My role was to design an approach and tools to collect data trhough online questionnaires, analyze the data. and to develop interactive dashboards to disseminate the results.

Urban Poverty Study in Maputo and Beira
This study aims to collect quantitative data from 1,600 young people in Maputo City and Beira about their living condictions, employment, time use, and more. My role was to design and deploy CAPI instruments for data collection, to develop real time data quality assurance systems (dashboards and maps) and to train local teams.

Blog posts I wrote:

When the lockdown in Spain was at its peak, I decided to start my own blog. The idea behind it was to have a repository of ideas which I come up while working on different projects. This is sort of a binnacle that allows me to document what I do. I go back to some of these posts very often to remind me how to approach certain coding issues.

These are the posts that I wrote this year:

Top 3 lessons learned

1. Information Management Systems for MEL purposes must be simple but effective. I built a Result Management System for UK PACT which is a programme that operates in 6 different countries and involves tens different stakeholders with different needs and responsibilities. Thus, the implementation of an effective MEL system represents a real challenge. After having designed and deployed a data system that allows different projects to report against the same indicators -logframe- globally, we have learned a lot about approaches to improve the way data is collected, analyzed, and disseminated -trough online dashboards- for different audiences. The main lesson learned is that “the simpler the better”. This is, of course, not easy to implement but it is important to keep in mind when building a data system that will be used and consumed by different audiences for different proposes.

2. Working with multidisciplinary teams increase the scope and power of the message. Everybody is talking about Data Science , Data Innovations, Big Data, Dashboards, Data Visualization as the thing. However, we must never forget that data should be at the service of those who are experts in thematic areas (health, education, climate change, migration, etc.) and those who know the context where data is to be used to inform or to provide evidence. An expert in fancy data methods will struggle quite a lot to deliver a powerful message without the voice and experience of other areas. Including multidisciplinary teams is key when deciding the most basic things like which colors are to be used for a visualization, which element a dashboard should contain, which are the indicators that best inform a certain audience, or which tone should be used in a report. I have the luck to join the Mozambican Scientific Advisory Group on COVID-19 which was an example of the power of working with colleagues from different backgrounds and expertises.

3. In Data Science, the more you know, the more you realize how little you actually do! The trend is very clear, innovations are moving faster than we are capable to digest them. There is not a single project for which I do not have to learn a new thing (from how to create a visual to effective manners to analyse big ammounts of data), and for every new thing there are hundreds of different possibilities. I try to constantly read blogs, books, or tweets about efficient programming, data visualizations, and dynamic documents but it is never enough! The more I dive into this world, the more I realize how little I know about it. However, this makes me very happy because it awakes my curiosity on how to continue implementing new approaches that can help the implementation of large development initiatives.

Useful links used to write this post

A grid of logos in squares

Working with extra geoms after fixing projection of a map