How could a Land and Rural Development Information System (LARDIS) assist in improved co-ordination of government development effort and provide reliable information for M&E?

Land reform and rural development involves multiple development actors which creates a challenge for programme management and information sharing.

Try to find reliable information on any land reform or rural development project and what are you likely to be confronted with? Project files scattered across several locations within a single department as well as between different departments. Files and information may be found in the National, Provincial and District offices of the Department of Rural development and Land Reform in hard copy in the registry, on servers and individual PCs. The Department of Agriculture will also have its files. So might the Department of Water Affairs, the District and Local Municipalities.

The list goes on. Officials are likely to visit the project to provide support or monitor progress. They will write reports which will remain inside their own silo and reporting system. All these files are named in different ways and the majority are untagged and therefore difficult to search. People come and go and with them they take institutional memory. The person who follows starts again – sometimes from scratch because they cant find information they are looking for.

Meanwhile government expenditure mounts and efforts are duplicated, badly timed  or may even run counter to one another. And we wonder why it is that we have such limited success.

Is this all that we can expect or is there a better way of doing things? Phuhlisani has long been arguing that effective land reform and rural development requires a new institutional culture of collaboration between capable development professionals in the public service, NGOs and the private sector.

New institutional practices are required which educate and expose people to the benefits and challenges of collaboration; clearly define roles, responsibilities and mutual expectations of different actors and provide mechanisms by which co-collaborators can hold each other to account.

This new culture and institutional practice needs to be reinforced by accessible collaborative technologies. These ideas are not new and there are no significant technical obstacles to implementation. The ideas first surfaced in the Settlement and Implementation Support Strategy for Land and Agrarian Reform 2007 and they are also a proposed intervention in the recently submitted draft Rural Development Strategy for the Northern Cape. They are premised on a simple scenario.

Imagine that a project manager could open her web browser and call up a land reform or rural development project (or any other type of project for that matter). There on the screen appears the project located  on  a map. The front page provides a synopsis of the project, profiles the project participants ands provides their contact details. Links highlight the folder architecture for key project documentation – the history of the project, reports and plans, details of the land holding entity and its constitution etc. A dynamic WIKI based timeline provides the basis for the tracking of all visits by extension staff, strategic partners , mentors and the logging of progress updates and problems which need to be addressed. This provides the basis for monitoring and reporting. The project site also provides a collaborative space for project participants, officials, service providers, who may seldom meet each other face to face, to interact with one another online. Specialists off site can also be engaged to provide advice.

This is the basic idea behind LARDIS. So how can we make it happen? We need state and non state actors with vision and access to some innovation funding to put together a  development team and prepare a prototype. This would probably involve:

  • reaching agreement on system functionalities
  • contracting system design and set up,
  • selection of a pilot province or District
  • contracting responsibility for project listing and data population
  • collecting baseline data on existing projects from all the different sources; digitizing it and organizing it into an agreed folder architecture
  • identifying authorised users and training them in key LARDIS functionalities
  • training team leaders and managers to use the LARDIS for monitoring and reporting purposes.
  • integrating the system as part of the new work culture  by combining incentives and ensuring inclusion in performance contracts.
  • monitoring system effectiveness, identifying and overcoming constraints with a view to scaling up

Once the system is up and running users can log on to the LARDIS  site from their office computer, 3G enabled laptop or smart phone in the field, to access to all available information. They can download documents, upload reports, photographs, waypoints etc into a folder and collaborate with one another online. Links to other resources can be added.

Management can monitor progress on particular projects and track the services provided by extension staff and service providers .

But information systems on their own are useless. It is well known that ICTs alone are not a magic bullet. It is the people who count – the users, the data capturers, the management team. If this idea catches your imagination and you would be interested in collaborating with us to make it happen please contact Rick de Satgé

Posted: 5/20/2010 (2:19:00 AM)

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