I am currently in my second year of the MPA program at Rockefeller College. Within the MPA program, I am concentrating in the areas of information management and policy analysis. This past summer I had the pleasure of living and working in Kampala, Uganda on a SUNY/CID (Center for International Development, Rockefeller College) project. For three months I was based in the Strengthening Democratic Linkages in Uganda (LINKAGES) office. The office was located in central Kampala on the Kololo Hill. (Kampala is said to be built on seven hills, I believe there are quite a few more!) I lived in the Ntinda suburb which was only a few miles away. My first few weeks in country were quite an adventure. I only knew two reference points (home and the office) and I ended up getting lost quite a lot. Outside of the initial apprehension of commuting in a strange city, I loved discovering new places quite by happenstance!
The CID/LINKAGES project in Uganda is a multi-year project that aims to strengthen the democratic linkages within and among the Uganda Parliament, selected local governments, and civil society groups in Uganda. These goals include building the capacity of these institutions to more effectively identify key local development and national policy issues so they may carry out their representational functions; increasing democratic participation in political processes; improving institutional transparency and accountability; and ultimately, increasing and improving essential service delivery to constituents.
Before I left for Uganda, I had some familiarity with the LINKAGES project as I had been interning at CID in the spring semester. I was particularly interested in how the project activities detailed in the work plans are reported (both quantitative and qualitative results) and how those reports could be integrated into a system that would allow project managers to assess the current status of the project as well as the status at any given past point. Not only would this system aid the project managers in project planning and activity planning, but also it would be of great assistance in terms of reporting on indicators (they are required to report on certain indicators and include corroborating data). Thus, my objective for the summer was tri-fold: to assess their project monitoring processes and requirements, to determine what their needs were (in terms of reporting tools), and to re-design a system that would not only assist LINKAGES in monitoring of activities, but also assist in meeting their reporting obligations. Above all; however, my goal was to contribute something of value to the project, not just of value to my scholastic record.
My ‘research’ took an interesting angle. I participated in many program activities, from the activity planning to the final activity report. I saw firsthand how information and data is captured and what the capabilities are in the field. Due to infrastructure restraints, computer access is not a given in certain parts of the country, nor for that matter is internet access. The LINKAGES program works in districts throughout the country and support staff are located throughout the country. By working at the ground level so to speak, I was able to better understand the current work environment and how that environment influenced reporting mechanisms employed by LINKAGES.
The system that I was able to produce is a starting point. I began by standardizing the reporting structure so that each project component is reporting information in the same fashion, that is to say their method of counting for indicator reporting is uniform. Then I began to integrate the various project components into a system that would track component-specific information which would eventually lead into the indicator reporting. By having all the data in a centralized location (one master file and several component files which are under the purview of the team leaders) project managers can assess the status of any given component and at the end of each reporting period, they have their figures to be used for indicator reporting. I say this is a starting point because there is much more potential with this system. New uses and applications can arise to fit the needs of project staff. New technology capabilities and infrastructure can enable more of the project staff to feed input into the system. New reporting obligations may necessitate new tools to be built into the system. I am excited to see how this system adapts and develops in the field.
Leaving LINKAGES and Uganda was harder than I anticipated. I had met some truly wonderful people and had such vivid experiences. Before I left, LINKAGES held a small celebration for me. We had a cook out on the shores of Lake Victoria and shared funny stories from project activities especially those that I worked on. It was a lovely afternoon of good food, music and mirth. I shall miss my friends at LINKAGES but I will look back on my time with them and smile.