Research impact and partnership: Using data to take decisions in Turkana County, Kenya

November 3, 2016

shared-screenshotWhat if governments and parliamentarians had a way of knowing where their citizens needed what exactly, what condition the land was in and where to put their money most efficiently to most effectively address multiple issues simultaneously? Spatial scientists at the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) are supporting the county government of Turkana, Kenya in doing exactly that.

But let’s start at the beginning. In 2012, ICRAF launched the Landscape Portal, an interactive open-source website to allow users to get easy access to big data sets and select data to create maps. These big data sets were collected under the Sentinel Landscapes project of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA).

ICRAF researchers are constantly striving to make their research data accessible and valuable to decision-makers, whether in communities or at national and global levels. This is how the idea of SHARED, short for Stakeholder Approach to Risk Informed and Evidence Based Decision Making, emerged.

SHARED operates in Kenya through a partnership between the Turkana County Government, the National Drought Management Authority (NDMA), UNICEF Kenya and ICRAF.

In 2010, the new Kenyan constitution devolved power to county governments and each county developed a County Integrated Development Plan (CIDP). The Turkana Government approached ICRAF and UNICEF and asked them for help in designing tools for planning and budgeting in order to enhance people’s resilience and reduce the incidence of emergencies. Funding from USAID made the Turkana SHARED project possible.

Setting SHARED up

At first, it was necessary to bring together all of the existing data from local and national sources, which came in different forms such as handwritten or typewritten reports, photographs or survey results. The data had to be sorted and digitized so that they then could be visualized spatially.

UNICEF Kenya brought in their experience in community engagement and data management to track progress on key socioeconomic indicators including education, health, nutrition, water and sanitation. The NDMA also provided information from their regular drought monitoring of county sentinel sites.

A major component of the work was the development of a spatial dashboard to house all the data and allow decision-makers to interact with and query the data. The design of the platform took place using a collaborative process of capacity development with the Turkana County Government.

This means that key staff at the government’s Finance and Planning Unit and other county executives had to be trained, for example in three workshops.

“They learned how to interpret spatial evidence to prioritize budget allocations, based on actual need,” says ICRAF’s Geoinformatics Senior Scientist, Tor-Gunnar Vagen, who has led the technical development of the spatial dashboard. “We call it the resilience diagnostic toolbox.”

In the first phase of development, the SHARED Turkana dashboard shows data for different sectors such as education, nutrition, sanitation, irrigation, security, or land health.

Vagen tells us that the tool allows the government to see for example every single school in its county with trends of teacher-student ratios and enrolment of boys and girls.

“It also shows all the security incidents in the county in a given year and where the hot spots were. This could be violence, protests or cattle rustling.”

land-health-turkanaFor land health, the system is so advanced that one can click on a map, and it zooms into the location and runs different types of analyses. The map is complemented by colored boxes – like a traffic light – with red indicating a risk in that zone such as high pH, low carbon or high erosion (see screenshot).

Surprising results on HIV/AIDS

“This is where we have interaction with the county and how we try to support the county with science,” Vagen says and gives the example of the HIV/AIDS data.

“The map shows that the highest number of health facilities is in central Turkana, but the number of children with HIV/AIDS there is quite low. In the western part of the county, however, close the border with Sudan where a lot of refugees are coming through, the HIV prevalence is very high.”

So you can look at where children with HIV/AIDS get actual care in Turkana and this is not where the prevalence is high. With better data, the government and key development partners such as UNICEF can better target their interventions.”

“In Kenya almost 8 out of 10 children are subjected to deprivation in at least one of the key pillars of child well-being such as access to water, good nutrition, education, health or access to social services,” says Ousmane Niang, Chief of Social Policy of UNICEF Kenya.

“For the government and its partners in Turkana County, it is absolutely important to easily access real-time data and evidence for informed decision- making. Therefore SHARED will be a milestone in supporting the county in planning, budgeting and strengthening service delivery,” he adds.

“Partnerships and collaborations such as SHARED are the key to delivering impactful results for adolescent, children and youth.”

Taking SHARED to the next level

A joint proposal for the second phase of work is currently under review at USAID. “The idea is that we will advance the capacity to interpret and manage in the county,” says Vagen.

“In the future, it will be the county’s data, managed in their knowledge management center so that the platform can be updated, interpreted, and evidence can be shared to support decisions.”

The SHARED team would like the platform to eventually act as an early warning system for hazards and to track epidemics. In order to function like that, it will need to have an SMS-based reporting system that will more rapidly connect community experiences with county government decisions. When it is finalized, the dashboard will deliver data in real time and be able to update itself.

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