Mediating the ICT4D landscape: Exploring Unique Identifiers and Frontline Data Collection Technologies

Guest post by Gayatri Sahgal (Student of Masters in Public Policy, Taubman Center, Brown University).

The proliferation of Information Communication Technology (ICT) has redefined the way in which information is now processed, accessed and analyzed. The level of innovation has indeed been profound in the case of developing countries where low levels of infrastructural and human resource capacities, rather than proving as a hindrance have in fact spurred the growth of context sensitive and adaptable technologies. As part of its efforts to inspire internal innovation, the Social Innovation Lab has taken up the initiative to mediate this vast literature, commonly referred to as Information Communication Technology for Development (ICT4D).The objective of this exercise is to highlight the best practices from across the world and identify the lessons for BRAC. The first in the series of technologies which will be explored are unique identifiers and frontline data collection technologies.

Unique Identifiers (UIs) refer to techniques for confirming and establishing the identity of beneficiaries/clients. The technologies are usually most suited tosituations of decentralized service delivery. Most BRAC programmes follow a decentralized service delivery model, where services are delivered by frontline units- branch or regional offices. Second, UIs are also useful in programmes which are targeted, i.e. benefits accrue to select beneficiaries. Examples of targeting include micro-finance programmeswhich target women and non-hard core poor, agricultural programmes such as the SCDP (Seed and Crop Diversification Programmes) whichtargets small and marginal farmers. Another important areawhere UIs are particularly helpful is in addressing problems of corruption and mismanagement. In the south Asian context, verifying the identity of beneficiaries is often important to ensure both transparency and accountability in service delivery.

In scanning through the breath of information on Unique Identifiers, we identified two case studies which have broad applications for BRAC programmes. The first is the USAID-funded Drug Demand Reduction Program (DDRP) in Central Asia, which aimed to reduce drug abuse amongst the youth by addressing the social and economic causes of the problem. An individual code was used to identify each beneficiary. A set of specific characteristics of the individual, such as father’s name, mother’s name, date of birth, combined to form the unique code for an individual. Character based unique Ids are particularly useful for programmes which need to track beneficiary characteristics, such as the Maternal, Neonatal and Child Health Project (MNCH) andthe BRAC Education Programme (BEP)- where individual ids for a child based on mother’s and father’s name as well as date of birth would be more useful than a randomly assigned numerical id.

The second type of UI case study we looked at was the Maternal Health Care Programme in India. Here again the beneficiaries were identified at the individual level. Beneficiaries received a photo-id in the form of a smart card which served as their unique identity. The smart cards were encoded with thebeneficiaries’ basic information and were scanned to record the services received by them. Given the substantial cost of smart card reader machines, smart card based unique identifiers are usually appropriate for programmeswith centralized service delivery center’s- such as ShasthyaKendro’s ( BRAC’s health care centers).

The second set of technologies which we considered were frontline data collection techniques. Such technologies refer to a set of techniques used to automate aggregation and reduce errors in data entry. There are three primary types of strategies for frontline data collection; 1) Personal Data Assistants (PADs) which refer to laptops/tablets thatmake use of electronic based surveys, 2) Mobile phone technology which include electronic forms, SMS based surveys, and voice interactive systems, 3) optical mark recognition softwarewhich is used to automatically extract data from noticeable fields such as check boxes and fill-in fields on printed forms.

One of the most prominent areas where data collection technologies through the use of mobile phones have been applied, is in the health sector. In India, CommCare a low cost mobile phone data collection technology was used to track child malnutrition. The technology is based on an electronic survey format and is particularly suited to meeting complex infrastructural challenges (e.g. intermittent supply of electricity) as well as for interventions involving substantial scale and coverage. Given its particular characteristics, CommCare has broad applications for a host of BRAC programmes including health, education and microfinance.

A second type of mobile based technology is Magpi previously known as Epi-surveyor which has been used in several programmes including the Mifapro Conditional Cash Transfer programme in Guatemala. In Gautemala,the technology which uses an electronic based format and has cloud computing applications, was employed to track beneficiary compliance with conditionalities such as  regularity of school attendance and health-checkups, that are required to be met in order to receive cash benefits. The features of Magpiand other technologies that offer cloud computing and real time visualization of data are useful for programmes such as microfinance where access to real time data is of import.

The literature of ICT4D thus incorporates a wide and varied collection of technologies and their applications. From the point of view of streamlining service delivery and improving data collection, several considerations need to be borne in mind before deciding the appropriate use and application of a given technology. Primarily,it is important to find a technology that both addresses the needs of beneficiaries and matches their capacity.


For more details on other available technologies see:

  1. Flood Emergency Cash Transfer Project (FECT) Project in Pakistan: Biometric smart cards were used to identify beneficiaries of flood assistance.
  2. Community Health Programme, India: The technology involved a three way conversation between the interviewee, the data collector and the data operator was found to have the lowest error rate amongst other applications- including electronic and SMS based applications.
  3. Open data kit:Open Data Kit (ODK) is a free and open-source set of tools which help organizations author, field, and manage mobile data collection solutions.
  4. Epi-Handyis, a mobile health data collection and record access program enabled by PDAs, 

For further details, you can go through slides clicking the link provided:



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