Building the framework with SPS

The first half of my work with SPS focused on documenting the impacts of the Self-Help Group (SHG) program—forming groups of 10-20 women in a village through which members build bank savings, economic literacy, and social capacity in their community. Through interviews with SHG professionals, group members, SHG leaders, and mitaans (community residents who help operate SHG meetings), we recorded their personal anecdotes, efforts, hardships, lifestyle changes, and community history to demonstrate the successes and difficulties of working in the SHG program.

The second half of my work shifted focus from documenting these descriptive stories and interviews to working with an on-going SPS project with the goal of quantitatively tracking the impacts of the program. A few SPS members have been working towards creating a customized software that records and graphically displays the outcomes of SPS interventions for several programs (Watershed Management, Agriculture, Livestock, SHG). My role in this project was forming what would be the “framework” of the software—the data points and indicators that measure outcomes of intervention. When I started helping the SPS members, namely Raghav and Viju, with the project, I was hoping no one expected me to try and code anything. I don’t even have Microsoft office downloaded on my laptop. But, it became clear that my role was working on the logistics of making the “framework” of the software—determining the indicators that would measure outcomes of SPS interventions and the primary data points that could be collected via survey with program beneficiaries to calculate those indicators. For example, one of the objectives of the agriculture program is to minimize input costs for the farmers. An intervention for this objective would be linking farmers to government subsidies for drip irrigation tubes to reduce water usage and pumping costs, and so the indicators that would measure the outcomes of this intervention would be cost of water and reduction in water usage for the farmer. Working the agriculture team, I would figure out what data points would be necessary to calculate the indicators that could also be gather from farmer surveys and farmer diaries, in which farmers keep track of their own inputs and outputs. For the cost of water, agriculture team would need to record the farmer’s total hours of pumping for that season (written in his diary) and the hourly electricity charges (publically available). For reduction of water usage, the surveyor would need to record area of farmer’s land, number of waterings during the season, and the average depth of watering, which would be compared to a benchmark volume of water usage based on land size, crop variety, and cropping pattern. I listed these data points to cover the possible interventions from the pre-sowing stage to the post-harvest stage of the season. I was able to also begin determining the proper data points and indicators for the livestock and watershed programs. The next steps of the project are to conduct trial surveys with the data points and create the digital format for recording the indicators. Though my time with SPS is coming to a close, I look forward to seeing the progress of the project.

Interviewing SHG program members and creating the framework for the software have been two sides of the same project—working towards improved and expanded documentation of SPS program impacts. This work has allowed me to interact with all of the programs, understand how each are interconnected to the security of rural livelihoods, and study topics outside of my degree (microfinance, women’s empowerment, agricultural practices, commodity aggregation, etc.) that has this summer a truly invaluable learning experience.

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About Andrew Shannon

UPenn Earth and Environmental Sciences '15, Masters of Science in Applied Geosciences '16 Intern with SPS for the summer of 2015 in Bagli, Madhya Pradesh