Unlocking Technology’s Potential: How The IDM Is Employing Technology To Measure & Support SDG Progress

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Image of a researcher holding onto a tablet showing the IDM survey in action.
The IDM is building an integrated technology system that will support the IDM right across the program - from collection, storage and processing to sharing analysis. Alice Floyd/IWDA

Technology and innovation have been touted as key to the achievement of the 2030 Agenda. It’s clear that to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, new approaches for tracking progress against the SDGs are needed.

The Social Good Summit on September 23rd, part of Global Goals Week, asks how we can unlock technology’s potential to achieve the SDGs by 2030.

The Teams at the Individual Deprivation Measure (IDM)are developing an integrated technology solution to facilitate easy uptake and use of the IDM as a tool for tracking who is poor, in what ways, and to what extent.

The IDM is partnership between the Australian National University (ANU) and the International Women’s Development Agency (IWDA) with strategic support from the Australian Government through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT).

We sat down with Kim Heath, IDM Technology Project Manager, IWDA  who is supporting the development of this system.

There’s a lot of discussion right now about the role technology can play in achieving the 2030 Agenda, what do you see as the main ways technology can help us achieve the SDGs?

I’m an advocate for “If you can measure it you can manage it”. If you don’t measure it, it likely won’t be managed.

At the macro level, technology can support NGOs,  government agencies, academia and communities to collect the data they need to inform, and later, to measure the success of their SDG interventions. Importantly, technology can also give visibility to that data and this makes it all the more accessible and powerful.

Deriving insights from the data and having those insights visible enables people to understand where the issues are, where action is needed and can also help them to understand the success or otherwise of investments and programming undertaken as a result.

Technology also has micro level benefits. Smaller pieces of tech, like apps can enable people to be more productive. Take microfinance apps for example – these can bring systems of finance to many people without requiring significant physical infrastructure, people just need a phone and an app. And this is just one example.

It’s been estimated that around 5 billion people now have access to a mobile phone, so the potential to bring things to scale through this device is enormous.

Image of the IDM survey in action. This image shows a person holding onto a tablet which displays the start of the IDM survey. There is a command on screen which reads
The IDM survey generates a lot of very detailed data and technology is great at supporting this level of complexity. Alice Floyd/IWDA

The IDM is a new, gender-sensitive measure of multidimensional poverty. How is technology being used in this program?

The IDM is the first measure of its kind that has been developed to assess deprivation at the individual level and overcome the limitations of current approaches that measure poverty at the household level.

The IDM opens our eyes to individual needs. We are not only surveying the head of the household; instead we recognise that the experience of poverty will vary even within a household, so it is critical to collect data from each adult within a household about their experience.

This kind of survey generates a lot of very detailed data and technology is great at supporting this level of complexity. We’re building a technology system to support our need for intersectional analysis and recording many different variables. Technology is just made to enable this type of detailed work.

It also supports our aim of having the IDM ready for global use by 2020. .

And it’s helping to also make the data we collect visible and accessible. And from that it will hopefully generate conversation and action. A key objective for us is supporting data users to track whether their program investments are making a difference.

We want the IDM to drive action, but also give us a greater understanding of the effectiveness of development.

Tell us more about how technology’s role in readying the IDM for global use by 2020.

Well, what we envisage is that the integrated technology will support the IDM right across the program—from collecting, safely storing and processing data collected through country studies to displaying and sharing analysis and findings through a web-based platform and data visualisation capabilities.

We see technology having a vital role to play in making the measure, and the policy and program relevant information it generates easy to use and widely available. It is our aim that in doing this we will both be creating demand for better gender data to inform SDG action but also to contribute to filling gender data gaps.

To that extent we see that the technology will provide vital support to the IDM from the field to the decision-making centres around the world and help facilitate uptake and wide use of the measure beyond 2020.

Image of a woman in Nepal taking part in the IDM study in 2015/6.
Alice Floyd/IWDA

Is the technology being developed for the IDM new? Does it build on existing advancements?

While we are at an early stage in developing the IDM technology system, it is our hope that it will build on current advancements; this, once again, is part of ensuring the technology is helping to remove barriers to use.  We see the system as being the place to bring together a number of technologies including computer assisted personal interviewing (CAPI) techniques, databases, advancements in data security and data visualisation.

All of these technologies are being used by others in various forms to support SDG action so our system is about bringing them together in ways that make the most sense for the kinds of work the IDM Teams are doing and the kinds of gender sensitive, multidimensional deprivation data the IDM is producing.

Finally, what would you say to others who are interested in technology and the SDGs?

It’s a really interesting time to work as a technologist interested in social impact. The IDM technology system is the perfect example of how technology can help turn a somewhat dry endeavour (surveying) into an engaging and accessible set of insights (data visualisation) and how doing so can have a  positive social impact.

There are lots of actors working on harnessing the power of technology to support really interesting uses of data for the SDGs. Particularly around highlighting data gaps that exist for governments around the world, and plotting out a way forward.

In the tech sector right now, there is real interest among people to be involved in innovation for good. Technology can play a very supportive role in achieving the SDGs.

*A Request for Proposal to develop the IDM Technology solution is currently open until 28 September 2018. For more information please visit our tenders page.