Managing change during digital transformation in M&E teams

Change management is a systematic approach followed to facilitate the smooth transformation of an organization’s goals, processes or technologies. During the past few years, we are witnessing an ongoing transformation of Monitoring and Evaluation processes. The focus of change management is usually on how people, as individuals and team, carry out their roles during this change. In the Monitoring and Evaluation world, M&E teams are shifting from traditional paper-based workflows to adopting digital technologies –ActivityInfo included– for data utilization.

As organizations update their M&E system, it is not always an easy task to get the team onboard and up to speed in the same timeframe. A change management plan is necessary to address individual concerns, facilitate conversations to drive adoption, and in the long-term, recognize and realize the benefits of the transformation. Successful adoption of a new system starts with being mindful of users and acknowledging the process of change management.

During the gLOCAL Evaluation Week 2022, the ActivityInfo team hosted a panel discussion and explored the digital transformation within M&E activities with key stakeholders coming from a wide range of humanitarian and development organizations. Megan Passey, Head of Knowledge and Learning at International Cocoa Initiative, Klaus Minihuber, Head of Effectiveness and Innovation at Light for the World, Shodmon Hojibekov, Chief Executive Officer at Aga Khan Agency for Habitat Afghanistan, and John Paul Nyeko, Senior Monitoring and Evaluation Advisor at AVSI Uganda shared their insights on challenges and opportunities they came across while introducing new digital technologies into their organizations and in which cases ActivityInfo supported the change management process. You can watch the recording here.

The key insights from this discussion revealed that barriers to digital transformation include:

  • Data security concerns
  • Data confidentiality concerns
  • Reluctance to leave one’s comfort zone

At the same time, enablers for digital transformation include:

  • Internal advocates
  • Systems that are easy to use
  • Formal assurances for data confidentiality and data security
  • Open communication about the change and the new system
  • An accessible team to provide support on the new system

Data security and confidentiality concerns as barriers to digital transformation in M&E

Within the International Cocoa Initiative, Mrs. Passey explained that partner organizations hesitated to adopt digital technologies due to data security concerns. Because their data involved sensitive information, they needed assurances that a digital system would be able to help them mitigate the risks of data being leaked or accessed by unauthorized people.

The power of habit as barrier to digital transformation in M&E

At the same time, however, as a way of habit, the partners of the International Cocoa initiative were comfortable exchanging files and spreadsheets through email as that was a common way of reporting up to the point of the transition to real-time reporting.

In another example, the team in AVSI Uganda used to rely heavily and for a long period of time on a paper-based system. The team was accustomed to printing and distributing paper forms to the sites. According to Mr. Nyeko, some of the team members shied away from moving into a digital system, finding that kind of change ‘inconceivable’.

Open communication about the change and the need for change

When addressing the data security and confidentiality concerns of the partner organizations, the International Cocoa Initiative found helpful to raise awareness around the risks they were already taking and reassure them of the safeguards in place in the digital systems. Emailing spreadsheets and files come with another set of security concerns surrounding email security itself. While some measures can be taken, once a person receives a file, it is theirs to keep, copy, edit and do with as they wish. This can be an issue when dealing with data retention policies and general file custody. Meanwhile, these risks can be mitigated by utilizing new technologies that allow for greater data protection such as granular user permissions, or that store data on a server covered by the legislation.

As far as data confidentiality is concerned, the International Cocoa Initiative provided assurances of data confidentiality ensuring that only aggregate figures would be shared through reports to be able to showcase the organization’s progress. In addition, separate data sharing agreements were signed with every partner before signing up to the system.

Digital leader: the champion for change management

Speaking about people’s role in change management, Mr. Nyeko highlighted the role of ‘champions’ within AVSI Uganda. As we learn from their case, digital transformation starts with people, not technology. People are the ones who drive changes, value change, and see the most benefits of the digital shift.

While there were team members who were resistant to change, there were also members who were excited about the opportunity to move away from paper-based to digital systems within the organization. These members are the champions, the early adopters who jump on using the digital systems and encourage others to do the same. To organize these champions in a formal program to foster digital adoption among the team, AVSI Uganda took a parallel approach, in which some of the team members collected data using smartphones and others continued using paper forms. After noticing the benefits and drawbacks of each method, their analog colleagues showed less resistance, became advocates of the new systems, and convinced others to embrace the new way of working. Put simply, sometimes all it takes is a small group of advocates to start as they are the ones who will encourage greater technology adoption across the organization eventually. Furthermore, it is important to have support from the management team to encourage digital adoption across the whole organization.

In a different case, Light for the World country teams welcomed the new solution and were eager to explore the possibilities of ActivityInfo on their own. According to Mr. Minihuber, ActivityInfo is very easy to adopt, and the teams could see the benefits immediately. People did not need a lot of training to get used to the new system and made use of the training materials provided by the ActivityInfo team.

Advice for organizations embarking on the journey towards adopting digital technologies

There are many platforms and technologies available on the market, but what Mr. Hojibekov from the Aga Khan Agency for Habitat, Afghanistan found the most important is the human factor behind them. In addition to the availability of functions within a new system, organizations should also take into account the support that their technical partners will be provided with. To have access to a support team so as to ask urgent questions, explain the needs of your team and discuss future developments can make working with data much easier across the whole organization.

The ActivityInfo team would like to warmly thank all the panelists for participating in this discussion and providing valuable insights for the creation of this article. We hope that, by sharing these knowledge, we can help your organization walk the path of digital transformation journey successfully.