Participatory tracking  is an annual data collection system that aims to track critical indicators like food security, livelihoods, and empowerment. The data collected intends to to empower women, and construct measures of household well-being that go beyond conventional consumption-based metrics of welfare. The system is currently being implemented in Tamil Nadu’s Pudhu Vaazhvu Project (PVP).

A pilot was designed and rolled out in one district in Tamil Nadu (Theni), where a census of PVP’s Self-Help Group (SHG) women were surveyed in 80 Gram Panchayats. The pilot consisted of three phases: 1) Data collection, 2) Data visualization and 3) Data feedback.

A network of women’s Self-Help Groups (SHGs) from the PVP project designed the questionnaire through a series of focus group discussions at multiple levels – starting at the village level up to the state-level. The goal of these discussions was to get SHG women to identify indicators that constitute a “good life”.

These discussions culminated in a questionnaire that covered a range of issues – from women's agency within the household to political participation, sanitation and nutrition. The women came up with unique and interesting ways to ask questions in areas that are also covered by conventional survey questionnaires. To view the entire survey, please click here.

The survey was then pre-tested with groups of women across multiple districts in Tamil Nadu to test its applicability across the state.

A tablet-based application was developed to collect data from 32,000 SHG women in Theni, the pilot district. The application went through multiple iterations while data collection was ongoing to address different issues that came up during the test phase.

The survey was implemented by Community SHG trainers (CSTs) who were trained for two days by PVP staff on how to conduct the survey and how to use the application and tablet.

Each CST received a unique code that mapped them to a set of SHG women within their village who they had to survey. The CSTs were assigned to survey the same women whose SHG meetings they facilitated every week.

The Village Poverty Reduction Committee (VPRC) book-keeper synced data to a cloud based server every week through a desktop application, which was available on every computer at the VPRC office. Villages had broadband or data card connections that allowed the data to be transferred from the village computer to the server even in the most remote regions of the district. This data transfer system made data accessible instantly to the community, the project staff at the state and district levels, and the SO team.

The desktop application allowed book-keepers and project staff to periodically monitor implementation progress of the survey and to assess data quality. CSTs who finished a high proportion of their surveys too soon were observed more closely and GPS locations allowed project staff to ensure that respondents were being surveyed accurately.

Once collected, the data needed to be turned into intuitive and easy to understand visualizations in order for the communities to utilize it. Our next article covers how we developed our data visualizations.

Related to a forthcoming paper: “Democratizing Data: Participatory Tracking in Tamil Nadu” written by Nethra Palaniswamy, Vijayendra Rao, Smriti Sakhamuri R.V. Shajeevana and Cassandra Xia.