• 17 09 2014

Information Matters: Two New Websites

By Helen Bradbury: Team Leader, Alliances Lesser Caucasus Programme


Information matters, it is our currency, the substance, the commodity which keeps our programmes running.  We live in an age of information, are afloat on and sometimes drowning in a sea of it.  We may check the oracle of google in answer to any question, live feeds, notifications and a torrent of minutiae in a mélange of events of great importance, continually assail us. Once there were spin doctors, now most of us spin daily be it personally or professionally. We are aware of the need to manage information, to have enough of it and of the right kind and most of us are aware too of the need to understand its quality and to know when and what we have is enough or too little.

M4P of course poses challenges in this as in many other aspects of its implementation, but for me the use of information is its heart.  M4P is particularly finely calibrated to need high quality information and implementers able to gather, sort and feed it into the programme, implementers who aware of what they are doing, and why they are doing it. Name any stage of the programme process, let’s start with the team. We need practitioners with the right kind of understanding, flexibility and skills to interpret information, to plug it into the strategic framework and intervention planning.  We often eschew experienced workers from the field of development with fixed frames of knowledge, for people with less direct experience and fluidity, choosing them for their qualities of perspicacity, ability to adopt, adapt, expand and respond. All stages involve the gathering, processing, articulation and feedback of information; market analysis, market system monitoring, ongoing capacity building, WEE implementation, calibrating interventions and of course M and E, results measurement, measuring systemic change; another entire galaxy of information management on its own. All stages require meticulousness, precision, rigour and common sense in the use of information to produce systemic market change which impacts the men and women of the target group.

The demands for the articulation of this information are multi-faceted and as dissemination channels proliferate so do the needs of those in direct relation to the programmes; donors, consultants, theorists and developers of practice, who must fulfil their own specific functions and feed information into their own burgeoning webs of outreach. Networks, e-groups, email notifications, photographs, film, presentations, numbers, interest stories. Hard numbers for professionals to crunch validity, interest stories and illustration for those we need to care.

Finally to the approach itself, literally.  How you come to know something is often as important as what you finally know.  M4P, market systems development; has been seen as a challenge to, a critique (I would argue an illumination through comparison) of other methods and methodologies in development. The process of reassessing even unlearning knowledge is not an easy one and is as emotional as it is intellectual. The juncture between those who in some measure know, understand and use the approach and those who do not, is therefore sometimes a tricky one.  Perceptions and points of view are influential in the translation of the system. The heart of M4P is simplicity but as in all the best cases, simplicity provides the skeleton and blueprint for processes which as they build can seem like an overwhelming mass of complexity from an external point of view, particularly as no two programmes, externally at least the same. What, who and where are M4P, where does it come from, how do you do it, who does it, where can I find out more?????

Thus we come to two new websites, this one of the ALCP where we have a downloads page dedicated to compiling our own and other information that helps to answer these questions and the M4P Hub that was and the BEAM Exchange that now is. In our disparate, diversified, geographically spread world, an approach developed at the time of an explosion of information dissemination, needs sites like these. To now be able to direct someone to the right kind of information which presents, expounds and solidifies is essential in a growing field.  To be able to refer to and interact with a cohesive entity which can provide a universally accepted centre point, platform, resource centre and indeed identity, is heartily welcomed.