PHDMA 2.0: Narrative-Based, People-Centric Monitoring Of Poverty & Human Development

Bhubaneswar: A series of knowledge products that were the outcomes of an extensive year-long field visits across Odisha by the members of Poverty and Human Development Monitoring Agency (PHDMA) was released at Lokaseva Bhavan here recently.

The three sets of knowledge products include Aspiration Narratives of Odisha’s people from Prarambha- PHDMA’s lab for Narratives and Lived Reality, Frame Tells- a collection series of visuals from PHDMA’s lab of visual anthropology and Udyama-Sakaar- a compilation of anecdotes.

In the last one year, a team of young professionals and officials from PHDMA visited 26 districts of Odisha with an aim of conducting narrative-based evaluation of government initiatives. Unlike the conventional monitoring and evaluation processes, the team focused more on the narratives where the people spoke about their lived realities – from a deprived past to a shared prosperity – with the intervention of government schemes, official sources said.

This new age monitoring, evaluation and documentation process didn’t end with the transformational stories of shared prosperity or lack of it at the ground level; they also documented aspirations of the people, officials added.

Odisha Development Commissioner P K Jena going through PHDMA publications
Odisha Development Commissioner P K Jena going through PHDMA publications. Photo: OB

What’s PHDMA…

PHDMA was constituted under the state government’s Planning and Convergence department in 2005 as an autonomous agency. PHDMA’s goal has been to build the state government’s capacities in tracking the progress of poverty and human development Indicators on a regular basis and providing an ACTIVE monitoring system and collecting national and international best practices with regard to poverty reduction and improved life quality and adapt them to local conditions and disseminate the same to different stakeholders. Here ACTIVE monitoring indicates Accurate, Compact, Transparent, Informative, Visible and Effective monitoring of the initiatives. The agency has also been undertaking evaluation or thematic study of the impact of the state government’s ongoing schemes or programmes so that it can help develop appropriate programmes or policy options which in turn will help reduce poverty and improve human development.

“PHDMA is entrusted with monitoring, evaluation and documentation of initiatives towards poverty eradication, reducing inequalities and shared prosperity” summed up Member Secretary, PHDMA, Roopa Roshan Sahoo.

In last one and half years, PHDMA has moved out of the four-walls of office to have an ecosystem approach of learning, knowing, sensing, from just collating outsourced thinking work to building head, heart and hand practice deep within government system and moving from just analyzing data to seeing and sensing lives as people live it and as people narrate it, she informed.

“In our endeavour we attempt at using new age tools for understanding and presentation of reality that can assist, empower policy makers towards addressing issues that exist unique to Odisha,” Sahoo added.

The new age monitoring, evaluation and documentation keeps people at the forefront. “The lived reality as a shared experience is captured through extensive field visits and intensive interactions,” the member-secretary said. The teams visited households even in the remotest corners of the state and listened to their stories, captured their lived realities.

PHDMA’s ecosystem way of change making

The agency has a non-linear organisational structure which believes in creating an ecosystem way of change making. Its vast network of panchayat level officers, functionaries and volunteers, known as Voice Of PHDMA are its ‘ears and eyes’ in the monitoring process. In last two years, the agency has formed a strong ecosystem of Friends of PHDMA by forging closer associations with civil society organisations, voluntary sectors, academic and research organisations, universities, public intellectuals, data miners, anthropologists, community leaders, and setting up fellowships such as Odisha Development Fellow (ODeV-F) for knowledge sharing and cooperation in the assessment studies and research processes.

The new approach of PHDMA of making the monitoring and evaluation narrative-based and people-centric is to make them participate in the process since it’s about people and about their lives. PHDMA also believes in documenting people’s narratives with visuals and stories which link to the oral and performance culture of Odisha.

PHDMA labs and knowledge products

With an aim of conducting wider research and availing the stories and visuals collected from across the state to a larger audience, PHDMA has set up three labs – Frame Tells (Visual Anthropology Lab), Prarambha (Narratives & Lived Reality Lab) and Sankhya (Data Sensing Lab). Frame Tells aims at monitoring, evaluation and documentation of human development through photographs and videos. Similarly, the Prarambha lab focuses on people’s own experiences and stories and Sankhya will monitor, evaluate and document development through analyzing global and national indicators, building compendium of data as well as have its own data collection mechanism. These labs have the aim and vision of becoming centres of excellences of global standards in the future. The Red and Blue space provides a unique ambience for thinking, brainstorming and learning by various means of performances, officials said.

Besides, the agency also has a series of best practices and publishing compilation namely, Udyama-Sakaar that focuses on the march from poverty to prosperity (P2P). The D4P is another aspirational product from PHDMA that targets of becoming a top-quality journal catering to the development sector.

PHDMA’s aspirations

While it has always been PHDMA’s aim to strengthen poverty and human development monitoring system and develop pro-poor programmes, its approach has undergone a sea-change in last one and half years. More importantly, it has modelled an authoritative presence with added dynamism in its activities.

It has also been helping building capacity within the state government for tracking progress of poverty alleviation, monitoring human development indicators and attaining of sustainable development goals. It has also been undertaking research and providing consultancy services to different stakeholders and user groups in areas of poverty and human development.

With a wide range of aims and objectives, PHDMA has been adapting innovative and every available modern and latest technologies and techniques to its monitoring, evaluation and documentation process. The policy makers are looking up to the renewed PHDMA to play the role of a policy thinktank that can feed to state’s policy mechanism, officials said.

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