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Five things we’ve learned about collaboration in a pilot project for data verification of social impact bonds

Tech can do anything, so what does it need to do for the people it serves? This is a personal philosophy of Nelson Nogueira, our CTO. Through this invitation, we are encouraged to leave our egos at the door and approach our daily work with our users at the centre of everything we do.

This has been core to the how and why of our pilot that examines the possibility of digitally verifying results for social and development impact bonds (SIBs and DIBs respectively).

Excitingly, we are testing our hypothesis within the environment of a real SIB. The Imagine SIB, implemented by Networking HIV & AIDS Community of Southern Africa (NACOSA), is running an HIV prevention and treatment programme for adolescent girls and young women. At Triggerise in Kenya, we use a digital platform called Tiko to administer a similar model of service delivery. We’ll be applying Tiko technology in this new context.

Our hypothesis is: can we demonstrate the effectiveness and trustworthiness of using technology platforms like ours to verify outcomes directly and more efficiently? This is important because, if successful, adopting a tech-driven approach to verify outcomes could drastically cut down the current time and cost involved without compromising on the accuracy and quality of the results. This will allow teams to spend more resources where it really matters: delivering impact. Our Tiko platform features real-time data monitoring and project dashboards to give a detailed and up-to-date overview of a project’s status. This enables a more empowered and efficient decision-making environment within each programme.

In the first six weeks of the pilot, we focused on building relationships with the key partners of the SIB and conducted solution design sessions to scope out the technology need.

In this blog post, our first for the series, we explore five things we’ve learned so far about working on this pilot:

1. Become curious about different ways of working

There’s a reason teamwork makes the dream work has become a cliché. Aside from it rhyming (a bonus feature of any cliché), it’s also, simply, true. To bump up the intellectual heft of the point: an open-handed, collaborative, and humble approach to a project is crucial. In the development sector, no team is an island; it’s most likely that partnerships consisting of at least two different organisations are the norm. So, the need for open communication and a curious, learning-centric attitude becomes even more important. Different cultures, systems, and methods need to blend in order for shared goals to be met.

2. Establish a cohesive approach to two different tech systems

For our initial experiments, we thought that it would be simple for our technology to run parallel with our partner’s. There are unique features and capabilities that both of us bring to the table, so it seemed theoretically simple that our partner could run in their lane while we run in ours. Specifically, our primary contribution from a tech perspective is the inclusion and integration of a reward, rating, and reminder system. However, it soon became clear that this parallel approach isn’t feasible, and there is a clear need for our complementary tech to integrate with our partner’s custom-built performance management system.

Here’s why: the Imagine SIB made a significant investment in a bespoke performance management system. This system is the single source of truth for the Imagine SIB and a parallel system would introduce the chance for human error on reporting interactions that happen between users. Ultimately, there are concerns about the traceability and auditability of services, and asking users to switch between two systems could be a significant barrier to adoption.

3. Set conservative, realistic deadlines

As with any project, we get excited about starting. A key aspect of the Triggerise philosophy is learning on the go and taking action in order to see what’s working and what’s really not working. In this initial phase, we set tight and ambitious deadlines. Meeting them, however, has not been as simple as just “doing the work”. As we’ve already explored, progress is not made in isolation. Partnership and compromise in teamwork is just as important as ambition and ability. Going forward, we’ll set more conservative deadlines to accommodate different styles of working.

4. The key difference between impact bonds and other funding mechanisms

Implementing a programme through an impact bond mechanism is quite different to more traditional methods of financing, such as a grant. Although they are still funded by donors, philanthropists, and/or governments to achieve development or social outcomes, the need to define outcomes at the outset and establish how they will be verified and paid for creates complexities in the design process. These need to be taken into consideration when planning our integration into the project. Additionally, there are more stakeholders involved in the partnership (funders, investors, evaluators, etc.) who all need to be aligned and committed in order to launch the programme. All these elements which are unique to an impact bond can affect the decision-making process.

As a result, we have needed to be even more flexible in our approach, ensuring that we have buy-in from all relevant partners in order to start work, and adjusting our timelines and work plans accordingly to accommodate delays and challenges as they arise.

5. Connection is key

Fostering healthy, constructive, and clear relationships is key to the success of any multi-party project. We’re working across countries, time zones, teams, perspectives, and objectives. That’s a lot of opportunity for miscommunication, and also a lot of opportunity to find connection in the diversity. Difference does not have to be threatening, and can be life-giving. From the start of any joint venture, it’s a good idea to set aside intentional and in-person (if possible) time to simply get to know one another and find common ground.

The strength of our project’s cohesion will come from continuing to cultivate open channels of communication, respect, and mutual support. Stick with us as we share more insights about our collaborative effort to speed up and innovate the data verification process for DIBs and SIBs.

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