Information Technology Sophistication and Knowledge Utilization for Development Results

The sophistication of information technology is beneficial to public sector management. It supports the establishment of ‘knowledge-based culture’, which can be a favorable environment for development evaluation. But to what extent is sophisticated IT utilized among various agencies of governments? Does the use of top-of-the-line tech tools factor much in decision-making and measure of performance among these agencies?

Particularly, does it influence capacity building in evaluation and management for development results in countries like the Philippines? The paper examined the depth of knowledge-based practice in disaster risk management and health care sectors in the Philippines. It explored the reach of advanced information technologies and linked knowledge use with decision-making and measure of performance from a comparative perspective. It argued that there is an inclination towards sophistication which is not ntirely supportive of the building of strong capacity in managing for development results and sound measure of performance.

The findings show a relatively good level of advanced IT & ‘knowledge’ use among organizations but link to measure of performance & evidence-based decision making is weak. The presentation can contribute to a clearer understanding of how technology is influencing the way development issues are addressed and how it shapes the development of the body of knowledge that builds upon the emerging practice of evaluation.

Recently, there is a growing demand for greater accountability, transparency, and evidence-based demonstration of not only programs’ but more importantly, of entire governments’ performance as well (Zorzi, R. , Perrin, B. , McGuire, M. , Long, B. , & Lee, L. 2002). This appears to be a global trend and an indication of how the world is progressing toward a more responsible society. Interestingly, the emerging field of development evaluation offers innovative concepts on how governments can respond to this demand.

One example is the concept of managing for development results [MfDR], a school of thought that espouses “results-based” or “evidence-based” practice in management. It is a management philosophy that advances empirical demonstration of performance and success of programs and organizations, and uses evidence to improve decision-making. Proponents of this concept believe that “the more credible the evidence, the more sound the conclusion”, which should be the basis of decisions (Gargani J. & Donaldson, S. I. 2011). Being empirical requires systematic procedures that involve, among others, processing of large volume of data and information.

These procedures construct the body of knowledge and evidence which will show that the targeted results of an intervention or program are being achieved. From this, it follows that the role of information technology [hereafter referred to as IT; another term, ICT, which stands for communications and information technology is basically similar in meaning] in MfDR can be large. Advancement in IT can make empirical procedures efficient and responsive to the growing need for robust evidence of performance, on which MfDR is premised.

Many governments and organizations are increasingly moving towards the adoption of MfDR in their systems. In the Philippines, as in many other countries lately, state agencies and other government functionaries are being mandated to show greater transparency, accountability, and demonstration of performance in governance. To fulfill this mandate, the present Philippine administration recently has taken initiatives strengthening the practice of MfDR in the public sector (NEDA 2010). The use of advanced information systems is complementary to this new development.

While it satisfies the requirement for efficient information management system, it also supports the creation of knowledge-based culture in many organizations. But the extent in which the application of IT is made in parallel with MfDR and how this application bear on decision-making and achievement of results are important issues not yet fully explored. The study analyzed primarily the Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council [DRRMC] and Department of Health [DoH], two state agencies in the Philippines that can exemplify the use of IT and application of MfDR.

It primarily used desk research, including reviews of a broad range of documents and official publications, online materials, and interviews of key resource persons and practitioners. The investigation focused on good practices in technology use at these 2 organizations and made comparison on the existing situation with other major government agencies. It organized data by scanning the organizations’ records of various technology applications, including interviews of independent IT experts on software and hardware architecture fields.

The paper draws insights and raises methodological and theoretical questions on how sophisticated knowledge utilization influences decision-making and the way MfDR issues are addressed. It illustrates the depth of IT application through a walk-through of innovations and applications of adaptive IT systems in these agencies. Finally, it argues that there is an inclination towards sophistication which is not entirely supportive of the establishment of strong capacity in managing for development results and sound measure of performance.

The development of knowledge-based culture is a modern day phenomenon, possibly brought about partly by the advancement of technology in information processing and data management. In our era of globalized trade and socio-economic integration, the value of advanced information system cannot be overstated. IT is known to improve organizational performance in many ways.

But what is advanced IT and knowledge-based culture’s role in MFDR? How do these concepts link together? A consideration of basic meanings can help establish better perspective.

Sophistication of IT can be defined simply as the advancement of technology that has to do with creating, processing, sharing, and use of information (Galen, M. and Grodzicki, 2011). [pic]The The term can include computer and network hardware and software, information management systems, programs, satellite systems, and any communication device using radio, television, mobile phones, internet, as well as various tools, services, and applications associated with them, such as video conferencing, webinar, distance learning, and social networking, among many others.

“Knowledge” can be seen as interplay of information and human faculties that improves action. Individuals, groups, or organizations are domains where this “knowledge” is inherent. In a related sense, the term “knowledge management” would imply combination of information and human abilities that is managed to improve actions not just at the individual or group, but more on the organizational level – and therefore, in a collective scale (Galen, M. and Grodzicki, D., 2011).

Culture on the other hand, can be about values, norms, and practices. In the contexts of organizations, values are what members [of that organization] think are worth doing or having. Norms can be “shared beliefs about how people in the organization should behave, or what they should do to accomplish their work. Practices are the formal or informal routines used in the organization to accomplish work” (De Long 1997).

Tying these concepts altogether will bring us the word “knowledge-based culture” that connotes organizational environment in which knowledge management is a standard practice and hardly separable from information technology use.

De Long (1997) theorized that “most managers recognize intuitively that organizational culture is relevant to how their firm creates, shares and uses knowledge” and “whether the objectives of a knowledge management strategy are to improve operational efficiencies, enhance organizational learning, intensify innovation, or speed up response to the market, a culture change strategy designed to shift behaviors and practices is a critical part of almost any knowledge.

If this notion is true, it would be easier to see how MfDR could fit into the ‘picture’. MfDR is a management strategy that focuses on results of development interventions or organizational actions. It involves a coherent framework for effective planning, implementation, and evidence-based determination of performance of programs and organizations (Santos 2011). The use of information, which is part of knowledge management, is a ‘life blood’ to this philosophy, because it is a process that constructs the body of evidence, which in turn demonstrates performance and improves decision making -leading to more transparency and accountability in governance.

The concept of MFDR was relatively new to public sector management in the Philippines. It must be noted that under the Paris Declaration of 2005, the Philippines, along with other 90 countries, 27 international organizations and 14 civil society groups, committed to “specific action to further country ownership, harmonization, managing for development results, and mutual accountability for the use of aid” (2005 Paris Declaration).

But there seems to be dillydallying in the making of big changes for transparency and accountability among public institutions in the past number of years, despite the country’s commitment to undergo structural reforms. For instance, a 2008 study in support of the evaluation of the Paris Declaration reported the status of developing countries in regard the use of monitorable results framework, an indicator taken to demonstrate countries’ progress toward MFDR (OECD 2009).

The chart in Figure 1 shows that while 56 per cent of countries under study have already taken action in 2007, the Philippines still had no record of doing the same. Cambodia, a country whose economy was badly affected by years of war, was even better in position because it had taken positive step along that line. The same is true with Vietnam. The 2010 national elections, however, gave way to a new Philippine government.

The change tilted favorably toward adoption, with the new administration’s platform of governance fundamentally anchored on sharper reforms. Just recently, the push for evidence-based management received further momentum. The National Economic Development Authority [NEDA], which is the planning and policy coordinating body of the Philippines for national socio-economic development has embarked on capacity building. The organization, together with other implementing agencies, is currently undergoing a training program in MFDR for institutional strengthening.

This is through a technical assistance (TA) extended to the Philippine government by International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). The capacity building program is in line with the “commitment of the Government of the Philippines (GOP) through NEDA and IFAD in advancing the principle of alignment and managing for development results at the institutional level”, and part of the “commitment made by the Philippines at the Paris High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in 2005” (NEDA 2011).

Evaluation associations are known to be good partners in building capacity for MFDR in many countries. These organizations share knowledge and skills in monitoring and evaluation [M&E] with various government sectors and development organizations by partnering with them on development initiatives and evaluation advocacy. Currently, three evaluation organizations have been established in the Philippines; the Pilipinas Monitoring and Evaluation Society [est. 2010], M&E Network [est. 011], and the Pilipinas Development Evaluators Association [est. 2011].

The second was formed through NEDA, with the support of other national government agencies and international development organizations. In November 2011, the first M&E Evaluation Forum, an international conference on development evaluation was held in Manila through the combined effort of NEDA and UNICEF. From these recent developments, it can be seen that MFDR continues to take root in the consciousness of the Philippine public sector management.