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US Government strengthens international aid model with qualitative data analysis

Written by QSR International with USAID and Dexis Consulting Group
February 13, 2018

USAID uses NVivo to improve learning agenda

Background

The United States Agency of International Development (USAID) is a U.S. government agency that betters the lives of millions across the globe through areas such as improving agricultural productivity, combating maternal and child mortality, providing immediate disaster relief, fostering private sector development, elevating the role of women and girls, and providing humanitarian support.[i] Since its inception during the Kennedy administration, USAID has made an impact in countries across the world.
Funded by the USAID Bureau for Policy, Planning and Learning (PPL), the USAID LEARN contract —implemented by Dexis Consulting Group—is designed to support strategic learning and knowledge management at USAID to improve the performance and effectiveness of its programs around the world.[ii]
USAID LEARN works with multiple teams and departments within USAID through an approach called, “collaborating, learning and adapting (CLA).” Part of this approach includes using Learning Agendas, which are a set of agency-specific questions directly related to its work. When these questions are answered, the Learning Agenda guides staff  through organizational learning in order to create an environment of growth and success.

The Challenge

USAID LEARN conducted 60 interviews and held two focus groups to properly analyze the Learning Agenda’s current landscape within federal agencies. They reviewed brochures and programs already informed by Learning Agendas across agencies, including The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), The Department of Agriculture (USDA), The Department of Labor (DOL), The United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD).[iii]
The analysis accumulated textual, video, audio, PDF or image and numerical data. However, traditional quantitative data analysis tools are only able to analyze the numerical data collected. And the traditional, pen/paper/highlighter/sticky note method of analysis would take too long. Individually reviewing each image, interview, and document would waste hours of time and risk the loss of important themes or ideas as time passes. USAID LEARN and Dexis Consulting Group needed a different solution.

Introducing NVivo

USAID LEARN conducted an assessment of the potential software that can analyze all of their qualitative (non-numerical) data in a quick and meaningful way. Because NVivo is often recognized as the industry standard for qualitative data analytics in education, many of the analysts had previous, positive experience working with the solution. NVivo’s functionality, accuracy and speed are exactly what the team was seeking, so it was the unanimous choice.

Results

The USAID LEARN team was impressed to learn from their NVivo research that the Learning Agenda, serving as an integral way to understand both how and why to grow, was in use far more widely than anticipated.

“We discovered that there are over 20 operating units within USAID using Learning Agendas. A variety of people, from HUD to the UN, in all different technical areas are also using them to learn and grow,” said Matt Baker, USAID LEARN’s Monitoring Evaluation, Research and Learning Specialist.

NVivo also helped the USAID LEARN team uncover the themes that make up their Learning Agenda questions.

“Because NVivo can interpret live language, it was able to read over 100 questions and show us how we could distill them down to the best five,” said Baker,

NVivo revealed the top reasons why Learning Agendas are useful by identifying three primary motivations for those who use them:

  1. Expectations of accountability, especially in response to leadership demands
  2. Leadership transitions and structural, strategic, or policy changes
  3. Responses to identified program-related needs

Many other discoveries were made in the landscape analysis that will lead the USAID LEARN contract as the team begins the one-to-two-year process of developing strong Learning Agendas for USAID. Because of this, USAID has the opportunity to improve the effectiveness of its important work, both in Washington and across the globe.

[i] https://www.usaid.gov/what-we-do
[ii] https://usaidlearninglab.org/learn-contract
[iii] https://usaidlearninglab.org/sites/default/files/resource/files/landscape_analysis_report_04_10_17.pdf
 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

QSR International with USAID and Dexis Consulting Group

The United States Agency of International Development (USAID) is a U.S. government agency that betters the lives of millions across the globe through areas such as improving agricultural productivity, combating maternal and child mortality, providing immediate disaster relief, fostering private sector development, elevating the role of women and girls, and providing humanitarian support. Every day, QSR International helps 1.5 million researchers, marketers and others to utilize Qualitative Data Analysis (QDA) to uncover deeper insights contained within the “human data” collected via social media, consumer and community feedback and other means. We give people the power to make better decisions by uncovering more insights to advance their area of exploration.