IDM Knowledge Builder Trainings Promote Sustainable Capacity Building

Sustainable capacity-building is at the heart of the current thinking about making development more effective. However, promoting local capacities in a self-sustainable manner is, admittedly, a very complex and challenging endeavor. Yet Synergy’s work at the intersection of software development and aid management shows that practical, creative solutions can be found by people with the right combination of expertise, experience, and engagement.

It is a well-known fact that many developing countries lack the information technology (IT) related capacities to support the self-sufficient and sustainable use of sophisticated software products. To tackle this problem, over the last several years Synergy has been actively developing software solutions and providing consulting services designed to address the real IT needs of developing countries.

Unlike any other aid management system, Synergy’s Development Assistance Database (DAD) allows users without extensive technical background to make modifications to the system entirely on their own through Synergy’s unique tool —the IDM Knowledge Builder— without having to do any programming or having to go through thousands of pages of highly specialized source code. The IDM Knowledge Builder is Synergy’s innovative answer to the challenge of sustainable development in countries where IT capacities are often limited. By allowing users to modify the system on their own, Synergy seeks to help developing countries build their local technical capacities and thus decrease their dependence on outside expertise. Through the IDM Knowledge Builder, Synergy’s clients in developing countries become the real owners of the aid management system, thus ensuring effective capacity building and genuine national ownership.

Synergy has provided IDM Knowledge Builder trainings in a number of countries, including India, Indonesia, Iraq, Lebanon, Maldives, Pakistan, Rwanda, and Sri Lanka. The trainings, which consistently receive positive assessments from participants, are carried out by Synergy’s global team of IT specialists and consultants.

Our New, State-of-the-Art Office and Global Learning Center in Armenia

Since its founding over a decade ago, Synergy has had a subsidiary branch in Yerevan, Armenia, specializing in research and development, quality assurance, and technical support. With our impressive growth over the last decade, our Yerevan office has experienced an equally impressive growth in size, from 10 employees in 1998 to over 80 in 2008. To accommodate this new and promising reality, we have been working over the last three years on a monumental, company-defining project: building an eight-floor, two-building complex in downtown Yerevan. On 31 December 2008, this much anticipated project became a reality, as our excited employees hauled in their desktops and flower pots into the building and began to settle down into their new offices.

In addition to being our new home in Yerevan, this state-of-the-art complex will serve as the regional hub of our activities/projects in Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia. Strategically located between the East and the West, our Yerevan subsidiary office allows our program managers, software specialists, trainers, and consultants to travel more easily and thus to work in-person with our clients. Moreover, we envision our new complex becoming a global learning center that will bring together our broad base of clients and partners for technical trainings, topic-specific seminars, and conferences on the burning issues at the intersection of information technology and international development. “This new complex,” explains President & CEO Ashot Hovanesian, “will play a key role in revolutionizing the way international development is done.”

Francophone DAD Established in Central African Republic

In the summer and fall of 2008, Synergy developed a Francophone Development Assistance Database (DAD) for the Central African Republic. There are two aspects to this DAD’s novelty. First, although the DAD was previously available in a number of languages, including Arabic, Dari, Spanish, and Vietnamese, the development of the DAD Central African Republic marks the first time that the DAD is available in French. In fact, like the DADs in all other countries, DAD Central African Republic is bilingual—available in French and English. Thanks to its powerful multilingual capability, the DAD can be customized to any country’s language needs.

The development of the first French-language DAD is a sign of Synergy’s growing presence in Francophone Africa.The other novel dimension of this DAD is its Mobile Off-line feature, which allows users who are not connected to the Internet to operate the DAD on a locally installed version on their desktops. The Off-line DAD is a full replica of the on-line system, with an identical user-interface and functionality and all the data entry, reporting, and analytical capabilities of the on-line system. Users can enter and update data and download system upgrades with easy one-click synchronization to and from the online DAD. The synchronization is enabled by a “check-in/check-out” system, and an automatic data lock prevents the same information from being updated by any other users, thus securing the data integrity of the system. Synergy developed the Mobile Off-line DAD to address the needs of developing countries where Internet connectivity is severely limited.

This novel solution allows development workers and government officials to capture, analyze, and create reports on critical and up-to-date information on development assistance despite limited access to the Internet. In the summer of 2008, Synergy began working closely with the UNDP office in Central African Republic and the Ministry of Planning, Economy and International Cooperation to develop a DAD. Central African Republic is a post-conflict country that is experiencing a surge of development aid intended to support the peacebuilding process. Yet, as in most such environments, the growing aid is delivered in the absence of powerful and transparent tools that track “who is doing what where.” DAD Central African Republic was developed to address precisely this problem, and thereby to enhance the coordination of donor activities and their alignment with national priorities, as articulated in the country’s Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP).

According to Sylvain Maliko, the Minister of State for Planning, Economy and International Cooperation, ”DAD will become a key tool for the CAR government and its partners in tracking the progress of our first Poverty Reduction Strategy and in improving the effectiveness of aid in a country where it is needed most.” This powerful, Web-Based, interactive database will allow anyone to easily find detailed information on humanitarian and development assistance in the Central African Republic (CAR). Customizable tables, three-dimensional graphs, interactive maps, and easy-to-create reports will help donor agencies, the government, NGOs, and the general public get a better sense of “who is doing what where” in the Central African Republic and thus to how to improve the effectiveness of aid. By late November 2008, donors had already entered data on more than 170 activities (or roughly two thirds of the total), documenting expenditures of more than $145 million in 2008.

Synergy showcases its Experience and Cutting-Edge M&E Solution at “Managing for Development Results” Workshop

The Community of Practice in Managing for Development Results (CoP MfDR) Community of Practice in Managing for Development Results (CoP MfDR) held its 2008 annual meeting from November 11-14 in Colombo, Sri Lanka, bringing together participants from 15 Asian countries, as well as from donor agencies and the private sector. The workshop was organized by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Sri Lankan Ministry of Plan Implementation. The CoP MfDR is a virtual learning network that promotes learning and knowledge exchange among international development policymakers and practitioners on how to manage better for development results. MfDR has in recent times become a hot topic in international development, for it is part of a broader global movement that aims to enhance the effectiveness of the development aid delivered to recipient countries. Managing for development results (MfDR) is a strategy that uses performance information on development projects (such as outputs, outcomes, key performance indicators) to improve decision-making, monitor progress, evaluate outcomes, and thus promote sustainable development.

Synergy’s CEO, Mr. Ashot Hovanesian was invited to attend the CoP-MfDR workshop, where he presented a paper entitled “Aid Management Systems: Tools for Measuring Development Results.” Mr. Hovanesian shared with the other participants Synergy’s cutting-edge work on Managing for Development Results through its flagship product, the Development Assistance Database (DAD). Further, Mr. Hovanesian highlighted the fact that given its unmatched scope in the field of aid information management, the DAD has accumulated extensive experience that has helped it evolve (along with the changing needs of developing countries) from a system tracking basic financial indicators into a system monitoring sophisticated output indicators, milestones, and key performance indicators (KPIs). In the last several years, Synergy has developed a state-of-the art Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) application that tracks Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) so as to monitor project level progress toward clearly defined targets and goals. In addition to KPIs, the DAD’s M&E module measures Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), Paris Declaration Indicators, and even indicators associated with national development strategies such as Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs). This module has been implemented, or is being implemented, in a wide array of countries, including Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Indonesia, Iraq, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Rwanda, and Sri Lanka.

During the workshop, Mr. Hovanesian emphasized that Synergy is now actively working to further refine its M&E module by effectively linking these key sets of indicators with measurable and meaningful outcome indicators. As Synergy’s paper notes, “By establishing sustainable database systems that can effectively track key project, financial, output and outcome data, governments can position themselves well for moving to the next level: linking this information with national social and economic indicators so as to measure outcome.”

Building a Cutting-Edge M&E System for Cape Verde

In November 2008, Synergy’s senior expert Mr. Sergey Zigelyan visited Praia, Cape Verde, the archipelagic nation located off the western coast of Africa, to conduct a feasibility study for the development of a cutting-edge monitoring and evaluation (M&E) system for Government of Cape Verde. In August 2008, Synergy International Systems was awarded a contract with the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) Cape Verde to support the Government in this critical work. Currently under development, this customized M&E system will serve as the government’s main tool for monitoring the implementation of its public investment projects, which are development projects financed through the national budget. In particular, the system will track the physical and financial progress of projects, and will identify implementation delays, problems, and risks so as to ensure effective remedial action. At a broader level, the system will provide a comprehensive analysis of the impact of the government’s Public Sector Investment Program (PSIP).

From the perspective of international development, a field that is now actively searching for ways to measure and evaluate aid results, this project is groundbreaking because the M&E system will link with national statistical data to capture outcome and impact indicators for each public investment project. Furthermore, the M&E system will be fully integrated with the national budget planning and execution system (SIGOF), thus serving as desktop tool supporting the programmatic work of project managers and the decision-making capabilities of high-level officials. During his three-week mission, Mr. Zigelyan worked closely with the development team of the National Information Agency (NOSI), the government agency in charge of promoting e-government tools and initiatives, and assessed the government’s existing project monitoring process and designed a draft user interface and database structure for the system. In January 2009, three members of NOSI development team visited Synergy’s subsidiary office and Global IT Learning Center in Yerevan, Armenia, to participate in the development of the M&E system. The final version is scheduled to be installed in March 2009, and Synergy will then provide comprehensive trainings to the Government.

DAD for Indonesia Wins Prestigious Award

Synergy’s landmark Development Assistance Database (DAD) for Indonesia, won the award for the best Information Management project at the second annual Asia-Pacific Government Technology Awards, held in Bali, Indonesia, on 17 October 2008. The Awards recognized best practice public sector projects, and outstanding achievement by public sector organizations in the field of information communication and technology (ICT) by local and central government agencies, as well as education and healthcare organizations. The year-long awards process is the largest in the Asia-Pacific region, and has been dramatically growing in popularity. The 2008 Awards received 450 nominations from 14 countries, up from 212 the previous year. Over 200 senior government officials from Asia-Pacific countries attended the Awards.

The winners were selected from a shortlist of nominees in a number of categories, such as information management, business process/service innovation, and e-government. The award categories were sponsored by some of the leading IT companies in the world, including Microsoft and IBM.

The RAN Database won the award in the Information Management category (sponsored by EMC), which recognizes “excellence in the efficient capture, storage, and distribution of citizen information.” Currently, the RAN Database tracks over 1700 projects carried out by more than 600 donors, NGOs, and private entities, totaling approximately 3.8 billion US dollars.

Synergy developed the DAD for Indonesia almost immediately after the December 2004 Tsunami to track post-natural disaster reconstruction projects in the Aceh-Nias region. The DAD was named the Recovery Aceh Nias (RAN) Database to reflect the national ownership of the system, and was installed at the BRR Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Agency.

The RAN Database has become the central coordinating database for Tsunami recovery and national development data in Indonesia. The Report, Chart, and Map modules have facilitated national reporting and provide a strategic overview of the aid landscape in the country, thus enabling informed decision-making and planning.

Within the RAN Database, Synergy implemented its core DAD system, including online data entry, Charting, GIS Mapping, and Reporting. Furthermore, Synergy developed a number of other systems to build the capacity of the Government to track tsunami reconstruction and enhance the management of the workflow processes. These included a Donor/Partner Profiles Module and a Concept Note Submission and Approval Module for organizing and streamlining the bottom-up and top-down planning process of the reconstruction. The Concept Notes online submission and approval process involved the entire NGO community in sharing data on their planned activities for better coordination.

The novel Concept Note Submission and Approval Module automates the existing workflow for project approval, allowing the government to track the external assistance activities and ensure the proper distribution of funds (that is, avoiding gaps and duplications) among priority sectors and locations. The Profiles Module provides statistical aid information that is organized by Donor, Partner and Sector (rather than project), thus enabling easy monitoring of the efficiency and effectiveness of all stakeholders involved in the Tsunami reconstruction process.

Synergy worked with the government of Indonesia to define Sector specific Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for measuring progress of reconstruction at various levels including the project level and overall sector level. The RAN Database provides a tool for analyzing trends of KPIs against baseline and target values, as well as financial and other project data.

The RAN Database was also integrated with the Regional DAD that includes information from other Tsunami affected countries including Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Maldives.

Synergy Participates in the Accra Summit

The Third High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness, held in Accra, Ghana, from 2-4 September 2008, convened 1700 international development policymakers and practitioners from governments, donor agencies, NGOs, private foundations and the private sector to review progress made to date on implementing the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness. A testament to public-private partnership, Synergy’s President & CEO, Mr. Ashot Hovanesian and Aid Management Advisor, Mr. Richard Bradley attended the Accra Summit and participated in a number of workshops and plenary sessions on the global aid effectiveness agenda. A number of country delegations requested presentations of the Development Assistance Database (DAD) and its key extensions (for example, the Monitoring & Evaluation module), which led to productive discussions on the expanding use of the DAD to pressing needs of developing countries. For example, Mr. Hovanesian and Mr. Joseph Lelang, Papua New Guinea’s Secretary of the Department of National Planning and Monitoring (DNPM), discussed the potential implementation of the DAD in Papua New Guinea. After the summit, Synergy, DNMP, and the UNDP office in Papua New Guinea partnered up to put in place a DAD and an Aid Effectiveness Web Portal in that country, both of which were officially launched by the Government of Papua New Guinea on 19 January 2009. Moreover, several countries where the DAD is currently operational (such as Central African Republic, India, and Iraq) presented “DAD Case Studies” in the Marketplace of Ideas that illustrated how successfully customized aid management systems can significantly advance the process of making aid more effective.

Notably, Ms. Reetu Jain, deputy director of the Department of Economic Affairs (DE) at India’s Ministry of Finance, made a presentation of the DAD that Synergy developed and customized specifically for the Government of India, in close cooperation with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Called the Coordination Decision support System (CDSS), this comprehensive Web-based aid management system provides a full picture of all development aid to India and thus makes government officials better placed to align external aid with India’s national development priorities. In her presentation, Ms. Jain highlighted that CDSS, which is fully integrated with the Government’s Financial Management System, supports the Government of India in effectively managing development aid and promoting the accountable and transparent use of resources. In addition, CDSS has also greatly improved the efficiency and coordination of donor activities in India and thus promotes good governance, transparency, and accountability. A key lesson learned from this project is that effectively combining high levels of political support and good technical assistance is a key success factor.

High Level Forum for Aid Effectiveness

Dr. Ashot Hovanesian, President of Synergy International Systems, and Mr. Richard Bradley, Aid Management Advisor, recently participated in the High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness, held in Accra, Ghana from 2-4 September 2008. The Forum is a follow-up to the Paris High Level Forum in 2005, which resulted in the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness. The Forum is a unique gathering of national government leaders and aid practitioners from around the world.

Synergy’s Development Assistance Database (DAD) was featured in the Marketplace of Ideas, which highlighted best practices in aid effectiveness in governments around the world through posters in an exhibit format. The Governments of India, Iraq, and the Central African Republic all highlighted their national aid management systems, which were developed by Synergy. These included the Coordination & Decision Support System for the Ministry of Finance in India, the Development Assistance Database Iraq for the Ministry of Planning and Development Cooperation, and the upcoming implementation of DAD in the Ministry of Planning, Economics, and International Cooperation in the Central African Republic. In addition to the posters, Government staff made brief presentations to explain how these implementations strengthened the principles of alignment, harmonization, ownership, managing for results, and mutual accountability.

At the conclusion of the High Level Forum, the Accra Agenda for Action was released, which specifically calls for donors to support, and invest in strengthening, developing countries’ national statistical capacity and information systems, including those for managing aid. DAD is greatly strengthening governments’ capacity for aid management through its implementation in over 25 countries.

Synergy to implement Francophone DAD for the Central African Republic

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Central African Republic and the Ministry of Planning, Economics and International Cooperation has selected Synergy International Systems to implement the Web-based Development Assistance Database (DAD), the Donor Profile module, and the off-line mobile DAD to effectively track and manage all humanitarian and development projects in CAR. The DAD supports UNDP’s capacity-building programme, ARCAD, one key module of which focuses on aid management.

Within four weeks of the project start date, a fully operational pilot was customized and deployed in the Central African Republic. Data collection on humanitarian, recovery and development projects has already begun. As a government owned tool, the CAR is bilingual (French-English), and will promote partner alignment with CAR’s first Poverty Reduction Strategy. Further, DAD will enable for greater managing for results for CAR’s population, supporting informed decision-making by humanitarian and development partners.

To support sustainability, a dedicated aid coordination unit within CAR’s Ministry of Planning, Economics and International Cooperation will receive comprehensive training on Synergy’s powerful IDM Knowledge Builder tool, which will build capacity in maintaining the DAD, thus achieving a high return on investment and low cost of ownership.

DAD for Guatemala in Development Stage

Synergy International Systems is creating a Development Assistance Database for the Secretariat of Planning and Programming in the Central American government of Guatemala. This DAD will be completely bilingual and will consist of core modules for mapping, charting, reporting and data entry, as well as an Executive Dashboard. A needs assessment mission was conducted for the DAD Guatemala from August 4-8, 2008. A pilot version will be released shortly and development is expected to be completed by early-October, with training for the development community in Guatemala occurring later in the month.

The DAD will allow the government of Guatemala to effectively track, analyze, and report on all development assistance projects within the country, and will provide a single forum for all donors to meet Paris Declaration requirements for aligning with government information systems. The DAD is being implemented in close cooperation with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).