What kind of Evidence Influences local officials? A great example from Guatemala

Paper  by Walter Flores: “Between 2007 and up to now, we have implemented five different methods for gathering evidence:

1) Surveys of health clinics with random sampling,

2) Surveys using tracers and convenience-based sampling,

3) Life histories of the users of health services,

4) User complaints submitted via text messages,

5) Video and photography documenting service delivery problems.

Each of these methods was deployed for a period of 2-3 years and accompanied by detailed monitoring to track its effects on two outcome variables:

1) the level of community participation in planning, data collection and analysis; and

2) the responsiveness of the authorities to the evidence presented.

Our initial intervention generated evidence by surveying a random sample of health clinics—widely considered to be a highly rigorous method for collecting evidence. As the surveys were long and technically complicated, participation from the community was close to zero. Yet our expectation was that, given its scientific rigor, authorities would be responsive to the evidence we presented. The government instead used technical methodological objections as a pretext to reject the service delivery problems we identified. It was clear that such arguments were an excuse and authorities did not want to act.

Flores fig 1Our next effort was to simplify the survey and involve communities in surveying, analysis, and report writing. However, as the table shows, participation was still “minimal,” as was the responsiveness of the authorities. Many community members still struggled to participate and the authorities rejected the evidence as unreliable, again citing methodological concerns. Together with community leaders, we decided to move away from surveys altogether, so authorities could no longer use technical arguments to disregard the evidence.

For our next method, we introduced collecting life-stories of real patients and users of health services. The decision about this new method was taken together with communities. Community members were trained to identify cases of poor service delivery, interview users, and write down their experiences. These testimonies vividly described the impact of poor health services: children unable to go to school because they needed to attend to sick relatives; sick parents unable to care for young children; breadwinners unable go to work, leaving families destitute.

This type of evidence changed the meetings between community leaders and authorities considerably, shifting from arguments over data to discussing the struggles real people faced due to nonresponsive services. After a year of responding to individual life-stories, however, authorities started to treat the information presented as “isolated cases” and became less responsive.

We regrouped again with community leaders to reflect on how to further boost community participation and achieve a response from authorities. We agreed that more agile and less burdensome methods for community volunteers to collect and disseminate evidence might increase the response from authorities. After reviewing different options, we agreed to build a complaint system that allowed users to send coded text messages to an open-access platform….(More)”.