Friday, June 5, 2009

What are we doing in the DR Congo?

[I wrote this post on 03/06/09 while sitting at Schiphol Airport waiting for my plane to Nairobi and being utterly bored].

So what will I be doing in the Congo for two months? In brief, together with a friend and colleague from Columbia University (Simon, whom I will introduce in a next post), we will be coding in the Congo. In more detail (making this a much longer post, but I am currently sitting at Schiphol Airport waiting for my plane):

The Democratic Republic of Congo –formerly known as Zaire – is in very bad shape (also more on this in a future post). In the east of the Congo – the part of the country that is doing worst of all – the International Rescue Committee and CARE International implemented a so-called “community-driven reconstruction”-program. The program – called Tuungane – is a development project completely in line with the well-known idea – and too often used one-liner at dinner parties – that a development project should not give fish to villagers but a few rods and then teach them how to fish. In brief, Tuungane first helps the villagers to work together. This is difficult as villages in war zones often have a large in and outflow of a diverse kind of people. Then these villagers themselves have to come up with projects. The IRC and CARE are as “hands-off” as possible, only providing funding and expertise when asked for by the villagers. Tuungane is also big. The budget is over 24 million pounds and it covers around 1,780,000 people in 1,266 villages! The four provinces that are covered – South Kivu, Maniema, Haut Katanga, and Tanganikya – have a combined size equal to France! The project started in 2007 and is likely to finish in 2010. Importantly, Tuungane has to be evaluated. Did it work? Can it be improved? That is where we come in; with what is likely to be currently the biggest evaluation project of its kind in the world.

What Simon and I will be doing in upcoming two months can be separated in four chunks: 1. prepare the final survey, 2. geo-reference the 600 villages, 3. clean the baseline-data, 4. establish a pilot for the Phone Project. Again, in more detail (I am still waiting for my plane):

1. Prepare the final survey.

Before Tuungane started 600 villagers were randomly selected in the aforementioned four provinces; around 300 are in Tuungane giving us a so-called control and treatment group. In 2006, before Tuungane started, a survey was taken in these 600 villagers among households and village chiefs; the so-called baseline-survey. This survey, and the accompanying dataset, is massive and the dream of each academic. It covers a lot of people (both households and village chiefs). It has a lot of questions (around 150) on many different topics. It was obtained in a very difficult area; to reach a village, try walking from the north to the south of France (and don’t forget to add jungle, mountains and rebel groups). In 2010, when Tuungane is finished, another survey will be conducted in these 600 villages; the final survey. What we have to do is to make sure that the correct questions will be asked in this final survey. Do the questions relate correctly to the things we want to know? Do people understand the questions we ask them? Etc. Which questions should be dropped from the baseline-survey, and – importantly – which questions should be added? We received a budget to hire staff here in the DR Congo to pilot questions in villages to answer the latter.

2. Geo-reference the 600 villages.

Another important thing we will have to do is to geo-reference the villages; that is, indicate on a map exactly where the villages are. Unfortunately during the baseline survey no GPS systems were used; something we will definitely do this time. This second chunk of work, however, is more complicated than it seems. It is difficult to travel in the area. Also, villages have a tendency to change names or to disappear (due to war, drought, etc.). By making use of GPS devices, the infrastructure the IRC has in place and ArcGIS – which is really cool and very nerdy software to work digitally with maps – we hope to pull this off, though.

3. Clean the data.

This chunk of work is why the blog received its particular name: Coding in the Congo. We have the data from the baseline-survey, but it is ‘raw’. It is very raw! Around 150 questions were asked in the survey, but many questions were very different; some had a binary yes/no answer, some had a number as answer, some questions were subdivided into multiple sub-questions, etc. Before we can use the dataset in statistical software packages to in the end be able to analyze whether Tuungane works or not this dataset has to be transformed; it has to be ‘cleaned’. Therefore an important chunk of the work we have to do here is to program code – in so-called “.do-files” (using for example, Notepad++) – in such a way as to convert the raw dataset into a dataset that can be used in for example Stata. For the nerdy-people among us: indeed, this is going to be a lot of work; and behind desk and laptop.

4. Establish a pilot for the Phone Project.

Very briefly, we hope to set up a system to receive better data on violence. More information will follow.

All in all, I will spend quite a bit of time behind a laptop I am afraid. We will get our hand dirty, however, as we have to go into the field several times. To experience how the surveys are conducted and in what conditions, to check such basic things as whether the villages have electricity to charge the cell phones, etc. It’s going to be much fun these two months.

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