Power to the User: A User-Friendly Development of Information Systems to Support Decision-Making at the Local Level Case Study

An information system to support all stakeholders needs, from central to local level. Based on user needs, it brings all the answers needed for planning and informed decision making.

How Solution Meets Need

One of the main objectives of the Guatemalan Ministry of Education (MOE) is to improve the coverage and quality of its services. To accomplish this objective, the MOE requires precise, timely information to support its programs and action plans. Collecting and analyzing this information poses a challenge because the MOE manages over 4 million students, 160,000 teachers, and 30,000 schools. This belief prompted the Guatemalan government to partner with the USAID-funded Health and Education Policy Project in 2011 to create an evaluation committee formed of technology specialists from the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Social Development, and the Ministry of Education. This committee introduced System Intelligence tools and concepts—with a strong focus on designing with the user and on usability principles—in order to develop user-oriented, easy-to-use systems that allow immediate access to statistics and indicators.

The dashboard-based information system uses Business Intelligence tools. To select these tools, the committee conducted a three-month evaluation process that consisted of two phases: a literature-based evaluation that ended with the selection of three options, and a technical, hands-on evaluation of the three final options. The committee first validated the evaluation criteria and methodology. Later, committee members tested the various software options, both individually and in group meetings, evaluating each tool against the selected criteria. Each evaluator graded the tools against the criteria. Results were tabulated and final scores assigned.

Using the final scores, the committee chose two free products: Pentaho’s Kettle for data extract, transform and load (ETL) processes and Tableau’s Public for publishing data visualization. USAID approved a small investment for Tableau’s dashboard development software. The MOE’s Information System’s Directorate Committee, headed by the Minister, later approved the committee’s selection.

Principles Addressed

Design with the user: Stakeholder and end-user involvement comprise the core of the Education Indicators system development process. A Technical Committee, headed by personnel from the Ministry’s Planning Office, was in charge of system design. This included developing the conceptual design of the indicators system and conducting the validation process with education specialists. The committee identified user needs based on its members’ experience, an analysis of historical information requests, a review of other countries’ systems, and international standards. The resulting design underwent validation, first by peers and then by local and international experts. During implementation, potential users were able to provide feedback to the development team through a participatory, iterative, prototyping methodology. The team emphasized usability guidelines in order to better respond to user needs, facilitate system interactions, and improve system adoption. Finally, the team validated the final products by testing them with real users at the central and local level, including policymakers, civil society members, and school administrators.

Outcomes and Lessons Learned

• Designing with the user increases system adoption. Before the current system, only five returning users utilized the provided tools. In the first year of the current system, Google Analytics reported over 12,000 returning users. By the end of the second year, it reported over 60,000 returning users, with an average of 345 visits per day.
• Permanent user feedback channels allow the identification of useful information products. Based on user feedback, the School Report Card was added to the system. After its launch, system visits
per day grew almost 300%.
• The application of usability guidelines during system development permitted broad system adoption without the need to invest in end-user training. Dashboards were developed with
a “zero-friction” principle, which means they were designed with functionality that feels natural. As a result, users do not need special training to begin using the dashboards.
• Users’ unfamiliarity with an active role in product design
• Resistance from IT personnel to allow end-users to participate in the design process
• User participation must permeate the entire design process, not merely a part of any given phase.
• Iterative validation processes are important to understand users’ needs.
• Permanent communication channels are also important because they allow for continuous user feedback.

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