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MICS – Taking Evidence-Based Development to the Himalayas

By: Midhat Ali Zaidi 

Gilgit Baltistan – November 2017: “Conducting the Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey in Gilgit Baltistan, a region which has yet to even establish a Bureau of Statistics, did not seem like an idea that could easily be executed,” says Babar Aman Babar, Secretary Planning and Development Gilgit Baltistan. “Today, the Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) has not only become a reality but has also garnered support from residents and policymakers from across Gilgit Baltistan (GB). We hope that the data collected through the MICS, the first ever to be held in the region, will serve as a baseline for evidence based development planning.”
 

MICS team filling the survey questionnaire with participant, Shehraz Fatima and her son Athar Hussain (9 months), in UC Chaltpaeen, Nagar District, Gilgit Baltistan, Pakistan
-- © UNICEF/PAKISTAN/Asad Zaidi

For over 20 years, MICS, an initiative of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), has become the largest source of statistically sound and internationally comparable data on women and children worldwide.  As part of the MICS data collection process, trained fieldwork teams conduct face-to-face interviews with household members on a variety of topics primarily focusing on the situation of children and women. UNICEF on its part supports countries through the process from survey design and data collection to the analysis of results. 

Conducting the survey in GB in itself was a feat given the limited access to and within the region. GB being the northern most territory of Pakistan has an area of 72, 971 square kilometres and is also home to three of the tallest mountain ranges in the world; namely the Himalayas, Karakoram and Hindukush ranges. At the early stages it did not seem viable to reach its“Today, the Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) has not only become a reality but has also garnered support from residents and policymakers from across Gilgit Baltistan (GB)," says Babar Aman Babar, Secretary Planning and Development Gilgit Baltistan residents who tend to live in isolated settlements scattered across 10 districts encased in the harsh mountainous areas. However, due to the determination and hard work of the officials at the GB Planning and Development (P&D) department and the volunteers inducted into survey teams, the GB MICS was successfully executed within the set timeline of 100 days bringing with it data of the highest quality. 

“We are very proud of the work being done by the (survey) teams of youngsters who reached out to households in some of the most difficult to access terrains, that too in such harsh winter conditions,” says Muhammad Nazir Khan, MICS project coordinator at P&D. “Our teams have been going from house to house, sometimes trekking for hours to reach subjects. This initiative and the dedication of survey teams has given the residents of GB hope about government efforts towards building a better future.”


MICS team visits Union Council Chaltpaeen, District Nagar, GB region, Pakistan
-- © UNICEF/PAKISTAN/Asad Zaidi

UNICEF has invested in data collection and supported the transformation of information management on the situation of children and women since 1995. The global MICS programme is at the heart of this investment. Since then, MICS findings have been used extensively by governments worldwide as a basis for policy decisions and programme interventions. 

The MICS programme was a major source of data on the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) indicators and continues to be a major data source in the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) indicators. 

MICS will play a key role in tracking progress towards the elimination of disparities and inequities as part of the SDG indicators due to its equity focused data. While UNICEF and its partners work with national governments to improve the lives of the most vulnerable, MICS produces the requisite data to keep track of the corresponding results.

“Conducting the GB-MICS was by far the most challenging survey I have ever conducted, as we had to start completely from scratch in the region,” says Faateh ud din Ahmad, Planning & Monitoring Officer UNICEF. “During the initial phase, more than 100 people were selected and trained by Master trainers of Planning & Development Department and UNICEF staff. Ten teams, each comprising of five females (3 interviewers, 1 field editor, and 1 measurer) and two males (1 team supervisor, and 1 male interviewer) were deployed to conduct the survey in almost 30 areas in each district, and complete the survey within the allocated 100 days in very difficult terrain and harsh weather.”
 

Saadia (2) stands on the height measuring scale, while her mother Gulzadi speaks to MICS team in UC Damaskhutulki, Ghizer District, GB region, Pakistan
-- © UNICEF/PAKISTAN/Asad Zaidi

Gulzadi and her husband Azizullah live in a remote village of Ghizer District, along with their three children Danish (7), Daniyal (4) and Saadia (2). Their household had been selected for one of the survey clusters. With no government school or hospital in the vicinity, the visit from the MICS team brought hope to this family of the government’s resolve to improve their circumstances.  

“With no healthcare or education available in the area, what choice do my children have other than to become untrained labourers?” asked Gulzadi while responding to the queries of the survey team on basic facilities (or lack thereof) in her village. “We hope that this survey can help us. We live in such a remote area that our problems can never reach the authorities otherwise.”
 

Saadia (2) stands on weighing machine, while her father Azizullah helps the MICS staff in UC Damaskhutulki, Ghizer District, GB region. Pakistan
-- © UNICEF/PAKISTAN/Asad Zaidi

Most people across GB were keen on providing information with the exception of some parts of district Diamer. To the extent that Ayesha Nazir, Assistant Chief P&D (and Technical monitor of survey) had to be sent to the Diamer District where the survey team was unable to appease respondents holding conservative local traditions.
“We faced a most precarious situation when the team reached UC Tangir in Diamir District to conduct the survey,” said Ayesha. “As soon as the surveyors started their vehicles, one of the local mosques started announcing that anyone who cooperated with the MICS staff would be considered an “infidel”. We had to evacuate the area immediately for the safety of the survey team. It was only after extensive social mobilisation efforts that the team was allowed in the area again, and that too with security teams from paramilitary forces accompanying the surveyors.”
 

MICS team collects data from another household in UC Damaskhutulki, Ghizer District, GB region, Pakistan
-- © UNICEF/PAKISTAN/Asad Zaidi

The harsh terrain also presented challenges to data quality. Traditionally the quality assurance exercise is conducted once the data arrives at the data processing unit. However, considering the sparsely located population and thus clusters, it was not feasible to provide the feedback on quality once the survey teams had left a certain area. To overcome this, an innovative approach was adopted. Quality assurance teams along with technical monitors from P&D accompanied each survey team in the field especially in the first two weeks of the field work. This ensured that corrections could be made on the spot, saving time and money, and, also ensured that high quality data reached the data processing unit established at the P&D Department. The extensive use of field check tables by each team including interviewers to report their performance, also provided timely feedback on data quality and ensured anomalies were highlighted and addressed in a timely manner.  As part of field monitoring, debriefing sessions were also organised on a regular basis to discuss the progress, performance, and the challenges during the field operations. Once the data had reached the data processing unit, it was further subjected to a multi-layered and rigorous checking system for the identification of any structural errors before it could be entered in the computer system.
“MICS data is going to be the backbone of development in GB region,” believes Faateh ud din Ahmad, UNICEF. “We will now be able to gauge the average level of education of residents for each district by looking at the statistics collected. This information will address the key impediments to progress and development of the region and the whole country.”

The results of GB-MICS were published and disseminated by the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of GB and well received by government officials. This reflected their motivation to use the data to plan the next Annual Development Plan on the basis of the results. GB-MICS results can be accessed on the following links: www.gilgitbaltistan.gov.pk  or www.mics.unicef.org.

 

 
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