The Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting breakdown of the economy & mobility have created a humanitarian and livelihoods crisis of enormous scale and complexity. There is great uncertainty not only regarding ill-health/mortality (nature of the community transmission of the virus, capacity of healthcare system) but also regarding consequent patterns of hunger/destitution (supply systems, access) as well as deep economic insecurity (loss of livelihoods, absence of financial support). These problems are of heightened concern for socio-economically vulnerable individuals, families and communities. While governments, civil society organisations (CSOs) and individuals are responding in unprecedented ways, the uncertainties (regarding patterns of ill-health/mortality, hunger/destitution, deep economic insecurity) are hampering response efforts. Given limited resources and capacities, what should be the focus of response efforts? Which issues, which population groups, which geographic areas (keeping in mind that the answers might change over time as the situation evolves)? The answers to these are critical for macro and micro response efforts and overall outcomes. Response efforts can be greatly enhanced and sharpened if credible, consistent, comparable information of the on-ground situation is available at the granular level for different parts of the country and for different points in time. That is, information about micro-regions, over time, regarding critical issues faced by vulnerable groups, and focused on health/mortality, hunger/destitution & deep economic insecurity.
1. To generate data on the evolving humanitarian situation in different geographic areas in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, on one common & comparable platform.
2. To use these data to guide response in specific geographic areas and on specific humanitarian & livelihoods issues (especially identifying gaps and emerging needs) by CSOs, governments, media and funders.
Issues of focus
Many important aspects of daily life will continue to be adversely affected by Covid-19 in the short/medium term. But for reasons of focus and logistics, the I-CARD prioritises three basic issues affecting the humanitarian and livelihoods situation.
1. The greatest focus is on immediate essentials for survival (food, water, shelter, healthcare, financial support).
2. Next, the Dashboard will also collect some limited information on livelihoods since sustainability and eventual wind-up of Covid response depend on the ability of livelihoods to bounce back.
3. Finally, the Dashboard will also collect information on support from the community, institutions and state (social harmony / tensions, NGOs activities, local government activities).
What I-CARD is not designed to do
Since the Dashboard is intended as a form of quick information collection on a limited number of big picture issues at the block/ward-cluster level (but with high credibility and validity of the information collected), it is important to note its limits. Specifically, it will not:
Go beyond the focus on immediate essentials, livelihoods and support (see survey questions and discussion) to other areas of interest such as environment, education, etc.
Explain patterns across issues within a block / ward-cluster, patterns across blocks / ward-clusters or patterns across time – rather, the Dashboard will only provide monthly snapshots of issues at the block/ward-cluster level. Explanation of patterns would need further follow-up on specific issues.
I-CARD will not Identify...
Specific bastis or households within blocks/ward-clusters where more attention is needed (however, further follow-up can generate such information beyond the Dashboard)
Detailed operational bottlenecks (eg, specific issues at a specific ration shop or PHC)
Details of credible respondents (organisations, individuals) in specific geographic areas to channel funds etc
Why block / ward-cluster as a unit?
In principle, a response strategy may be largely individual/household-based or largely place-based. Vulnerable individuals/households typically cluster in contiguous spaces (neighbourhoods of a town, blocks of a district, etc). Further, with the important exception of direct cash transfer through digital means, many support strategies involve physical travel, communication and group coordination/activity (for example, disbursing food and medical supplies or setting up livelihoods programmes). For these reasons, place-based strategies are crucial.
In a place-based strategy, while vulnerable regions can be identified, typically each such region will itself have some sub-geographies that are more vulnerable than others. Given this complexity, and given that the government’s development administrative block is the basic unit for government support systems (and adopted by most NGOs as well), I-CARD takes blocks as the primary place-based units for a support strategy. However, for big cities, I-CARD uses ward-clusters as the place-based units (see below).
Why distinguish rural from urban?
Often, rural areas are more self-contained, have more dispersed populations and are less dependent on the state or wider markets for humanitarian needs such as food, water and shelter, so response strategies are likely to be different in rural and urban areas. Their livelihoods and in/out-migration patterns also differ. For rural areas, I-CARD uses the block as the primary place-based unit. I-CARD also uses the block as unit for small towns (separately collecting information for urban areas in blocks where at least a third of the population was classified as urban in the last Census). In the case of big cities, I-CARD uses ward-clusters specific to each city. A separate Urban Questionnaire is deployed for urban areas of blocks and for ward-clusters of big cities.
Why collect information frequently?
For each place-based unit (block, ward-cluster), I-CARD collects information on a monthly basis. This is important as both the humanitarian and the livelihoods situation of a block or ward-cluster can differ over short periods of time, and ideally response strategies should dovetail with the evolving situation. Separately, it also allows identification of places where the situation is stagnant over time compared to others where improvements occur, and specific response strategies can potentially be made for such places.
Why collect information on a broad set of issues?
I-CARD aims to present information about the economic and social situation with a focus on vulnerable populations in blocks and ward-clusters. The focus is on critical humanitarian and livelihoods issues and I-CARD covers only such issues (food & water, basic healthcare, situation of poor migrants, livelihoods/earnings distress for the poor, access to cash and credit and social tensions). Though they may appear to be a wide swathe, all of these tend to be highlighted by media reports and on-the-ground experience. Therefore, coverage of these issues produces a holistic picture of the situation of vulnerable individuals and families.
Why use block / ward-cluster experts?
Many information collection efforts focus on household surveys, and these are yielding important findings about the current situation. However, for I-CARD’s strategy focused on blocks and ward-clusters and with a focus on vulnerable groups, the approach of household surveys will require block sample sizes that add up to a very large number of households that would not be feasible to survey with a relatively quick turnaround even once, let alone with monthly frequency. For instance, even the India Human Development Survey (IHDS), with a sample of over 40,000 households, could not produce district-level estimates despite covering 382 of India’s 612 districts in 2001. Further, for generating representative, random samples, it is difficult to construct a sampling frame with information about vulnerable households (whose locations, contact and overall situation tend to be more unstable compared to other households), made more difficult by the fluidities triggered by Covid and lock-down. In the face of all these difficulties, I-CARD eschews household surveys and instead focuses on block / ward-cluster experts for credible information of the respective localities. There are difficulties involved in this approach as well and I-CARD has sought to attend to these (see discussion of validity).
Why not collect numeric information?
The information collected is based on the block / ward-cluster expert’s “opinion”. This is open to critiques of inconsistent subjectivity and lack of credibility, and the typical alternative is collection of numeric information. For instance, on the issue of whether PDS / ration shops are open, I-CARD asks the expert to answer this at the block-level based on a simple 3-point scale (“mostly open”, “somewhat open”, “mostly not open”). The numeric alternative would be to ask the expert how many days the ‘average shop’ was open in the previous two weeks and how many hours the ‘average shop’ was open on an ‘average day’ in the previous two weeks (since we are collecting monthly information). This would need considerable, precise information collection and processing by the expert (across the shops in the blocks, the days of the week and the hours of the days) month on month, a matter that even the Civil Supplies administrator for ration shops might find impossible to do, especially in the present situation with its fluidity. Further, even if the corresponding numeric information could be fished out in a timely manner from administrative records, there are reasons to doubt its credibility. And this is an example of one of the ‘simpler’ questions for which I-CARD collects information. Furthermore, the expert needs to provide information across a swathe of issues (food, livelihoods, access to cash, healthcare, etc) while also typically working a hectic field job; these factors further limit their ability to provide more detailed credible information.
Therefore, given all these difficulties with aggregating numeric information at the level of the block or ward-cluster, I-CARD has opted to invest in getting credible information, impressionistic though it may seem to be, from experts who are chosen precisely because they have a strong, credible sense of the ground-level situation in that locality. Acknowledging the trade-off between detail / precision and credibility / confidence in the information, I-CARD emphasizes the latter (credibility / confidence) even if it yields less detail / precision in the corresponding information. (Exploring this trade-off, I-CARD also experimented with finer-grained scales before arriving at the 3-point scale.) In many cases, the experts are ready and eager to consult others in their networks before arriving at credible information. I-CARD is also adopting various validity checks in order to address the critique of potential arbitrary subjectivity and bias involved in this strategy (see discussion of validity). I-CARD’s strategy is similar to that adopted by several well-known, ambitious international exercises in collecting information through similar routes (for instance, see Transparency International, Freedom House and Young Lives)
Much of the information in I-CARD is not overly ‘sensitive’, being in the nature of experts’ judgement of the situation that is both visible and widely known locally. Nevertheless, I-CARD assures confidentiality as the information on the dashboard cannot be tracked to specific experts and the I-CARD team will follow the ethical protocol of not divulging information regarding identity of experts. I-CARD does not collect information on specific individuals or families; further, while the focus is on vulnerable groups, the information collected is not about the specifics of each such group, and therefore cannot be traced in ways that may violate the principle of anonymity. Further, none of the information is a judgment or criticism of the performance of particular individuals or organisations. For instance, on the question of whether PDS / ration shops are open, an answer of “somewhat open” or “mostly not open” should not be interpreted as direct criticism of the corresponding government agency or its personnel as there could be several, complex reasons that may be outside the direct control of the agency or its personnel; I-CARD is not designed to provide “explanations” or identify “causal factors” but instead focuses on providing a ‘snapshot’ of the current situation. I-CARD leaves it to better informed and more capable professionals in government and CSOs to probe as needed to craft appropriate responses based on the snapshot provided.
Respondents [Block Experts]
Our respondents (block experts) are people from the respective geographies, actively working in the region with sound understanding of various aspects of the block (demographics, socio-economic conditions and humanitarian aspects including food, shelter, livelihood, health, and community). They are on-boarded through a careful due diligence process starting from a recommendation by a known credible source (CSOs, Philanthropy, Activists, Partners), followed by a profiling call.
We try to ensure that our respondents have -
past experience (at least 6 months) in the block including frequent travel within the block
significant information networks within the block
no known strong sectarian biases (caste, religion, gender);
ability to provide dependable quality, unbiased information
We are thankful to our block respondents for providing information without any monetary/in-kind compensation and rendering a very valuable social service.
To cover more geographies (block, districts, states) we need volunteers (block respondents) who are willing to spare 60 minutes of their valuable time every month talking to our team members to provide information about their blocks. If you or your organisation would like to join us in our efforts, do write to us at icard @apu.edu.in.
I-CARD being a public initiative, we would be happy to review and clarify our course of action. Please feel free to write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org for any information, clarification, feedback, inquiry or comment.
We look forward to your feedback.