Decision analysis as a basis for more effective agricultural innovation
Part 4: The cloud-based decision analysis tool box
1. Due diligence
Our core team applications experience over the last 50 years has been in agricultural and economic development project identification, design, management and evaluation. As a result of this experience it is apparent that there is a wide range of practice, in spite of existing guidelines. There is often a lack of balance in the types of information used to design projects. Our approach with Navatec System is to apply a due diligence project design procedure to identify all of the relevant factors that need to be considered to ensure that the relevant information is collected. The due diligence procedures are not a simple tick box list. Each procedure is accompanied by methods of data specification, collection and analysis.
This is of importance in the case of small teams that lack the full complement of disciplines required to design complex projects or in the case of younger less experienced team members where we can complement this with training and mentoring input through our partners at STRIDES or through our IT team. This approach is essential to ensure adequate information is made available to support project design and decision analysis model simulation to identify the best project options.
1.(i) Stakeholder participation
Currently, the degree to which stakeholders are involved in project design and execution varies significantly. At the extreme we have even encountered project proposals where the listed stakeholders were unaware of the fact their names were on a project application for funding. Direct stakeholder participation is an imperative in terms of securing project design relevance and quality. A project management system must facilitate a productive stakeholder involvement throughout a project's life cycle. The initial identification of gaps and needs involves stakeholders directly. Details of their involvement in final project design are covered in items 2. (ii)-(iv), below.
1. (ii) Higher level development goals
There are risks associated with the presumptions that higher level development goals necessarily reflect the specific circumstances of a particular community; they invariably don't. Each community, or the mix of stakeholders involved in a value chain, face very specific gaps in provisions and have needs which need to be exposed analysed and prioritized by the stakeholders so as to place general goals such as Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) or Country Strategies in an objective context. Where these do have role is covered in item (iv)
1. (iii) Gaps and needs analysis
The first step in the due diligence design procedures is gaps and needs analysis. Even if it is assumed that the objective and methods of a project are known, the results of gaps and needs analysis provide the basic justification to donors that the project will address a relevant need.
In Navatec System due diligence recommendations are designed to avoid the common presumption that gaps can be identified as processes. Emphasis is given to the identification and measurement of gaps in provisions expressed as nouns and not as verbs. Verbs involve processes which presume that the gaps have been identified and assessed and the process, a solution, is the gap. This is an important distinction emphasized by Roger Kaufman1.
With the constant advance of knowledge and state-of-the-art in technology and techniques, it is risky to assume solutions before identifying gaps. One role of decision analysis is to review the full range of available technologies and techniques in order to identify feasible options from which to select the most appropriate as the basis for a project's initial plan.
1. (iv) Constraints analysis & the feasibility envelope
The due diligence procedures on gaps and needs identify the issues that stakholders wish to resolve, largely by closing gaps. This process provides a good foundation for a transparent stakeholder involvement in coming up with an agreed list of prioritized needs. The next step in due diligence is constraints analysis. This is used to identify and determine the degree to which several existing factors (see the box on the right) will impose limitations on the ability to close gaps and satisfy needs. This analysis results in a dimensioned feasible operational envelope that combines all of the ranges of project constraints which can have up to 100 data elements associated with them.
During this phase of a project design the significance of the ranges of impacts of factors is not always fully apparent; it can be confusing. However, the relative quantitative impacts of the different types of constraint become clear when Monte Carlo Simulation is applied to the baseline design in the simulation phase (see Item 2.).
1. (v) OEA-Organizational Elements Analysis
The baseline initial project solution and model make up what is referred to as a micro-OEA and the external broader model is referred to as a macro-OEA because it is extended from the immediate vicinity of a project though different arranged organizational elements up to national level.
This apporach is useful in order to place such elements as SDGs and Country Strategic Plans in context in the Macro-OEA while the essential workings, solutions, resource requirements, and budget remain in the micro-OEA.
Depending upon a project focus there are comprehensive OEAs which are particularly detailed in the macroeconomic analysis as well as normal OEAs which have a simpler format. In both cases the micro-OEAs containing the basic project design, remain the same in each case..can be found here
2. (i) Methods
The baseline model is used to complete simulations of the operational options of project setup, implementation and operations1. Simulation helps select specific decision-maker preferences such as unit costs, timing, quantity of project throughput, quality of output, alternative budgets and the associated risk with each solution.
Some of the most relevant simulation techniques, Monte Carlo Simulation, linear programming & Markov chains, have been discussed in Part 1 and 2 of this series.
2. (ii) Instructional simulation
Simulation has an associated role as a means whereby a team and stakeholders can gain a refined and comprehensive insight into a project's resilience to change and to review the relative benefits and drawbacks of any proposed changes in basic design or conditions. The process of probing different "scenarios" by having the simulation process answer questions of the type:
"what is the likely outcome if factor X in increased, decreased or has a given range of possible values?".
Such questions should come from team members and stakeholders and on occasions from donors.
This reiterative decision analysis cycle is interesting and a very valuable basis for improving team and stakeholder understanding of their project design, based on instructional simulation2. It is difficult to over-estimate the value of simulation in helping all involved by answering every question raised and to end up with a team and stakeholders with an excellent understanding of the project's feasible options.
2. (iii) Stakeholder components
From our experience, stakeholder involvement in many conventionally designed projects has tended to be somewhat ephemeral consisting, at best, of mainly of facilitated participatory workshops. However, we have witnessed in some cases that the facilitators concerned came with preconceived ideas and agenda and even excluded the consideration of certain types of impact analyses or constraints which represented sensitive topics for some parties. However, to be impartial and to complete competent review of options to an adequate professional standard it is essential to accept that stakeholders have an essential role in assessing simulation outcomes. This way the full range of consequences of selected feasible designs can be better understood.
Although the constraints analysis collects all of the relevant constraints information, in practice, stakeholder practical experience in the project environment is invaluable in fine tuning final feasible expectations. In order for stakeholders to provide effective inputs they need to possess some ownership of parts of the design process. Therefore Navatec System provides a practical interface for stakeholders through the creation of decision analysis models that extend upstream and downstream of the project's value chain as well as providing analysis of the immediate project level community aspects. Through these mechanisms the stakeholder contributions and judgements can be made more explicit, be taken into account and documented.
Project design and implementation phases need to allow oversight by investors, donors, stakeholders, executing agency management, project managers, team members and evaluators. All should have a secure but convenient access to different aspects of a project activities and performance.
3. (i) Real time audit
Navatec Systems makes effective use of the W3 communications and access protocols to provide a real time monitoring system in the form of a Real Time Audit (RTA) with a global reach. The supportive components allow authorised users to access the system from any location, including using a mobile, to drill down to the specific information they require in any project in any location, in a few clicks.
The granularity of this process is facilitated by the programming and database structural approach applied (see Items 4 and 5).
4. Logic & language
The logic used to express how a model is built and operates is an application of human reason, logic and deduction. The way human deduce and reason as was described as a mathematical logic in 1854 by George Boole in his book entitled, "The Laws of Thought". This work provided the rationale and methodology for reducing complex logical relationships to a smaller set of simpler relationships which are able to reproduce all of the possible relationships from which the set was derived2. Boolean logic remains the fundamental linguistic and mathematical logic of all computer programming.
The process of decision analysis model building for project design is a challenge in scripting reality. The better the emulation of reality the more effective will be the contribution of this process in identifying feasible projects. This involves an analysis of relationships and the translation of these into code or scripts. To date the most effective basis for doing this is the object oriented approach to programming (OOP). Indeed, simulation of reality was the reason OOP was developed in the first place by Kristen Nygaard and Ole-Johan Dahl in the 1960s at the Norwegian Computer Centre in Oslo1.
A paradox is that many programmers see OOP as just another paradigm as opposed to being a fundamentally important basis for building simulation models. OOP identifies phenomena as objects (people, animate and inanimate things, flora and fauna) which have specific properties or attributes (dimensions, weight, colour etc) and methods (what the objects can do or how they carry out these actions or the response of objects to impacts of other phenomena on that object). This basic description enables any real world phenomena to be described and coded as a computer-based simulation model. In reality, there is no need for people to have to program in a computer language but it is useful to know the basics of the object oriented approach which, in any case, like Boolean logic and deduction, it is how we model relationships mentally.
The Navatec System builds object oriented decision analysis models automatically based on the information collected by the due diligence procedures. This makes this process a smooth seamless operation for users. All of the simulations and analyses of impacts of potential changes run on these models.
5. Datasets & structures
The basic requirement in decision analysis is the identification of the required information to build and run a decision analysis model used to analyse and optimize project designs. This has three basic components:
Following gaps, needs and constraints analysis, dataset requirements and specifications can be determined making use of a Data Reference Model (DRM) developed at SEEL and now an OQSI recommendation. This is a relatively simple structure that relates required information to a process and method of calculation to the basic dataset requirement. Although DRMs are a device applied in Navatec System model building, users only have to complete the due diligence processes information input because these are structured on DRMs. The process is simple and seamless.
In the case of agricultural and natural resources systems a refinement can often be added by applying Locational State Theory considerations to data. These can reflect the normal locational state adjustments that occur on a cyclic basis each year and/or daily. Locational State Theory has an important role is explaining why data on natural phenomena changes according to well-defined deterministic relationships. These can be built into models and simulations. In this way statistical sampling calculations can be adjusted to include a larger proportion of variance in the "explained variance" bin and thereby enabling better estimates of risk and uncertainty and an improved capability to predict changes that can impact project performance.
6. Project sustainability factors
6. (i) Managing the impacts of change
There are two types of major impact on the performance of projects during implementation. These are:
The relationships between external and internal changes were explained in Part 3 of this series under "impact cascades".
6. (ii) Management economy
A priority objective in cloud-based project cycle and portfolio management systems is to minimize the costs of entry and ongoing utilization of the system. This has a major contribution to make to the ability of organizations to maintain the operation of a sophisticated project cycle and portfolio management system. To achieve this Navatec System combines the following set of provisions:
The fee-based model applied by Navatec System is one of the most efficient and effective in this field and this is described in an additional article to this series entitled: "Paying for successful projects".
NOTE: This reference section is being updated; publication authorised in order for this article to cross-relate to others already posted
Missing references relate mainly to Organizational Elements Analyis.
1 Curtis Franklin Jr. - 11 Programming Languages That Lost Their Mojo - Programming languages come and go. Here are 11 that have given up the spotlight to more modern options. https://www.informationweek.com/it-life/11-programming-languages-that-lost-their-mojo/d/d-id/1321678?