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The identification of national agricultural and SDG constraints with SDGToolkit
Part 2

John Penrose,
International Development Correspondent,

SDGToolkit's Integrated Development Environment

This article is the second part of a description of the analytical tools (ATs) provided by the Due Diligence Design procedure (3DP) of the cloud-based software-as-a-service (SaaS) SDGToolkit system.

If you have not yet read the first part it is worth reading because it explains the key differences between conventional and the SDGToolkit approach to project design and portfolio management.

This article explains aspects of the integration of macroeconomic and sector analyses into a unified process of project design to improve the likelihood of project proposals being aligned with the identified national level SDG imperatives.

This article can be accessed here.

Agenda 2030's Sustainable Development Goals contain many requirements that were previously referred to as cross-cutting issues (XCI). The decade-long OQSI (Open Quality Standards Initiative) review of limitations of existing project cycle guidelines noted that agricultural sector project teams usually experienced difficulties in incorporating XCIs into projects.

Unfortunately, Agenda 2030 has no sector-specific SDGs so there are no common agricultural sector or project reference models to integrate national and project level planning.

However, SDGToolkit's design goes a long way to remedy this problem through its Integrated Development Environment (IDE). This has the specific objective of linking the procedural steps and appropriate analyses of national and project level constraints within a single decision analysis model (see left).

Review of some capabilities of the Global Constraints Analysis (GCA)
All SDGToolkit output
is downloadable
in MS Office formats

The Global Constraints Analysis (GCA) module is the first step in a Due Diligence Design Procedure (3DP). The GCA provides ATs to review national constraints to identify gaps and needs. There is a large number of analytical tools (ATs) in the GCA. Currently 25 and more to be added at the systems update in Q4, with each one generating narrative reports, detailed tabulations and graphic output. As a result to review all of them would result in a very long article. I have therefore split this part of the review into two articles. One describes some details of the layout and functions of the GCA and the second article will show the results, with screen shots of a selected sequence of analyses to identify and quantify some national gaps and needs.

One of the interesting properties of the system is that all modules and ATs come with on board guidance to orientate the user on how to use the system and the types of information required. I used this during this review of the GCA. However, no matter what phase of the project cycle the guidance system provides appropriate support.

The GCA is divided up into stepwise collection of ATs in the following areas of analysis:
  1. Projections for population, output requirements and resources consumption

  2. Analysis of availability of commodity complexes

  3. Economics of unit prices, purchasing power, real incomes and producer margins

  4. Dimensioning of orders of magnitude of target objectives

  5. Sustainability projection tools: carrying capacity

  6. Climate impact projection tools: GHG emissions

This is a relatively advanced set of constraints and policy analysis tools, some of which can produce output which is comparable with the more comprehensive policy analysis documentation content of governments and development organizations. Indeed, from records of internal workshops during the systems development phase, comments from one experienced policy analyst expressed the opinion that the GCA has a more complete set of analyses than those applied by most government planning departments or international development organizations. However, this could be because the required levels of detail on agricultural issues is greater. The GCA enables users to identify and measure the impacts of existing policies on gaps and needs. For example, are gaps generated by policy, natural resources, economic/market factors, or all of them? In terms of needs, do existing policies impede solutions or support them?

The essential roles of analysis, propositions & advocacy

Carrying out adequate constraints analysis helps project teams estimate the cost of impacts of current policies and to therefore estimate the benefits of changing policies. This information can be used to prepare propositions for policy changes or initiatives to raise the feasibility of addressing SDGs. Therefore the GCA approach is a fertile ground for the preparation of responsible positive and constructive advocacy.

The system design priorities

The Analytical Tools Development Centre (ATDC), a design unit at SEEL-Systems Engineering Economics Lab, now manages the design and implementation of all SDGToolkit ATs. Angus Raeburn, the new manager of the ATDC, explained that a considerable amount of investment is being placed on cognitive ergonomic aspects of ATs. This is to make them easy to use but capable of undertaking complex but transparent analyses combined with data validation. The reason for this is to maximize their effectiveness and efficiency and at a lower cost than practitioners using conventional methods of analysis. The cost-effectiveness of SDGToolkit as a whole is following a downward trajectory as the design team continues to learn how to refine their work according to the cumulative experience in handling an increasing array of ATs and customer demands.

Raeburn gave me a couple of old poster images of the theory behind the system which they developed for their system, 16 years ago. I have displayed these on the left and on the right. Raeburn says that SEEL has thrived on ever more complex new challenges since its foundation in 1983,

"In completing tasks in response to demands, there is learning. With increasing complexity, learning and experience make innovation possible. It is a never-ending voyage of discovery."

In the following article I will present a comparison of the time I took, as an individual, to complete 9 relatively complex tasks within a day with SEEL's benchmarks which determine how long these would have been taken by a team of experts; notice my output is compared with a team of experts. I have worked with online systems for agriculture now for over 20 years I have not come across such a large collection of useful analytical tools (ATs) within a single integrated service.

Expensive international visit-based consultancy and technical support was not only eclipsed by Covid-19 but, in the very near future, it seems to me, that SDGToolkit's remote delivery of digital intelligence solutions is likely to provide the preferred and better solution for policy makers, development organizations, governments and project teams in low income countries.

Images in this article

To facilitate the placement of screen shots of SDGToolkit dialogs on this web page, their side white space areas were removed reducing their width, and by moving blue header contents (menus and symbols) towards the centre in the resulting images. In general, some dialogs presented may differ from future versions because of SDGToolkit's proactive review and improvement policy. In fact, during the course of this evaluation three new ATs were added and one, which had become redundant, was removed. This changed menu lists. This continuing process maintains backwards compatibility but is applied to all 3DP modules to advance the utility of the overall SDGToolkit provision. This process is based on feedback from stakeholders and the cumulative applied agricultural project experience of the SDGToolkit team.

Accessing the GCA

To get to the GCA dialog page and menu there is a double security check because users need to have been authorized by their organizations. One security check (name and PIN) permits access to the platform and a second one (name and another PIN) checks a user's access rights to change any data linked to a project. Where a specific project is not identified then all ATs can be accessed and results identified by specific autogenerated IDs.

The initial systems menu is the "Access to toolkit Design Library", as shown below. The menus link to ATs which users can input data to generate output. By altering data inputs other optional information series can be generated. All runs or scenarios are time-stamped and assigned an ID and saved in an Accumulog (immutable database segment). Therefore all options are retained for later reference in a central Project Memory.

Menu used to access modules to add data

At the top of this dialog there is a button, "Real Time Monitoring & Evaluation" highlighted in the screen shot in green. By clicking on this, the user gains access to another dialog, "Access to toolkit RTME Library". This the "the on-demand analysis and reporting system for the whole project cycle. This dialog is shown below. This is unlikely to be used at this stage except to recover different projections which have been generated using GCA ATs. In fact the SDGToolkit team used this to evaluate my efforts; I deal with this in the next article.

The RTME provides on-demand access at any point in the project cycle to examine all scenario options and design logic using subsequent tools in the 3DP (to be reviewed in later articles) generated on any project. The scope of oversight can be seen from the RTME dialog menu items. These include results from SDGToolkit's "internal evaluation" procedures covering design (2 & 3), the project plan (4), feedback from proposal assessors (4), operational decisions and their outcomes (5), operational task performance (6) and adjustments introduced to ensure post-funding sustainability (7).

This system can be used by authorized oversight personnel such as donor portfolio managers, the project team's organization management and in some cases government agency personnel overseeing government financed project programmes, as well as team members and other stakeholders.

Menu used to access real time monitoring & evaluation system
for on demand analysis and reporting on any project detail

Currently, the GCA AT library contains 25 ATs and the following stages of analysis in the 3DP at the project level includes some 55 ATs.

Screen shot of GCA menu

In Part3 - the next article

In the next article which I will post during this week (09/08/2021-13/08/2021), I will progress through a sequence where I complete the following analyses with each one presenting a summary report consisting of a narrative, detailed tabulations and graphs. I will report on how long these took to complete and the relative savings when compared with coventional task benchmarks maintained by the ATDC at SEEL.

  1. Generate population projections separating out younger cohorts

  2. Create commodity balance sheets to find out the degree of national self-sufficiency in needed commodities

  3. Calculate per capita food consumption levels to identify and measure the size of deficits

  4. Based on the above, project the future national requirements for specific foods linked to required target per capita consumption levels

  5. Work out the areas of land required to achieve different levels of self-sufficiency for critical commodities

  6. Determine the projections of real incomes or purchasing power of middle and lower income segments for food items

  7. Work out the minimum prices that provide farmers with a compensatory profit

  8. Assess policy provision options, if needed, to marry up purchasing power of lower income segments to unit prices that sustain viable agricultural production of critical commodities

  9. Dimension the national priority gaps and needs in terms of the required programme size

Posted: 20210809
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