One of the indicators on the Poverty Stoplight survey that is filled in by participants.

Measuring progress with Poverty Stoplight

“Some donors were asking for more impact evaluation, but we didn’t have a way of measuring it on a regular basis.”

That’s SaveAct contracts manager Isabel Arzeno, explaining part of the reason why the organisation has started using a tool called Poverty Stoplight (PSL).  She adds that it was also important that the tool was useful for savings group members. “We found that too, as PSL allows the family to see its progress out of poverty,” she says.

Developed by a Paraguayan micro-credit NGO in 1985, PSL describes itself as a practical self-evaluation tool that allows families to diagnose their level of poverty and quality of life, as the first step in personal development. The tool is now used in countries around the world, including South Africa where there is an office.

The tool functions as an app whereby members take a visual survey to produce a poverty map that allows them to see the details of their circumstances on a dashboard. Families select images, categorized as red, yellow or green, that resemble their reality for each poverty indicator. Through geo-tagging capabilities, the app generates poverty maps for entire communities, allowing stakeholders to make targeted efforts and to better channel resources in a joint effort to eliminate poverty and map livelihood changes across regions.

Twelve SaveAct staff members received training to use PSL in November last year. “We wanted to see if staff liked it and if it was easy to apply,” says Arzeno. “The tool involves using a long survey that takes around two hours to complete, so we needed their support. There was a range of staff at the session and we observed how they engaged with it.”

In February Lindelwa Majola and Mmasema Pharoe were sent to train with African Honey Bee, who have been using PSL for two years, and the two staffers got the chance to use the survey in the field.

“They were comfortable using it and we are now training more people in smaller groups, starting with four in Eastern Cape. They will do surveys and train others. We will expand training in that way,” says Arzeno.

The survey covers a range of areas including income, health, environment, housing, education, civic participation and self-awareness. Families are selected randomly to participate and in the survey, which is done on a tablet.

The survey is available in Zulu, Xhosa, Sotho, English and Afrikaans and the same form is used in other parts of the world, with data recorded on tablets and uploaded to the web where it can be viewed via a map. This makes the tool especially valuable for organisations working in similar sectors.

“It helps us to see what improvements we’re adding to the community, and it also helps to identify problems so that we can find a solution,” says AHB logistics manager, William Mavuso.

An example he gives is where water issues show up on the map in an area, and AHB can then approach relevant municipal structures for help. Other examples are where a family is struggling with alcohol abuse, or a person is too ill to access medication.

AHB has 250 participants who all fill in the survey once a year. Mavuso says there have been no negative reactions because people are free to participate and benefit from being involved.

“When we give them their results they can see what they are lacking and why.” Conversely, people also see how their lives are improving.

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