E-Recording Reaches Rwanda! (Part 1)
Wednesday, March 19, 2014 at 9:58AM
Chris Glenn

World Relief decided to start piloting the e-Recording app in Rwanda. It is an Android smart phone app, developed by FSD Kenya, designed to eliminate the traditional ledger and passbook system, moving savings into the digital age. The app performs all the record keeping and calculation functions of the group, including recording attendance, savings, issuing loans and loan repayments, and social fund contributions. It also instantly calculates share-out amounts for each member. All information is saved both locally on the phone as well as in the Cloud allowing the data to be accessed remotely. It certainly has its advantages such as speed and accuracy of data input and calculation. It also records every transaction of the group allowing for more data to be recorded and sent virtually to the facilitating organization leading to easier, faster and cheaper group analysis.

I was tasked with implementing this pilot project and approached the app with a level of pessimism. My main issue revolved around a perceived loss of transparency. I was a little weary of shifting the record keeping from a passbook to a tiny touch screen. With a passbook, multiple group members can watch and confirm that the share amount is being inputted correctly, but a smart phone in the hands of the record keeper limits the amount of people able to view what is happening during the meeting. This would limit transparency and increase the likelihood of error. There are clearly positives and negatives to moving away from the passbook system and embracing e-Recording, but it is important to try it out and see the effects for ourselves which is the reason for this pilot.

The pilot would just target one group to try and gauge how the members would react to the change. We chose a mature group that was just about to start their fourth cycle. Choosing a group with a good understanding of our Savings for Life methodology would allow us to get feedback from the group as to which method they preferred. We would run the e-Recording app parallel with the manual system to make sure that the e-Recording is being used properly and have a back-up in case the e-Recording app wasn’t received well. We had given the smartphone to one of our Field Officers before the starting the pilot to let him become familiar with it so that he could train the group. I watched as he struggled to use the touch screen as this was clearly his first time using a smart phone, but he was excited to see how it worked. I went through the app with him a few times then left him alone to see if he could navigate the app by himself. I returned three hours later to find that he had gone from having trouble signing in to the app to simulating an entire cycle to get the full effect of the app. He displayed that he truly understood the app and said he was ready to start training the group. Seeing him interact with the app and how quickly he learned to use it gave me hope that it could be understood by the group; subsiding much of the pessimism I had on how user friendly it would be for group members that had never used a smart phone before.

Last week we went to the savings group to start the pilot. Unfortunately we had trouble accessing the app; a problem that we later discovered was the phone’s fault and not the apps. We had to postpone the pilot and let the group start their cycle using the traditional method of record keeping. Although we were unable to start the pilot we did learn quite a bit by introducing the app to them and getting their initial feedback.

Originally we were hoping to get by without translating the app into English. We chose a group near the city hoping to find a group member who understood basic English and could use the app. However, there was no one with the necessary level of English comprehension in the group and now it seems a bit unrealistic to expect that in any group. We currently do not have the budget to get the app translated into Kinyarwanda so we are going to try and make do with English. While it is not ideal we should be able to get some indication of how well the app will work.

Another area we were able to learn from was where to store the phone between meetings. We had the dilemma of whether to put it in the lock box or have it stay with the Field Officer. We settled on keeping it in the lock box, but when talking with the group they wanted the Field Officer to keep it. Their primary concern was a fear of it being stolen which is interesting because this is the same place that the members are storing all their hard-earned savings so they should trust its security. Clearly keeping the phone with the trainer wouldn’t work long term, because the trainer does not attend every meeting. There also is the problem of needing to charge the phone between meetings which would need to be addressed if the phone were to be kept in the box.

Discovering these issues early on will allow us to revamp our approach. So while not being able to pilot it this week was a setback it did provide us with valuable information. We hope to have the app translated so that we can re-launch our pilot and hopefully find out if e-Recording is a technology that should be pursued farther. I hope to keep everyone informed as we move forward with our pilot and share what we have learned as a result.  

Article originally appeared on Savings Revolution (http://savings-revolution.com/).
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