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Making a Rollout Real: USAID’S Development Information Solution (DIS)

How does a single operating unit of USAID, one among the hundreds of missions that exist across the world, organize its program data collection efforts to ensure synchronicity across the enterprise? The lessons I learned at this USAID Mission, let’s call it USAID/X, are applicable not just to other Missions but to any operating unit with USAID headquarters or indeed within any U.S. federal civilian agency. I had the great opportunity to work alongside USAID/X; this is my side of the story.

USAID/X has been the face of the American civilian effort in its country for nearly 60 years. The mission continues to support a diverse program portfolio that embraces citizen security, democracy and governance, economic growth, education, and anti-corruption and transparency. Six decades generate significant data about its efforts. Consequently, when the Mission needed to migrate its data as part of USAID’s centralized Development Information Solution (DIS), it was no small matter.

The migration was part of an Agency-wide effort. USAID designed DIS as a centralized, web-based portfolio management system. DIS is a monumental undertaking to “meet the need for high quality, readily available data by integrating program funding, awards, contract information and development results into a single platform.” It is one among the myriad of management initiatives launched to meet the expectations of an accountable foreign assistance agency, as envisaged in the Foreign Assistance Transparency and Accountability Act (FATAA). DIS addresses systemic issues of multiple sources and platforms and inconsistent reporting within the Agency.

USAID/X was one of hundreds of Missions who needed to “get with the program.” They had a clear mandate: clean, consolidate, and migrate data in a single place; upload to DIS; and maintain and upload data on an ongoing basis. Of course, the work was easier said than done.

Dexis was deeply involved in the design and implementation of DIS for USAID before we entered USAID/X. We had supported the first large-scale test of the new system for one of the major USAID Bureaus and had quickly become familiar with the intricacies of DIS by helping inform and test functionalities, reviewing and providing feedback for written guidance, and coordinating with USAID DIS staff. We offered to assist USAID/X with their data consolidation and migration efforts.

The journey of DIS launch to rollout in the Mission is one with plenty of inspiration and a few cautionary lessons. In the end, the Mission achieved what it had set out to do. In our observation, the foundations the Mission put in place is what made all the difference. Of the various foundational elements, three are especially instructive to any Mission pursuing DIS installations.

Get the Right Folks on the Bus. Given tight schedules and the intricacies involved, no single person could perform the DIS rollout at a Mission by themselves. A successful DIS deployment event with the necessary players in the room helps to clarify roles and expectations from day one. To prepare for its DIS data migration, USAID/X collaborated with the Dexis team to help provide guidance on DIS data migration processes and acquire all necessary information, allowing the Mission to “hit the ground running” with a week-long DIS data onboarding workshop.

Define Clear Outcomes. Creating, articulating, and following all of the necessary processes for effective management of DIS data migration is key. This includes centralizing all DIS-related data, establishing points of contact to manage and complete specific components of DIS data templates, validating data quality assurance, and providing prompt responses to DIS Migration Team comments. Taking these steps allowed USAID/X to provide clear and comprehensive direction to all of its relevant team members and stay on track.

When You Get There, Don’t Stop. DIS is far from a one-time project. It is meant to be an evolving system—with additional modules and functionalities forthcoming—that Missions will continuously use to input and manage complex data toward telling a cohesive story. After completing an initial data migration, Missions need to look ahead and potentially develop customized DIS resources (e.g., a guide) to make system navigation more user-friendly and responsive to their distinct needs (such as creating tailored reports), assist their teams in navigating USAID indicator rules, and support user testing.

Existing DIS resource guide and trainings, while helpful, only take Missions teams so far. By having access to a live guide via Dexis, Mission staff could ask detailed questions and feel more comfortable with the DIS implementation and its implications for them. Working collaboratively, USAID/X and Dexis were able to be adaptive to the Mission’s unique needs, improve efficiencies, and successfully execute DIS data migration in the required timeline.

Such success translates into longer-term sustainability and allows the system to do its job to advance development objectives and help Missions track progress on Country Development Cooperation Strategies. As additional Missions fully embrace DIS, USAID gains a more comprehensive picture of its progress around the world and, in its own words, “provides a more efficient way to document and demonstrate the tremendous value of USAID’s work.”

Steven Armendariz is a Project Associate at Dexis where he supports USAID projects.