Given the scale, complexity, and standardized nature of survey operations, how does The DHS Program center local priorities, strengthen local capacity, and build equitable partnerships throughout the survey process?
Looking into the mirror: recognizing our positionality
As the capacity strengthening partners on The DHS Program, EnCompass staff spend time thinking about how to reinforce the capacity of in-country partners to implement DHS Program surveys and use and share data with local stakeholders. We, along with DHS Program staff, also spend time thinking about the legacy of colonialism on global health and research, how colonial power hierarchies might be reflected in our work, and what we can do about it. Why? Can colonial legacies really impede local capacity strengthening efforts? Yes. By recognizing that western ways of thinking, knowing, and doing are not neutral but have been historically positioned as superior, we identify how we can decenter western ways and realize a capacity strengthening approach that is built on equitable partnerships and inclusivity.
Over the past two years we have engaged our in-country implementing partners and DHS Program staff in discussions on how power imbalances show up in our work and how we can apply a decolonial lens to ensure different ways of doing and knowing are equally valued. As a result, together we co-created The DHS Program’s mission and values. The DHS Program is committed to appreciating the diversity of perspectives, ensuring transparency, fostering accountability through co-creation, cultivating mutual respect through power sharing and joint decision making, and centering inclusion.
Putting values into practice: The DHS Program’s capacity strengthening approach
Our values are reflected in our approach to capacity strengthening. First, capacity assessments are conducted at the start of the survey process. Since 2018, capacity assessments have supported 20 survey implementing agencies to identify their strengths and capabilities to implement a DHS Program survey. The capacity assessment process emphasizes partnership to strengthen local priorities and enhance equity in the following ways:
1. The capacity assessment process is participatory. Discussions about capacity strengthening begin during the design stage of a survey. The DHS Program’s capacity assessment tool (CAT) collects information on the implementing agency’s capacity to carry out all components of a DHS survey, enables the implementing agency to conduct a self-assessment, and serves as the foundation for discussions. The CAT’s institutional capacity component was informed by several organizational capacity assessment tools, including the USAID’s NUPAS (Non-U.S. Organization Pre-Award Survey). After completing the CAT, the implementing agency and DHS Program discuss and jointly agree on capacity strengthening goals and plans. The same process is followed at the end of a DHS Program survey, allowing the implementing agency another opportunity to self-reflect and assess progress.
2. The capacity assessment process uses a strengths-based approach to build on existing capacities. The CAT identifies existing strengths the implementing agency can build on and opportunities for the implementing agency to stretch into new capabilities. The CAT scoring matters less than the process of reflection whereby strengths, and ways to leverage them, are identified. Taking this appreciative approach, a hallmark of Encompass’s work, sets the tone for an equitable partnership, one that is based on mutual respect and understanding of what each party brings to the table.
3. The capacity assessment process tailors approaches to local priorities. Discussions about capacity strengthening priorities take place throughout the survey process, and decisions about which capacities to focus on and which approaches to use are made jointly and based on the priorities of the implementing agency.
Beyond survey capacity assessments, The DHS Program promotes equity and ensures inclusivity through other capacity strengthening activities. For example, The DHS Program offers many open online courses, free and available to anyone worldwide on The DHS Program Learning Hub. The DHS Program also offers a certification program to consultants who provide technical assistance to DHS Program surveys worldwide. The South-to-South consultant certification program facilitates continuous enhancement of skills and capabilities, resource sharing, and multi-directional learning. Learn more on The DHS Program Capacity Strengthening page.