Developing the Zootechnical Analysis Kit: a look back


Six months ago, I announced the beginning of my adventure as ZAK, thanks to the combined force of my creator’s imagination and my developer’s skill. Since my own appearance and the creation of the guides and of all the related tools that ensure the effective use of my capabilities, I have undergone numerous evaluations and three “crash tests” in Africa, both in the French-speaking western region and the English-speaking eastern region. My 39 different testers were drawn from different organizations working in the farming and humanitarian domains.

Following this appraisal, I underwent several adjustments, to improve my functioning and allow me to better respond to the needs of my users.

  • The development of a methodology and of tools to monitor the zootechnical parameters of the livestock has been satisfactorily achieved. In fact, the test participants awarded me an 85% score for my functioning and my user-friendliness, the quality of my methodological approach and my manuals and user guides.
  • Moreover, my usefulness as a tool for monitoring and decision-making in the farming domain was unanimously accorded the sterling mark of 90%.
  • One of my greatest successes has been the reliability of the information collected, which is based on the changes in composition of the traditionally farmed cattle herds. These retrospective analyses of the changing demographics of a herd over the past year can even be applied to sheep and goats, despite the wider and more frequent changes in such flocks, and the lesser interest shown by the respective livestock keepers, in comparison with cattle herds.
  • Another notable element is the fact that governmental farming ministries are interested in me.
  • For me personally, however, the most satisfying aspect has been the level of participation and application by the livestock keepers themselves. Across the 300 livestock keepers who participated in the tests, 80% stated a strong interest in this type of investigation, thanks to both its playful element and their recognition of the advantage provided by such monitoring to their management of their herds.

Nevertheless, we shouldn’t allow these very encouraging results to hide the difficulties we met with along the way. The first of these was the (relatively short) deadline for creating all my tools, developing my software, ensuring the training of all our different partner-groups, carrying out the field tests, and indeed the English translation of all my different elements. We were able to deal with this time constraint thanks to the foresight of my “creator-development” team, who took upon themselves the responsibility of starting up my creation three full months before the signing of the contract between Vétérinaires Sans Frontières Belgium and the Humanitarian Innovation Fund.

The real challenge was the timely arrangement and English translation of all my tools before the third test in Uganda. Fortunately, our trainer spoke English well, and thus was able to make a last-minute improvement of the imperfections in the original translation.

Another problem encountered during testing was the inadequacy of certain instructions regarding the tests themselves, but, happily, measures were put in place that limited any negative impact of an inappropriate selection of certain livestock keepers.

During the testing itself, we met with some deficiencies in the computer equipment that was available to the participants, and sometimes a problematic lack of prior knowledge in the testers regarding computer technology or farming practices.

Now that I can demonstrate my usefulness and the correct functioning of all my elements (methodology, support material, user guides, software), we need to think about the future, so that I can grow and develop.

  • With this in mind, I still need additional improvements, so that I can respond to the suggestions made by the test participants: for example, the inclusion of other species, the modification of certain instructions that were felt to be insufficiently explained, the improvement of the translation, the establishment of checklists for the various steps of collecting and analysing data…
  • Then, we will need to think about my more widespread circulation into other sub-Saharan African countries, to reach different organisations concerned with improving traditional farming methods to guarantee economic security and food security for most rural populations.
  • I also hope to be adopted by humanitarian organisations, either to prevent crises, or to more effectively manage their impact.
  • As such, we will be lobbying to inform large organisations of my existence, such as the ministries that are in charge of livestock farming and the national committees for crisis management.
  • Another very important element is one concerning the training of local trainers. In fact, the tests we carried out confirmed the importance of strictly adhering to methodology and its underlying principles.
  • We also need to guide future users when they carry out their first surveys, collect data, use the software and analyse the results.
  • In the future, we need to develop a participatory approach for the analysis of the results, conclusions and the decision making.

These various points will make up the second phase of my development.

However, in line with a more long-term vision, a centralised focal point must be developed. It will ensure that I am well maintained and that my different elements will be kept up-to-date – for example, the adaptation of the alert thresholds regarding different species and climate zones. It will also be responsible for guaranteeing support when I’m being implemented and used: training, retraining, support for sampling and clustering, the analysis of data…

Finally, before you leave us, here are some pieces of advice that I’d like to give anyone who hopes to develop tools to aid decision-making in crisis management, or to develop practices in a more traditional setting:

  • Carefully define your target audience, and determine, with their input, the problems or constraints that currently affect them.
  • Test the initial tools with Excel, and don’t move on to the software development until you’re sure that such a move will provide a real advantage, in terms of user-friendliness, reliability and adaptability.
  • Allow a sufficient time-frame for the development and internal testing of the software, before moving on to wide scale testing.
  • Create simple, illustrated guides to explain the relevant methodology and techniques, and to clarify the objectives and the principles that must be respected.
  • Ensure appropriate training and support for the users when first putting your technology into action.
  • Keep everyone who is involved in your creation well informed and up-to-date.
  • Develop both medium- and long-term goals to ensure the viability and the growth of your tools and their effects. 

You can read the original blog post on the website of the Humanitarian Innovation Fund. This project is supported by the Humanitarian Innovation Fund, a programme managed by ELRHA. The Humanitarian Innovation Fund (HIF) is a unique non-profit grant making facility supporting organisations and individuals to identify, nurture and share innovative and scalable solutions to the challenges facing effective humanitarian assistance. Visit their website for more information.