PART I – Engaging with PAISA 2015
By Priyanka Roychoudhury, 23 May 2016

On a relatively warm day with the sun surprisingly making its presence felt considering the last month of the year was upon us, I landed at the Bhopal Junction with a backpack,  my laptop and a book which had given me company during last night train’s journey from New Delhi. As I waited for my cab driver to arrive, I realised that the coming week would be an experience I was excitedly looking forward to ever since I joined Accountability Initiative (AI) 4 months back.

As part of its PAISA project, AI conducts extensive Public Expenditure Tracking Surveys (PETS) concentrating on understanding governance and fund flows in key social sector schemes. The overarching goal of this project is to use this social accountability tool to assess the manner, quantity and timing of releases of funds from the highest levels of the government to the frontline public service providers and beneficiaries. In the past, large scale PAISA surveys were concentrated on tracking fund flows in the flagship programme -Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA). However, this year the project encompassed 3 schemes within its ambit- Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) and Swachh Bharat Abhiyan- Gramin (SBM-G). Geographically, the survey covered 300 villages in 10 districts spread across 5 states.

The sheer scale of the survey necessitated that both the Delhi team and field associates work together much in advance to prepare for the survey’s implementation. Thus, in the run up to the PAISA 2015 survey, the team was involved in varied activities ranging from preparing the questionnaire tools to selecting the sample villages to running extensive pilot surveys to test the tools. As a new member of the AI team and my first professional experience, I had much to learn. I dived into the deep end of the pool of work only to find support and guidance at every end. The decision to conduct the survey using tablets instead of the traditional paper based questionnaires meant that we were treading unchartered territories which brought along its own share of challenges and opportunities; PAISA 2015 was indeed going to be a new experience for the entire team at AI.

The survey was scheduled to be conducted simultaneously in all 5 states which was to be preceded by a 5 day volunteer training session in each of the states. The PAISA surveys see the participation of volunteers recruited from the states who are then given the context of the survey through foundational knowledge of public finance and trained on the nuances of conducting a survey. These training sessions also involved mock field visits to acclimatise the volunteers to the on-ground survey experience as well as the opportunity to try their hands with tablet enabled questionnaires.

Read Part 2 - Field Experience: Not Just About Data to learn more about the PAISA experience.

Priyanka Roychoudhury is a Research Associate at Accountability Initiative. She works primarily with tracking fund-flows of Centrally Sponsored Schemes (CSS) on education, health and sanitation.