When I started as an aid worker, cash-for-work always confused me as if you get cash for work, isn’t that a job? Later I learned it tends to be a bit of a catch all term for various short-term, manual labour type of community based projects for unskilled labour. Or projects for community members to do that benefit the whole community. So things like clearing rubble from roads, waterways, buildings, irrigation ditches; digging ditches; building temporary shelters; etc. According to this article on ReliefWeb, “In the aftermath of a disaster, cash-for-work programs are an essential component of relief and early recovery efforts.” I’m not sure these programmes are essential, but they are incredibly commonplace.
But what if we could reshape how cash for work projects are designed and thought of. What if, in additional to some of the traditional uses of cash-for-work funds, we use the funds to pay for completed micro tasks that still benefit the community. For example, information is lacking throughout rapid onset disaster responses so why not create lots of little micro tasks for people to do – is the bridge still down? Is the road passable? What community needs what? What shops are functioning? What’s the market price of rice? Etc. This information could be integrated into a context map accessible by all agencies and all communities – something like an enhanced version of what the digital humanitarians already do but for longer than the first week or so.
In slow onset disasters, the same idea could be used to gather specific types of information to monitor trends. This could include tiny mobile SMS-based surveys sent to farmers asking questions like, are the rains late? Are the rains early? Are you selling livestock off? How many meals are you eating? Are the local market prices increasing/decreasing? Etc. Again those providing the information would receive small payments and this information could be analysed for trends etc., shared back to the farmers themselves and to the wider NGO community and appropriate government departments.
If you wanted to go one step further a basic rating system for the micro-taskers could be developed in terms of reliability and quality etc. Payments could be automated to done when the information is received and so on.