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Archive for June, 2011

Youth learning to use GPS in Pitoa, Cameroon (photo: Ernest Kunbega)

Last Monday I attended Africa Gathering London. The topic was ‘Social Media Revolutionizing Africa: How is new media changing Africa, giving voices to the voiceless, improving governance and transparency, and changing narratives?’

The event stimulated thinking and brought up some hot discussions around technology, traditional and social media, aid and development, participation and governance. (Big congratulations to Marieme Jamme  for curating a great line up that brought in an interesting and engaged group of participants and to William Perrin of Indigo Trust for keeping things on track and generating good debate!) See the program, the speaker bios and some short video interviews.

Some quotes, thoughts and debates from the day:

  • If your purpose is to bring more people into discussions, remember that radio, Facebook, and Twitter audiences are distinct and be sure you are thinking differently about how to engage them all. Remember that many people in Africa prefer to talk not write.  (from BBC’s Africa Have Your Say – @bbcafricahys‘s presentation)
  • You can’t resolve all of Africa’s issues with one approach. The countries are very different and local context really matters. But you also can’t design something for every tiny demographic. Where is the sweet spot between localized and scale? (discussion after the morning workshop)
  • People should not sit in the UK deciding and develop things for Africans. Develop things with Africans, or support Africans to develop things themselves. This idea got retweeted a lot, with lots of agreement. But H Taylor - @HFTaylor88 also commented via Twitter that this rhetoric has been around for ages within NGOs…. (discussion after morning workshop)
  • It’s great that the market has been able to bring mobile phones to so many people in Africa, but the market can’t do it on its own as many are still left out. There needs to be more incentive to reach remote areas. There needs to be education, cash transfers, government regulation if we want to really realize the potential of mobiles. Mika Valitalo – @vatamik commented that in many African countries, mobiles are still taxed as luxury items, making them more expensive than they should be. (Clare Melamed -ODI – @claremelamed‘s “Is the Mobile Phone Revolution Really for Everyone”.)
  • Any big story today on CNN has a social media component, yet there is still the idea that social media only breaks news and ‘it won’t make the history books until CNN or BBC report on it’. If CNN is not planning to do a story but sees everyone is talking about it on Facebook and Twitter, they will cover may rethink covering it. CNN finds good opinions and stories on social media, but their primary news source will continue to be their correspondents. Emrys Schoemaker - @emrys_s however questioned whether mass media use of citizen journalism is a broadening of voices or if it’s cheap content for big media – or both. (Faith Karimi/CNN/@faithCNN’s presentation and resulting discussions.)
  • Social media gives African youth an uncensored worldwide platform, letting them feel included in shaping Africa’s image, but the youth using social media in Africa are still the middle class and the rich. We need to find ways to include other youth. (Faith Karimi – @faithCNN’s presentation and resulting discussions.)
  • The Guardian’s Global Development Site and Poverty Matters blog are trying to get away from the vision of ‘poor Africa’ and have only been accused of ‘poverty porn’ once in 9 months (which Liz said irritated her to no end as they really try to avoid it). (I remember the case…) They stay away from the typical ‘flies in the eyes’ photos, but sometimes there really is starvation in Africa, and in those cases, a photo of a starving child might actually represent reality. (Someone countered that African newspapers should use photos of drunk, vomiting Brits to illustrate stories about parliament).  (Liz Ford/deputy editor/@lizford‘s talk and discussion)
  • Is the Guardian’s Global Development site one-sided, taking the view that aid is good rather than other ideas on how to best achieve development? Development is much larger than ‘aid’ and when talking about development we need to remember the bigger picture and the alternative views that maybe aid is not the best (or only) way to ‘do development’. The Guardian is quite open to new thoughts and ideas and invites anyone with ideas for blogs or stories to be in touch with them. They consider their site a ‘work in progress’. (Note: I like the Guardian’s site very much as it is one of the few media sources that discusses and seems to really promote and engage in the ‘#smartaid / @smart_aid‘ discussion). (Liz Ford’s talk and discussion)
  • Many African leaders, not to mention the public and the media, will listen when high level people call their attention to something, but problems can’t be solved by the same people who created them, especially if those people are considered morally bankrupt. Karen Attiah – @karennattiah  commented in from Twitter that a big part of development work should focus on rebuilding the broken social contract between governments and citizens in Africa. So how can we connect policy makers with ordinary Africans? How to bridge the gap between policy makers and grassroots approaches and implementation. (Panel with Alex Reid/@alreidy and Carolina Rodriguez /@caro_silborn – media heads at Gates Foundation and at Africa Progress Panel)
  • Not all sources are created equal – this is true for traditional and for social media. Social media is not about the technology, it’s about the human need to communicate. You can make traditional media more social also. Even those without access to social media will get around harsh barriers to tell their stories because of the urge to communicate. So the best thing is to create a social experience, not to worry so much about getting ‘jiggy’ with the technology. (from Kevin Anderson/@KevGlobal‘s presentation. See Putting the social in media.)
  • New technologies can impact on public debate, people’s political capabilities, citizen-state relations, relationships with other government actors. Frontline SMS Radio, for example, could be a very useful tool for this because radio is still the main way to communicate with the majority of Africa. Using Frontline SMS Radio, stations can sort through messages they get, understand them better, and use the information to orient their radio programs as well as other things. Radio can play a very strong and useful role in governance. (from Sharath Srinivasan/ @sharath_sri‘s presentation. See FrontlineSMS at Africa Gathering.)
  • Youth can have a big impact on community development if given space to influence. There is money (eg., in Cameroon, at local government level) but it needs to be better spent. Informed and involved youth can hold government accountable for spending it better. Local level advocacy has a greater impact on youths’ lives than global level initiatives because you can make as many laws as you like, but unless people are putting them into place and practice at a local level they don’t matter. Organizations should listen to young people but not make them dependent on NGOs because the real duty-bearers are family, community, government. NGOs need to be models of their own methodologies; eg., if an NGO is encouraging people to criticize the government, the NGO should be ready to receive the same scrutiny around its own work and behaviors. Social media can play a role in this process by showing what is happening at the local level to a global audience. (from my presentation and the resulting discussions. See Youth Empowerment through Technology, Arts and Media)
Julia Chandler (@juliac2) did a great round-up of the day’s presentations and discussions on her blog: Part 1 and Part 2. The Guardian continues the discussion here and of course the Africa Gathering website is a great place for more information.
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Update – more posts about Africa Gathering:
Great perspective from Tony Burkson - @tonyballu - who I really enjoyed talking with at the post-event drinks: A Day at Africa Gathering.

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This is a guest post by Joe Pavey who, along with Rebecca Tapscott, is interning with us in Cameroon for the next couple months. Rebecca wrote a first post about the what and the why of setting up an Ushahidi system in Cameroon to track violence against children. Here Joe goes more into depth about the technical side of setting the actual system up.

Our first major discussion about the VAC Cameroon site was in regards to how reports should pass through the system. For obvious reasons the information contained within these reports is extremely sensitive, so each step of the workflow process needs to be determined with the best interests of the children involved in mind.

The existing offline system for reporting violence against children was agreed upon through an exhaustive deliberation process with government, community, and local council members. In short, a lot of hard work has gone into making the existing offline system something that all parties agree on and it would not only be negligent, but counterproductive not to use this as a blueprint. For this reason the online system we are working on should respect, support and ultimately serve to expedite the current process, not replace it.

Under this current system Plan serves in the capacity of witness in cases of child abuse. Plan Cameroon has partnered with several governmental agencies to investigate and respond to reports they receive. Which agency this is depends upon the circumstances of the abuse.  Age, gender, and location are all factors in determining which agency will be responsible. For example, abuses taking place in the home are currently handled by the Ministry of Social Affairs, but cases involving female children are handled by the Ministry of Child and Women’s Empowerment.

The current policy also requires that all reports of violence against children received by Plan staff be forwarded to the sector office within 48 hours.

Existing community-level reporting flow

Following this, the report has 24 hours to reach the country office in Yaounde. This one of the processes we are hoping to expedite with the implementation of the digitized system.

Existing flow of next-level reporting - at Program Unit and Plan Country Office

If this sounds complicated, that’s because it is. As outsiders who are new not only to the culture, but also to the peculiarities of local bureaucracy, much of Rebecca’s and my first session was taken up with trying to understand the rules and regulations already in place. Thankfully we have Cameroonian colleagues in the local office to help us navigate and understand all of this.

The Ushahidi System

Ushahidi allows three methods for submitting reports: (1) Text Message, via Frontline SMS or another text messaging tool, (2) Email, and (3) Submitting a report directly through the site. These actions can be taken by individuals in the community or by Plan Staff if they are alerted of a particular incident. A fourth means of submitting reports to Ushahidi, via voice messaging, was previously available through a plug-in called Cloudvox. Unfortunately the company that created the Cloudvox plug-in was recently acquired and has suspended this product for the immediate future, and we haven’t identified an alternative voice messaging system. This is unfortunate as we were hoping to be able to offer voice messaging as a reporting method for non-literate youth — although bandwidth limitations may have rendered this impossible anyway.

Information workflow for Plan Cameroon VAC Crowdmap site (updated; this is version 2.)

Based on the information that needs to be tracked and reported on, our current plan is to separate reports into four categories, each with several subcategories as follows:

  1. Form of Violence
  • Physical
  • Sexual
  • Emotional/Psychological
  • Negligence
  1. Gender of Victim
  • Male
  • Female
  1. Age of Victim
  • 0-5
  • 6-12
  • 13-18
  1. Location of Incident
  • Home
  • Work
  • School
  • Community

Current Crowd Map set up with 4 main categories.

Creating these reporting categories (and each of their subsequent subcategories) will allow this information to be tracked separately, or to be looked at in terms of how categories overlap with each other. Since the Ushahidi platform allows users to choose more than one category or sub-category when submitting an incident report, no data need be lost in the effort to isolate and contextualize information.

For example, by tracking Gender and Location of Incident separately we will be able to more easily visualize how many incidents of abuse are taking place at schools in a certain community, how many of the victims are girls versus boys, and how each of those categories relates to reports from other regions. This will be especially important information to the government who has different agencies in place for tracking violence against children and youth depending on the circumstances. It will also be useful for Plan staff who can then tailor programs and awareness campaigns in a specific community towards the issues that are most prevalent there.

Plan Cameroon staff, partners and youth have create a detailed online map of each council area in which this project will take place, however, mapping of reports will be restricted to a less precise level described to us as the ‘community level’. It’s hard for Rebecca and me to conceptualize just how specific of an indicator this is, though once we are living in the community – a transition taking place this week – it should become easier to measure. The reason for mapping the location of incidents at the community level is privacy. If reports were mapped too precisely they could compromise the identity and safety of a child — a result that would be entirely unacceptable.

On the Ushahidi ‘back end’, each report of an incident will also contain a Description section that will allow information outside categorical parameters to be included in reports. This could be the body of a text message, a summary of a voicemail, or any other details that are deemed to fall outside the determined privacy boundaries (eg., this will allow us to keep identifying information and other details in the system, yet keep it from going public).

Over the course of our week in Yaounde, we engaged in many discussions regarding how we could make the online information workflow match that of the offline system. The conclusion seemed to be that involving community members and Plan staff in initial approval of reports might be possible, but that expecting all six of the varying government agencies that currently respond to such reports to use this digital system would be problematic. At this point we are hoping that the official agreement can be reworked slightly so that only MINAS, the Ministry of Social Affairs would need to be involved in the system.

By week’s end we had drafted an initial proposal for what the workflow for the system could be. It is by no means final and will likely go through numerous revisions over the course of our work here, but it will provide us a good base to build from in the future.

Unfortunately our progress on setting up the site itself has been handicapped by technical issues with the Crowdmap website that cause the site to crash when trying to create subcategories. We have engaged with members of the Ushahidi staff and they are currently working to fix the bug, but we don’t have a timeline as to when they will have the issue resolved.

We have now left Yaounde for Bamessing where we will be initiating our field work on the YETAM project, working with youth on creating short films, performing more community mapping, and we hope that the mobile Internet connection will allow us to continue to work remotely on the Crowdmap site.

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Guest post by Rebecca Tapscott who, along with Joe Pavey, is interning with us in Cameroon.

Joe Pavey and I are here in Yaoundé working as ICT4D interns for Plan Cameroon to help develop an Ushahidi/Frontline SMS system to report violence against children (VAC) and gender-based discrimination.  The project is conceptually the same as the Ushahidi site set up for Plan-Benin that another colleague of ours, Paul Goodman, worked on last month, although we have not completed the planning stages or started to implement.  At the outset, it is apparent that there are certain logistical and systematic differences between the projects, particularly in terms of the role of government partners.

Our team consists of Joe and me, Judith Nkie (the National Coordinator of the YETAM project), Nathalia Ngende (the Child Rights Advisor), Georges Niatchak (South Sector ICT Coordinator) and Charles Chiappi (ICT Manager).  We met for a few hours this past week to clarify some details of the project. (Note: This discussion built on training conducted in late May with staff and partners working on the YETAM project. In that training, the goals of an Ushahidi component to the project were generally agreed on among all. In addition, the information flow was discussed, a role play was done to help clarify roles and responsibilities of different stakeholders, challenges and bottlenecks to work through were identified along with the need for alternative reporting channels for those without SMS access or those are not literate, need to establish a baseline and indicators for success was discussed, protection risks were raised, and sustainability and ways to promote the system and the idea of violence reporting were considered.) 

This post discusses the purpose of the project and how it might be useful in the short and long-term.  Joe will follow up in a second post with some information about the logistics of setting up the Ushahidi site, and some remaining questions and next steps*.

Why YETAM, why Bamenda?

YETAM (Youth Empowerment through Technology, Arts and Media) is a Plan project established in 2008 that has been implemented with youth between 12 and 21 in eight African countries (Benin, Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Mozambique, Rwanda, and Senegal).  Plan Cameroon has three YETAM sites, one in the Northwest region (Bamenda), one in the North region (Garoua), and one in the Center region (Yaoundé).  The Plan team has chosen to pilot the VAC-Cameroon Ushahidi project with YETAM for two reasons.  First, VAC is of utmost relevance to youth, so it makes sense to place this new project within a youth-based project.  Second, YETAM participants have shown enthusiasm and passion for the YETAM project, and Plan believes that this energy and dedication can make the Ushahidi reporting system a success as well.

In preparation for this pilot project, the YETAM participants have mapped the towns of Ndop (in the Bamenda PU), Okola (in the Yaoundé PU), and Pitoa (in the Garoua PU), which can be viewed on OpenStreetMap.com.  The Ushahidi component will be new to the project but the team has been thinking about using new tool since last year and learning from the project in Benin.

How can Ushahidi combat VAC and gender-based discrimination?

The VAC-Cameroon Ushahidi site will be used for reporting violence against children and gender-based discrimination.  The idea is to establish a partnership with government ministries, in particular the Ministry of Social Affairs (MINAS) to respond to reports with the necessary legal and social support.  The Ushahidi system provides certain tools that will help make reports actionable for both a government response to individual reports, and a youth-led response to VAC and gender-based discrimination at the community level.

In particular, the ability to map the location of the report and categorize each report by the victim’s age, gender, and the location of the incident (home, work, school, or community) will allow YETAM participants and Plan Cameroon staff to use the information to identify what types of violence are occurring in which communities.  This information can help Plan staff target awareness trainings to serve the needs of specific communities.  YETAM participants can use the information to develop social advocacy campaigns, which are already a part of the YETAM project.

Plan Cameroon also has a broader psychosocial program that works to build resilience and help victimized children reintegrate into their communities.  The psychosocial program can use information from the VAC-Cameroon Ushahidi site to better understand where different kinds of violence are prevalent and hold corresponding trainings for social workers and community-based organizations.

Additionally, MINAS recently drafted a child protection code that has yet to be finalized or ratified.  There is resistance to finalizing the code because Cameroon already has a Family and People’s Code, and some people believe that since children are a part of the family, a separate code would be redundant.  However, children face unique challenges and threats that are not addressed in the Family and People’s code.  We hope that the data gathered by the VAC-Cameroon Ushahidi site can demonstrate some of these unique problems and serve as special and innovative tool to facilitate reporting of child abuse and gender-based discrimination.

Challenges:

No initiative would be complete without its challenges, and there are some hurdles that still need to be overcome, including

  • Empowering government partners to ensure that perpetrators of VAC are pursued, that justice is served, and that children are protected.
  • Building government capacity to ensure a smooth handover of site management and long-term sustainability for the project.
  • Ensuring that there is a point person in the government (MENAS) who will approve and verify reports in a timely manner.
  • Securing long-term funding for the project.
  • Involving police so that perpetrators will not be released and with the hopes of reducing the child abuse cases.

Note: Joe and I are prioritizing the VAC-Cameroon Ushahidi project for our work over the next ten weeks.  However, we are quickly realizing that the Plan Cameroon team has a strong work ethic, passion, and deep capability.  It is already apparent that establishing this Ushahidi site, training YETAM participants and communities to use it, establishing a strong government partnership for the project, and launching the site will take more than our allotted time.  We will do our best during our time here to support the planning, development, and implementation of the project as it progresses.

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This is a third guest post by Paul Goodman who is supporting Plan Benin to solidify their SMS Reporting and Tracking of Violence against Children (VAC) project. More on the overall project and process via the links at the end of this post.

Plan Benin uses Ushahidi to map reports of violence against children in Benin. The platform is powerful right off the shelf (or right out of GitHub, as it were) and the latest version offers enough features to get the majority of deployments up and running without issue.

One benefit to working with Ushahidi — there are other options for gathering and mapping reports, of course — is that the global Ushahidi team works hard to cultivate a community of software developers hell bent on improving the software and innovating around new use cases. During my month in Benin I took advantage of a number of resources available to individuals and groups using Ushahidi. A few resources I consulted when working on solutions to technical problems:

In addition to making use of Ushahidi’s standard functionality, in Benin we’ve made some small customizations, configurations, and tweaks to that extend the functionality of the system, making it easier and faster to use.

A few tweaks:

FrontlineSMS – after upgrading to the latest version of Ushahidi, we made use of the new Plugin architecture and activated the FrontlineSMS plugin, which facilitates a seamless connection between FrontlineSMS and Ushahidi.

Location highlight – developed by John Etherton, this plugin improves the experience of mapping locations in areas that are not well-mapped. Instead of staring at a blank map, users creating reports can select the program area and nearby city from a drop down menu. Administrators can add as many points or areas as they’d like to aid the mapping process. Furthermore, the relatively slow internet connection in Benin makes loading map tiles and labels a painful process. In many cases, Location Highlight allows users to avoid having to load new zoom levels.

Nested Categories – a visual improvement more than anything, this functionality is supported out of the box. Rather than loading the Ushahidi landing page and seeing 20+ categories, we now see the major categories and users have the ability to drill down on the various categories to filter results.

Custom forms – the use of custom report forms with private fields allows Plan Benin to track information related to cases alongside the public report, allowing Plan staff in disparate geographies to track the reporting and resolution of incidents.

Related posts:

Future-proofing the VAC Benin project (also by Paul)

Update from Benin: charting a course forward (also by Paul)

Revisiting the SMS violence reporting project in Benin

Tracking violence against children in Benin video

Community-based child protection

Tweaking: SMS violence reporting system in Benin

Finding some ICT answers in Benin

7 (or more) questions to ask before adding ICTs

Fostering a New Political Consciousness on Violence against Children

Related links:

Text messages to help protect children against violence

Plan International case study: Helping children report abuse in Benin


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Ernest training youth in Okola.

 

In  Garoua, Cameroon last week at a Training of Trainers meeting for the Youth Empowerment through Arts and Media (YETAM) Project, Ernest Kunbega Gwanvoma from GIMAC (Geographic Information and Management Center) took us through the youth digital mapping process that he and Plan staff and other partners facilitated this past year.

Ernest’s presentation is posted below (with his permission), along with some comments from the rest of the group.

 

Why Digital Mapping?

In line with YETAM’s emphasis on use of new technology in youth and community development work, Plan introduced the use of GPS and digital mapping. Training the youths in the use of GPS and digital mapping permitted them to map out their council areas and create an information system, including the road network and other socio-economic infrastructure of their area. This exercise exposed the youths to the realities of their environment, for it took them to all the nooks and corners of their area. This way they could easily identify the problems of their communities and share with their peers all over the world. And what better way than to indicate all this than on a map? Eventually the digital maps produced will be used to track cases of violence, gender discrimination and community development planning issues. They will be used locally and shared on Open Street Map to a wider world community.

Mapping in Ndop Council Area

Objectives

The general objective of the exercise was to produce digital maps for 3 council areas; Ndop, Pitoa and Okola, where YETAM projects are being implemented. To accomplish this, participating youth were trained on the use of GPS for field data collection. They created way points of socio-economic infrastructures for their areas. A data base on all the socioeconomic infrastructures mentioned above was created. The youth also tracked the road network of their council and put it on the digital maps. This information was all uploaded into Open Street Map.

Methodology

We used the following working methodology:

 

  • Training of students /community youths in the use of GPS for field data collection, its potential uses and practical sessions
  • Elaboration of data codification sheets and production of waypoint forms/tracking sheets and data collection sheets for schools and health centers
  • Collection of field data
  • Analysis of data and production of digital maps
  • Uploading of digital map into Open Street Map

 

Data codification sheet, way point forms and data sheets

 

Training youth to use way point forms.

During the theoretical sessions, the youth worked in small groups to brainstorm the data that they wanted to collect about their communities. Community members and Plan staff with experience in data collection, advocacy, research and development programs gave input as well. A final set of data to collect was agreed upon, including schools and health centres in all 3 council areas.  Each group (from Ndop, Pitoa and Okola) also had its own particular aspects that it wanted to map out, based on local context.

To enable the youths collect field data in an organised manner field documents were created and made available to them, including:

  • General codification sheet
  • Waypoint form
  • School data information sheets
  • Nursery school information sheet
  • Primary school information sheet
  • Secondary school information sheet-General Education
  • Secondary school information sheet-Technical Education
  • High school information sheet
  • Health centre information sheets
  • Tracking sheet

 

GPS practice in Pitoa

Collection of field data

In each locality, the start off was at the District officer’s office where a cover letter or letter of introduction explaining the rationale for the field exercise was collected. This letter was presented in the communities as the need arose to avoid any form of embarrassment from the community.

The data collection exercise in was carried out by community youths, students, resource persons and the consultant’s team. In Ndop and Okola, the Partner Vision (PAVIS) and IRONDEL staff (respectively) and all resource persons were involved in the data collection. The student youth population was not available due to classes, so the out-of-school community youth who were involved in the training did the data collection. In Pitoa the staff of Solutions Technologiques Alternatives (STA) and all the resource persons were involved in the data collection. The community youths and the student population participated intensely in the exercise for they had just finished with their examinations and their principal gave them permission to participate in the field exercise during school period.

Formation of Groups

Youth filling out way point forms in Okola

To facilitate field data collection in each of the council areas, field groups were created, headed by a resource person or a staff of the consultant. The groups were allocated an area of work. One group was in-charge of tracking all the road networks and the rest of the groups collected waypoints and data on socio-economic infrastructures.

In places where the information sheet (data collecting forms) could not be filled instantly, the forms were dropped off to be filled by the competent authorities and to be collected later, this was the case especially with schools. Cars and motor bikes were hired to transport data collectors to the field in each locality.

At the end of each day, a review of the day was done; problems, lapses and wrongly collected information were pointed to the different groups for corrective measures to be taken.

Downloading /converting  GPS  Data

To be able to analyze the GPS data the waypoints and tracks were downloaded and saved in appropriate formats that could be visualized in JOSM. (Waypoints-GPX and text format, Tracklogs-GPX and DXF formats)

Attributing waypoint types

Students collected data to link with the way points, for example at this school in Pitoa

Based on the field data collected attribute tables were built for schools and hospitals etc. The data collected on schools and other aspects were triangulated for accuracy (when possible) with data previously collected by Plan or available from local government offices.

 

Production of digital maps

To produce the digital maps of the three council areas the JOSM offline editor was used. The waypoints and tracks were loaded into JOSM. The waypoints were digitized and appropriate attribute information assigned to them as tags. The tracks representing the road network were also digitized using JOSM.

Uploading and visualization of the digital maps

The produced maps were uploaded using JOSM to the Open Street Map site with online connection as soon as they were finished. The maps can be seen at the Open Street Map site.

Challenges and constraints

Bad roads made the mapping difficult in areas where vehicles and motorbikes couldn't pass after a certain point.

  • The student population was not fully involved in the actual field data collection in some communities because they had to be in class, so we worked only with the out-of-school youth population.
  • In Ndop and Okola, rain disrupted field activities and work had to slow down given the bad nature of the roads, which became very impracticable to vehicles and bikes, making the whole exercise difficult, strenous and time-consuming.
  • It was not always easy to arrange for transportation.
  • Most of the students and drivers did not know their full community areas well, so local community guides were recruited to take teams around.
  • In some of the areas the data sheets of schools could not be filled because the head teachers were not available.
  • In one particular area, a head teacher deliberately refused to fill the forms demanding bribe from the youths.
  • In some of the schools the head teachers had no information about the student enrolment and as such the youths had to go to each class and count the students themselves which was time-consuming.
  • Youths had to trek long distances in some of the inaccessible villages by vehicles because roads were very narrow.

Discussion

Despite the challenges faced during the field data collection the mapping exercise was quite successful. Having the digital maps is a real achievement. Having a solid data base attached to geographic location will be a powerful tool to support the youth’s local advocacy work. (Live version of the map is here. To see data, turn on the data layer as shown in the image below by clicking on the blue tab on the right side of the map.)

Open Street Map image of Ndop with data layer turned on. Data to the left belongs to the blue dot near the center of the map.

Pitoa Council Area with data layer. (Visit Open Street Map for interactive view).

Okola Council Area with data points. (See Open Street Map for interactive map).

The group at the workshop (PAVIS, IRONDEL and STA partners, Plan staff and Ernest himself) concluded that digital mapping was a good exercise. One participant commented that the heads of the school hadn’t been aware of the importance of collecting data about their own schools, and the mapping exercise motivated the youth and the head teachers to begin to collect and track data, to look at the status of their building structures and to count their students.

Others commented that the mapping exercise is a tool that really takes the youth around to their environment. Many of the youth only knew specific parts of their communities, but the digital mapping exercise brought them around to the entire expanse of their community. It gave them a reason and an opportunity to get to know the realities of their environment.

The group agreed that in the future, it would be advisable for hand-drawn mapping followed by digital mapping to take place as the very first step of the project, before other project activities (arts, media and advocacy efforts) happen, because the mapping provides the youth with a deeper awareness of their communities and the main issues therein. It also allows them to collect solid data as well as a visual tool that they can use to then carry out their advocacy activities with local councils. (Note: This year, hand drawn mapping was done as a first step, then the arts and media activities followed. Because it was a new activity requiring additional training and preparation for staff and partners, the digital mapping was done in as third step).

One question the group will explore is how to train and support the local councils (who have responsibility for decentralized community development in Cameroon) with IT equipment so that they can keep the maps updated and/or create new digital maps on their own.

These same maps will serve as a base for an additional phase of the project that will involve tracking and mapping cases of violence against children and gender based violence and working with local communities and local government social services to raise awareness about violence and to prevent and respond to cases of abuse. (Similar to the VAC Benin project).

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If you are from an outside group that wants to work with a community, you need to know the community. You need to spend time there, sleep there, live there, before trying to help or come in with recommendations. Until you have lived together with the community, you cannot really give any savvy advice or support because you won’t know or understand the community’s reality. You won’t have ‘mastered’ the community.’

Kenneth Nyah from Partner Vision (PAVIS), the organization we are partnering with in Bamenda, Cameroon, on the Youth Empowerment through Arts and Media (YETAM) Project, gave us some great tips last week on how to do community-based, youth-led advocacy and support local action and change.

Timothy and Kenneth from Partner Vision (PAVIS)

Know the steps for good advocacy

  • Identify the issue that needs to be addressed.
  • Master the community by spending time there.
  • Identify the principle actions to take in the community, together with all the stakeholders.
  • Gather information and statistics that will support the case and help to shape the suggested solutions.
  • Synthesize information and statistics to make them easier for people to get a handle on and understand.

Model good advocate behaviors

  • Participation. All the stakeholders need to be included and the discussions need to be open.
  • Legitimacy. An advocate should be someone who practices what he or she preaches and lives the values that he or she is working for.
  • Accountability. An advocate has to be transparent and open and accountable for his or her actions and to the community.
  • Acting peacefully. An advocate should always look for ways to resolve issues in a peaceful way.
  • Representing the affected group. An advocate should be sure to understand the affected groups’ issues and viewpoints and to represent them, not his own opinions or agenda.

Be clear about your role as an outside organization

Kenneth described the main roles of an advocate or organization supporting local advocacy work as:

  • helping to empower the community to speak for itself
  • mediating and facilitating communication between people
  • ensuring that communication and dialogue happen
  • modeling behavior to people and policy makers
  • helping build coalitions so that local people can raise their issues and get resolutions.

Know what advocacy is not

  • An information campaign. Hanging up posters is not advocacy. You have to go deep into things, to take actions, to actually do something, not just ‘raise awareness’ or share information.
  • A public relations action. Advocacy is not an opportunity for you to create fame for yourself or your organization or political agenda. It’s about the community.
  • A strike or mob action. Advocacy should be strategic.
  • A pressure group. Advocacy does not mean ‘we want something and we are coming in to take it whether you like it or not.’

Remember who this is about:

First half of a storyboard by youth in Bamessing for video on early marriage.

You shouldn’t do advocacy without proposing a solution, said Kenneth, and the solution should come from the community itself, not from you. In community-led advocacy, the outside agency should not be bringing in its own agenda. It should not be manipulating people.

When working with youth, the agenda needs to come from the youth themselves. If the youth don’t have their own agenda, it’s very easy for people to manipulate them. Once you work with the youth to help them discover their community more, and to determine their own agenda for change, they will work on that and it can be very positive.

Youth-led and community-led advocacy is different than global advocacy campaigns which tend to be top-down. When people raise their own issues at local level, do their own research, identify their own solutions, discover the bottlenecks that get in the way of those solutions, and determine who to target with their advocacy actions, advocacy can be very effective.

One participant emphasized that even in global campaigns, local stakeholders need to be involved, because they are the ones who will give the stories, the statistics, and the effective solutions.

Find the information that already exists in the community

Collecting information.

Advocacy goes with facts and figures. You cannot do advocacy without figures, said Kenneth. And you cannot have figures without research. But there is much information that is already there, right in the community. ‘As outsiders,’ commented one person, ‘it’s easy to imagine that a community doesn’t have any information, but this is not true. We found so much information in the community.’

‘All the facts that youth needed to advocate for the water project* were given by the people in the community. The youth know who the key people are in the community. They know who has the information and the statistics. For example, there is a person who manages the local water system and who knows what the problems are with it. There is the chairman of the water board. These are people in the community who manage information! They have reports, they have meetings, they know these things. There is no need to come from the outside to do a big expensive data gathering campaign. You can go into the records that the community is already keeping. Working with the youth and community it’s very possible to find this information to support local advocacy.’

A role for ICTs

Another person shared the case of youth in Pitoa who identified malnutrition in the community. ‘The parents didn’t  identify malnutrition as a problem, they said it was not an issue. Maybe they were embarrassed that they were unable to give their children enough food. But the youth went with cameras, they filmed malnourished children, they went to the hospital to check the numbers. There is a whole ward there with malnourished children; they filmed there.  They made a video and showed it to the parents and the council and were able to get them to see that this is a problem in the community.’

The digital mapping that we are doing with the YETAM project (watch for a new post coming soon on this), said other participants, can provide the youth with an additional tool for local advocacy. ‘Youth went out to map their area. They saw the road network, they created a database about their schools, they saw the conditions of the hospitals and everything. Through mapping they were able to master their environment because they were there, collecting the data, tracing and making waypoints of everything. This fed very well into their advocacy work.’

*In this water project example, youth used their research, videos, interviews, focus group discussions and role play to advocate to community leaders, the village development union and the Ndop Rural Council around the water issue. The Ndop Council acknowledged the issue and Bamessing and its neighbouring communities succeeded in securing funding from FEICOM for the first phase of the Ndop water supply project for 214 million CFAs (around $450,000). Feasibility studies were done by the Ministry of Water Resources and Energy in collaboration with SNV and submitted to the Ndop Council. The project is expected to provide potable water in Bamessing, Bamali, Bamuanka rural and Bambalang communities.

Other successes of youth-led advocacy in the YETAM Cameroon project include that the Municipal Councils of Pitoa and Ndop approved financial support to youth micro-projects.  The Mayor of Pitoa municipal council approved 400,000 CFA (around $850) for the youth to spearhead actions to curb the high incidence of cholera in the council area. The Mayor of Ndop Municipal Council approved 500,000 CFA (around $1070) as council support for the youth to fight against the high rate of school dropouts in the Ndop council area. This support came in response to youth participation in the council budgetary sessions.

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This is a second guest post by Paul Goodman who is supporting Plan Benin to solidify their SMS Reporting and Tracking of Violence against Children (VAC) project. More on the overall project and process via the links at the end of this post.

Future proofing? Wishful thinking! There is of course no way to “future proof” an ICTD project. There are ways, however, to ensure that an ICT project has a fighting chance at sustainability. Here in Benin we’re revisiting the entire VAC Benin workflow in an effort to document the non-technical aspects of the project so that each person that touches this system fully understands the way that information moves through it. In addition to supporting training, this small but critical step will help drive consensus around how the project should and can work well into the future.

A succinct overview of this project:

The beginning of any development initiative is often marked by energetic optimism. At the onset, when a project enjoys the attention and enthusiasm of its creators and supporters, it is easy to forget that over time this attention will wane, priorities will shift, and critical personnel will undoubtedly take on new responsibilities or even different jobs. Purposeful problem definition and documentation can minimize the impact of these eventualities and only with a thorough understanding of the problem is it possible to discuss appropriate technology-enabled responses. And yes, in the real world, the problem often shifts over time as the situation changes or new information comes to light. But with a well-defined problem you have clarity around your intent and can face new challenges head-on.

Once defined, the problem and corresponding solution must be documented so that others may benefit from the insight gained during this process and apply that insight systematically. This seems elementary, of course, but in years of ICTD work I’ve found that the documentation of both technical systems and non-technical processes is often neglected in the rush to deploy or as a result of over-reliance on a few knowledgable individuals. Furthermore, in international development, documentation sometimes plays second fiddle to the production of reports and case studies.

Now I’ll happily get off my soap box and get back to business in Benin.

After sketching out the various aspects of the information flow with my colleague Elsie, I documented the workflow in a way that can be used to inform, train, and guide others as they interact with this project. I’m working on reference materials of different shapes and sizes including a number of graphics. Several of the graphics appear below; these are drafts and will be revised with Elsie, translated, distributed to the team, and revised again. These graphics represent the way we would like the system to work and are intended to be living documents.

In this graphic I included all the critical actors and their key responsibilities:

 

In this flow chart, I illustrated the way that messages should be processed:

In this graphic, I illustrated the way that reports should be created:

Finally, this flow chart will support report approval and verification:

Related posts:

Update from Benin: charting a course forward (also by Paul)

Revisiting the SMS violence reporting project in Benin

Tracking violence against children in Benin video

Community-based child protection

Tweaking: SMS violence reporting system in Benin

Finding some ICT answers in Benin

7 (or more) questions to ask before adding ICTs

Fostering a New Political Consciousness on Violence against Children

Related links:

Text messages to help protect children against violence

Plan International case study: Helping children report abuse in Benin

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