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:
- the Ushahidi user manual published by Anahi Ayala Iacucci and the Ushahidi team in March;
- the Ushahidi developers chat on Skype;
- the Ushahidi forum;
- the Ushahidi wiki;
- and individual staff and freelance developers (thanks in particular to Henry Addo, a full time Ushahidi staffer and John Etherton, a technology consultant who develops tools for Ushahidi).
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.
Future-proofing the VAC Benin project (also by Paul)
Update from Benin: charting a course forward (also by Paul)