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Archive for July, 2011

This is a guest post by Jamie Lundine. Jamie is a health geographer who works with Map Kibera in Kenya. We first met about a year ago when Plan began thinking about using digital mapping as an element of the Youth Empowerment through Technology, Arts and Media (YETAM) project and we started discussing how we could work together. Since then it’s been exciting to see how Plan Kenya and Map Kibera are collaborating to bring together child-centered community development work and ICTs in programs such as YETAM, youth and governance work, and community led total sanitation (CLTS) programs. Globally Plan is committed to building its capacity to use ICTs where appropriate in its work and to support youth, communities and local governments to use ICTs where useful for their goals. Plan Kenya is one of the offices that is leading the way in ICT4D at Plan, and there is much that the rest of us can learn from their approach and experiences.

Jamie’s original post appears on her blog Health Geography as ‘Documenting a participatory digital mapping workshop with Plan Kenya‘ and on the Map Kibera blog. Michael Warui, Plan Kenya’s ICT director, sent me the workshop report and I was planning to write about it here, but Jamie’s already done all the work, so I’m re-posting.

Map Kibera Trust recently facilitated a 3 day training to introduce participatory digital mapping to target staff at Plan Kenya. The participants in the workshop included programme staff and ICT staff from the Kenya Country office and regional offices around the country. Participants came from Homabay, Kisumu, Kilifi, Kwale, Tharaka, Machachos, Bondo, the Kenya Country Office and the Urban Programme (Nairobi). Their backgrounds ranged from ICT support staff, to Child Rights & Gender Advisor, to M&E Coordinator, to programme staff in 4 of Plan’s 5 focus areas (Protection and Inclusion, Health, Education and Governance).

The training was planned at the beginning of the implementation of the new Kenya country strategic plan (CSP) 2011-2015 for Plan Kenya. Building on the success of Plan Kenya’s work in Kwale on universal birth registration and also from digital mapping work with POIMapper and Map Kibera Trust, the new CSP highlights the importance of ICT in the improved efficacy of Plan’s work. Plan Kenya has chosen to place an explicit focus on participatory ICT in its work. This is in line with Plan International’s focus and leadership in ICT4D globally.

In this context, the workshop aimed to:

  • Introduce participatory digital mapping theories, techniques and tools that Map Kibera Trust employs in its work
  • Provide hands on experience in GPS data collection and data editing using Open Street Map
  • Learn more about how Plan Kenya programmes use information and communicate
  • Brainstorm ideas about how to integrate ICT into programme work

We began with an introduction to Information Communication Technology for Development (ICT4D) by exploring some questions to consider before introducing ICT into programme work. The questions were (and are) meant to stimulate discussion and encourage participants to think systematically about the integration of ICT into new and existing programmes. The questions identify the reasons why you would use ICT, assess what constraints and opportunities exist in the framework you are working in, and explore how people are communicating in order to design appropriate and sustainable systems to build upon existing channels of communication. The questions are modified from Linda Raftree’s post “7 or more questions to ask before adding ICTs,” so thanks to Linda for the inspiration!

  1. Why are you considering the use of ICT?

The Plan Kenya staff identified that using ICT, particularly mobile phones and the internet, has become a desired lifestyle choice that the majority of Kenyans around the country have embraced. This was an important point that the participants wished to build upon and capture in their use of ICT in various communities. The group generally agreed that ICTs are available and can be accessed by many Kenyans. The staff also mentioned that ICTs could improve communication and be used to easily mobilize communities (for example sending one SMS to many people to attend a meeting). ICTs are flexible and can improve accuracy and consistency in information, which can then be easily stored and shared. There was also mention of improved efficiency in programme work through the collection and processing of real-time information.

  1. What are the programme goals or programme framework you are working within?

Most of the participants identified the new country strategic plan for the organization as the overarching framework that Plan Kenya staff are working with. The country strategic plan identifies 5 areas of focus: Health, Livelihoods, Education, Protection & Inclusion and Governance.

  1. What are your specific information and communication needs?

The information needs of Plan Kenya staff members were largely related to programme work. The needs included collecting accurate data for baseline surveys for Monitoring and Evaluation and thus to assess programme impact. There were some suggestions of improving communication through digitizing information that can more easily be shared to large numbers of people. The group suggested that this could improve accountability to other staff members, donors and to beneficiaries in communities. ICT can also improve the ability of Plan Kenya staff to analyze information and make decisions.

  1. How are you already using information and communicating?

In order to integrate ICT into existing programmes within communities, it is important to know how staff members are already using information and communicating in their daily lives. The group came up with a long list of communication tools: email, internet, intranet, websites and social netoworks – namely Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, MySpace), applications (Skype, Yahoo Messenger), SMS and telephone calls, radio, and television. The group is using information during baseline data collection. Some are involved in a project that integrates SMS applications into the birth registration process in Kwale District.

  1. Who are the actors involved in the particular issue you are seeking to address with ICT?

 The Plan Kenya staff won’t be (and aren’t) using ICT in isolation. There are important stakeholders they work with on particular issues, programmes and projects. These include the general community – with a particular focus on youth and children. Important sub-sections of the community include teachers, school administration, Government of Kenya, civil society organizations, Plan Kenya partners (such as Childline Kenya, Community Cleaning Services), the media and private sector actors. Different groups of people use technology differently, and depending on the answer to question 1) and question 6 (below) the staff may need an ICT strategy that is diverse enough to reach the various stakeholders.

  1. How do people use ICT already?

This list of the ways in which Kenyans are already using ICT is a testament to the idea that the group tapped into when answering question 1. The use of ICT in Kenya, specifically mobile phone applications, has become a lifestyle choice. Kenyans use phones for mobile money transfer, SMS, calling, accessing the internet, paying their bills, paying for goods, calling toll-free lines (e.g. Childline call centre, police hot lines) and for data collection and dissemination. Kenyans also listen to the radio, use computers, blog, email, chat, shop online, bank online, join online discussions and news groups and use various forms of social media. They do this for work, but also for pleasure. These were the means identified by the group, however this is not an exhaustive list.

  1. How do people access technology already?

This was a sub-section of question 6 and the group answered: mobile phones (including GPS enabled and internet enabled phones), street phones, computer, internet connection in office and homes, internet modems, cyber cafés, radios, TVs, toll free lines, and resource centres.

  1. How will you close the feedback loop and manage expectations?

How do you make sure the information you are generating, no matter the medium or tool you are using, gets back to the community? How do you promote the use of technology without seemingly presenting a silver bullet solution (even if you don’t intend to do so)?

These questions were answered in several ways. One idea about both closing the feedback loop and managing expectation was to network  with other organizations and partners in the community to share information and raise awareness about the use of ICT and the opportunities and limitations of ICT4D projects.

Another option for closing the feedback loop was to both collect and disseminate information on popular social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

A third suggestion was to close the feedback loop and manage expectations through an informed resource person and/or resource centers and staff having sessions with the community.

Finally, there was the suggestion to start the integration of ICT in development work by outlining and communicating clear expectations and at the end have feedback sessions to monitor the whole process.

  1. What is your sustainability plan?

The final question, and likely the most difficult (we only had a one hour brainstorming session and did not expect participants to come up with final answers to this question but simply consider it as an important component to any project with an ICT component).

One idea was to equip community members, and particularly youth, with skills that will be applicable beyond the program (or project) timeline. The YETAM project (youth empowerment thorough arts and media) was designed in this way and the group agreed that this design was beneficial to the young people involved in the program.

Another suggestion was to involve the beneficiaries/community in the entire process of choosing/customizing appropriate ICT tools that suit their needs and for further development so that it is community owned process and will in theory continue beyond the project/program lifecycle. Other ideas included:

  •  Build partnership with Government and NGOs.
  • Integrate fund raising or income generating activities into the project.
  • Use affordable technology (free and open source)
  • Ensure follow-up mechanisms are built into the project

We discussed the use of mapping, open information and ICTs for development. We also used two of the three training days to focus on hands-on training and skills building. We facilitated training in handling the GPS devices, collecting data and using Java Open Street Map (JOSM) and Potlatch to record open spatial information into the OpenStreetMap databases. As we’ve found in the past, the hands on training is exciting and motivating. The theorietical discussions, combined with the practical field work inspired discussion and debate on ideas on how to integrate participatory digital mapping andICTs into programme work.

The following are ideas generated by the Plan Kenya staff:

  • Ushahidi could be useful for referral partners mapping and identifying the hot spots of child abuse
  • Use of SMS for communication with hearing and speech impaired within the community
  • Using reports and sharing the same information to various media channels. E.g. PPM, a in-house system that is used to track and monitor information and projects progress
  • In governance as a tool for enhancing social accountability, where ICT can be used to track projects
  • Digitization of data collection e.g. in sponsorship (especially photography), child abuse hotspots
  • Involving children in participatory community mapping by mapping schools using walking papers
  • Using blogging as a tool for youth to document governance issues in the new good governance project for the Urban Programme
  • In Kilifi the team is doing a 2 year study on Open Defecation Free villages and health outcomes. They could use mapping and spatial statistics to document findings.
  • Mapping and other ICT4D tools could be used to document and share participatory activities that Plan already undertakes, such  as transect walks and participatory situational analyses

The training ended with a note of caution – the team recognized the potential tension between the processes that are needed for ownership of a community map (and any other ICT4D project) and the haste of development partners to use the budget and report progress to donors. In this case, many projects (ICT4D, mapping and any other project) may “leave the community behind.”

It is thus important to ask the following questions and consider the answers carefully when designing projects:

  • For whom are we doing the mapping (or any project really)? And whose map is it?
  • Of what use is the (spatial) information, what will it compliment?

After another successful workshop with Plan Kenya, we look forward to building on the excitement and enthusiasm generated during the training! Let’s see some of the great ideas turned into reality!

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This is a guest post by Rebecca Tapscott who, along with Joe Paveyis 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 and Joe goes more into depth about the technical side of setting the actual system up in his post Digitizing violence reporting. Sounds complicated… because it is!.

Here Rebecca writes about how she and Joe are better understanding mobile phone use and community context by living in the community. She also goes into how the team is training youth on how the system works and getting youth’s input into the design and use of this type of system in their community

Learning what information to include when sending SMS reports on child abuse.

One component of our ICT4D internship with Plan is working “in the field” with the community to help implement the Ushahidi reporting system for violence against children (“VAC”).  To this end, Joe and I are living in Bamessing community, a village in the North West Region of Cameroon, also one of the three program units (“PUs”) hosting the YETAM program.

Bamessing has no running water, limited network coverage, and sporadic electricity.  The region is also known for high rates of child/forced marriage, domestic violence and school dropouts.  If a VAC Ushahidi system can work here, it can work anywhere.

Piloting the site in Bamessing has several benefits as well.  First, we are working with a group of motivated youth who have received extensive training on the four categories of  child abuse and violence against children (physical, psychological / emotional, sexual, and neglect or negligent treatment), as well as their legal rights under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and other international and national protocol.

Second, the Bamessing community is saturated with cell phones, and most of the youth in the YETAM group have their own personal cell phones.  Joe and I had a discussion with Odelia, our “land lady” and the 30-year-old widow of the late pastor, who told us that she first noticed cell phones in Bamessing in 2010 (though some say they’ve been around since 2004).  Since then, she has owned five cell phones, although she never uses one to text, and makes only one or two calls a week.  Instead, cell phones seem to serve as a sort of portable doorbell.  Neighbors, friends, and acquaintances “beep” each other (give a missed call, which does not cost any credit) to relay a predetermined message.  Credit is expensive relative to other daily costs and, as previously mentioned, the network here is tenuous.  Texting requires literacy, dexterity, and decent vision, which are limiting factors for many of the adults in the community.

Finally, Cameroon seems to have the advantage of a functioning (albeit imperfect) offline system for reporting and responding to VAC.  I spoke with a delegate from the Ministry of Social Affairs (“MINAS”), who explained some of the system’s weaknesses to me, namely that the ministry is highly underfunded and understaffed.  He also lamented that reporting is lacking, due to inadequate knowledge of civil law (instead, most people are familiar with customary law, which often reinforces certain rights violations), and inability to report violations.  While knowledge of civil law must come from human led sensitization and education projects, the Ushahidi platform can enhance reporting ability in Cameroon.  Through our discussions with Plan staff in Yaoundé, we came to the optimistic conclusion that the government might increase investment in staff, resources, and educative programs in direct response to the number and severity of reports that come through the Ushahidi system.

Given these caveated benefits, our current challenge is to introduce the concept of reporting through Ushahidi to the YETAM youth group, teach the youth how to report incidents, integrate their feedback into the system, get the online system up and running, pilot it, and present it to MINAS.

Our first opportunity to present Ushahidi to the youth was during the YETAM refresher training, held June 22 – June 27, 2011 at a local high school in Bamessing.  Joe and I worked with Georges (Plan Cameroon’s ICT coordinator for the area) and Judith (the YETAM coordinator in Cameroon) to design a module to introduce Ushahidi and our particularized reporting system.  First, Georges and Joe explained Ushahidi and answered questions on a theoretical level.  We then described our intention to use Ushahidi for reporting VAC, what information must be included in reports of VAC, and what information will be displayed on the Ushahidi site.

We created an acronym (ChANGE) to help the youth remember what information to include in text message reports. (C: Community; h: False letter– we said “help” so people can remember, but really nothing should be reported there, A: Age, N: Name of victim, and your own if you are comfortable reporting it, G: Gender, E: Event.)  Then we gave a practice scenario and asked five participants in the class to show how they would report the message. We reviewed each message for number of characters, noting that a single text message is limited to 140 characters, and also checked to make sure that all the necessary components were included.  All five messages were similar, reading something like:

My name is Judith. I beg of you for my friend Mary who is 14 years old and whose father is taking her from school to give to a 60 year old man for marriage in Bamessing community.

Most of the messages ran long, but did include the five required components.  One area of confusion was what level of geographic specificity to include.  We explained that while the report must be as specific as possible to facilitate a response, the Ushahidi site will present a more general geographic location so as to preserve anonymity for victims and reporters.

We asked the youth for feedback on the system, which resulted in more questions clarifying what is appropriate to report, and the level of confidentiality of reporting.  One concern was that often the phone network is down, making it impossible to send text messages.  We clarified that all the old methods of reporting still exist, and that community animators and Plan staff can be sought out to report either by text message or the other ways.  By the end of the training, the youth agreed that this would be a useful system, and some commented that they particularly appreciate the unique level of anonymity associated with SMS reporting.

This month, Joe and Georges will finalize the Ushahidi system, Joe will create brief manuals for system users, and Joe and I will provide additional training on using the system.  We hope to have the youth send sample text messages to the site in the next month to test the system, to train the youth, and to provide sample data to present the site to potential government partners. Our colleague Nathalia (the Child Protection Advisor in Plan Cameroon) also suggested that we create a ‘child and youth friendly’ guide to how Ushahidi works that can be used for training, so we’ll get going on that also.

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In May 2008, I started a ‘secondment.’ I was loaned out from Plan’s US office to Plan’s West Africa Office for a year to work on the Youth Empowerment through Technology, Arts and Media (YETAM) project, which at that point was funded by Nokia via Plan Finland.

My ‘social media guru’ friend DK and my colleague Lisa suggested I start blogging. So in June 2008, I wrote my first post on Wait… What? Reading it is a good reminder of how much you can learn over 3 years, even when you think you already know something. That first year of posts is kind of embarrassing, but in a way I’m glad they are there as they make for a good baseline when assessing my own personal and professional growth since then.

In December, 2008, my colleague Mika Valitalo (from Plan Finland) and I organized a week-long ‘Social Media for Social Change’ workshop in Kenya. I had been reading White African’s blog and doing a lot of internet research alongside more direct work on YETAM in Senegal and Rwanda. Mika and I had been discussing Ushahidi,  FrontlineSMS and Global Voices. So we decided to invite them to our workshop. I honestly assumed they wouldn’t bother responding as we were not doing much with ICT at that point. To our surprise, Erik Hersman, Ken Banks and Juliana Rotich all agreed to come. In addition, we invited Tonee Ndungu from Wazimba and Daudi Were from MentalAcrobatics. The meeting was a real eye opener and set the groundwork for much of what happened since with social media and ICTs at Plan.

After I went home from the meeting in Kenya, at the suggestion of Erik and Ken, I started a Twitter account. (I was so skeptical that I used a pseudonym). But from there things pretty much started happening. A whole world of learning, discussion, writing, commenting, partnerships, face-to-face meetings and new friendships with those working in development and in ICTs opened up. I got involved with the @smart_aid group and different m4D and ICT4D networks like ICT_WorksMobile Active and most recently Africa Gathering and they have taught me so much.

A year turned into 2 and then 3. The focus of the secondment expanded to look at the use of social media and new technology in different aspects of our programs in Africa and I had the opportunity to be involved in some really interesting projects. It turned into ‘information and communication technology for development’ or ‘ICT4D’ in general, and to helping develop a strategy at the global level for strengthening our work both internally and with youth, communities, and local partners in these areas; mostly all documented here on this blog.

I was lucky to report directly to a boss (Stefanie Conrad) who was creative, flexible and supportive of new ideas and initiatives and who always asked ‘what obstacles are you facing? how can I help move them out of your way? what support do you need? how can I improve my support to you?’ I was also lucky to work closely with Mika, the point person from the donor side. Mika really knows his stuff, but he also knows that no matter how much he knows, he needs to learn from people on the ground, and he takes the time to visit, to stop, to listen and to be sure he understands. He’s aware that process is critical and that things take time. Not to mention he is just a cool guy all around.

I had the pleasure of working with some fantastic people from our different offices across Africa and the opportunity to meet many of the people who are moving and shaking the world of development and ICTs on the continent and beyond. There were challenges (there are always challenges) and I’ve been plagued with doubt about development and where it’s headed at times (as I think I will always be) but looking back, it’s been a life-changing 3 years and I’m sad to say that as of June 30, my secondment ended.

When I went on secondment for the first year, I knew that I was taking a risk and that Plan US would not hold a job for me to return to. I also knew that I probably wouldn’t want to return to my old job anyway because I really needed a change. As the secondment comes to a close, I know that taking the risk was worth it in every way.

Not only was it worth it, but Plan’s USA has welcomed me back into a new position as their Senior Advisor for ICT4D where I’ll have the chance to put the experiences and networks that I’ve been accumulating over the past 3 years to work in a new context. Plan US has probably changed as much as I have over the past 3 years so it’s an exciting time to be returning.

As for the job itself, the plan is that I’ll be building on the work I’ve been involved in over the past 3 years and will continue to support to some of the initiatives I’m currently involved in, but from the Plan US side rather than from the Plan West Africa side. I’ll spend about half of my time with the program and grant writing teams; a third of it supporting program-related communications and efforts to bring stories and voices directly from the youth we are working with to the US public through new media; and the remaining portion supporting research around youth and ICTs and helping put Plan’s global ICT4D strategy and capacity building plan into practice.

It will be fun to re-read this post in another three years and see how much I’ve learned by then, compare what the job description is now and what it may have morphed into, and whether my thinking today sounds horribly naive and out of date.

Thanks go out to everyone I’ve met (live or virtually) and had the opportunity to work with over the past 3 years; it’s been life altering.

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This is a first guest post by Jacqueline Deelstra, who is working for about 2 months to support Plan Benin to solidify their SMS Reporting and Tracking of Violence against Children (VAC) project.

The VAC Benin project started as a pilot in February 2010. Plan Benin welcomed Paul Goodman (see earlier posts) for the month of May to support refining and optimizing the actual SMS and mapping system, and Jacqui is now spending 10 weeks looking further at the non-technological aspects that underlie the initiative, including staff training, links with government duty bearers, and community input around the idea and practice of SMS-based reporting.

During the initial workshops with staff, government representatives and youth in February 2010, we identified the need to map out and better understand what information should be collected in order to 1) allow Plan staff and government to understand the nature of violence against children in Benin, respond to VAC reports, and to avoid creating parallel information systems and 2) the need to provide clear guidance and training to ensure consistent categorization of reported cases. Jacqui writes about this below. (More on the overall project and process via the links at the end of this post.)

In coming to Benin for two months as a consultant to work with Plan staff on a project using FrontlineSMS and Ushahidi to collect and map citizen reports of violence against children (explained previously in this blog) I knew part of my work would be training staff in the technology and answering their questions about how it works and what it’s good for.  In other words, that this work would fall under the often discussed buzz phrase “capacity building” for local staff. And certainly, many questions have come to me about aspects of the technology.

For example, how data from Ushahidi can be downloaded for analysis and to make graphs for reports and how staff without access to Ushahidi as administrators can use the public site to submit cases of violence that are reported to them in person as opposed to being submitted directly from the reporter to our Ushahidi platform via our SMS helpline.

During the recent trainings I carried out in Cotonou on Tuesday and Wednesday I was able to demonstrate to staff members the features of Ushahidi, but just as important was the chance to field a lot of interesting comments and questions. As this was the first time many staff members had seen the vacbenin.ushahidi.com site, it was a process of discovery. There was resulting curiosity about things I had just taken as given in the system.

Comments were made about how we are currently processing reports of violence received by SMS by classifying them into certain categories and specifically why we chose the categories we did for the type of violence and location. The categories we have are listed below.

Current categories on the Violence Against Children (VAC) Ushahidi site in Benin

From French to English they translate to:

Type of Violence– death, sexual violence, psychological violence, physical violence, negligence, exploitation and kidnapping

Location– At home, at school, at work, in the community and in institutions.

You will see next to categories right now there is the statement: “Select as many as needed.” Everyone knows it is difficult to classify many things into just one box. Thus, with cases of violence such a forced marriage it was initially decided that multiple boxes should be checked because it certainly entails sexual and physiological violence and potentially physical violence, and we wanted to cover all our bases.

However, comments from the standpoint of the country office staff pointed to a different conclusion: you have to categorize each report in just one category or else it will be difficult to do a good analysis of the data. They see instead that there is one category which the case belongs to above all, (for forced marriage this would be sexual violence) and that is how it should be categorized. As it was explained to me they look at the categories and say, “just because only one box is checked does not mean the case does not belong to other categories, and selecting one box ensures there is not double counting of cases in the analysis.”

Finally, in our discussion of the choice of locations when processing a report, questions come up about why “at work” was chosen, when other locations more specifically of interest to staff, such as the market, were not included. (Note: the original categories were taken from the UN Study on Violence Against Children, which provides the framework for the overall program.) Staff explained that markets are known to be dangerous places for children who work in them and thus they would like to see if reports come in specifically about that. They also discussed their feeling that “at home,” is too vague. Violence at home could be committed by parents against their own children. Or it may be violence committed against domestic workers or other children living in the household, which they have the impression happens frequently. But the category “at home” does not provide any insight into that question.

The clear value of this discussion of categories and what information would be of most use to the local staff points to another buzz phrase in development, “participatory methods for program design, monitoring an evaluation.” Without consulting various staff members and getting that local knowledge about what issues a project should be tracking and addressing, it is likely the project will not be as useful and impactful as it could be. Especially with a project like as this one that is gathering data for the sake of advocacy, awareness raising and informing future programming, the way data is collected and classified has to fit the local needs and context.

Thus in my trainings this week it was certainly not only the Cotonou-based staff that learned something. I learned more about what types of violence are of interest to staff and how we can make this project work better for them by better meeting their information needs.

Related posts:

Future proofing the VAC Benin project (by Paul Goodman)

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

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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