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Posts Tagged ‘Benin’

As part of their efforts to reduce violence against children, Plan Benin is rallying motorcycle-taxi drivers to use SMS to report violence against children that they witness in the streets.

Florence Cisse, Plan West Africa’s regional communications officer, says:

The Zemidjan or “Zem” swarm the streets of Cotonou like bees. They are everywhere; silent observers to all comings and goings. Now, they have received training on how to recognize cases of child trafficking or kidnapping which often occur on the same busy streets. Using SMS texting on their mobile phones, they send information which is tracked and mapped by Plan using Ushahidi, an open source web-based technology platform. Plan then alerts authorities through partnerships with the Benin Central Office of Child Protection and ministries of Family, of Home Affairs and of Justice who begin the process of retrieving the children or investigating the abuse.

“The Zem are always working on the streets, which is where children experience the greatest risk,” said Michel Kanhonou Plan Benin Programme Manager. “The use of Ushahidi to track SMS texts and map the incidents of violence has helped to inform the authorities where, block by block, they need to invest greater resources to keep our children safe.”

The Zem join youth, heads of police squads, community and religious leaders and others who have received the training on how to recognize abuse and report it through simple SMS from Plan. Plan promotes a phone number that is used to collect the SMS on billboards and radio programmes.

This is the kind of innovation I think is most interesting – identifying existing networks and systems, and seeing how to enhance or expand them via new technologies. I’m looking forward to seeing how the program advances, and what Plan Benin learns from this effort to engage broader networks in preventing, tracking and responding to violence against children.

The team in Benin has created a video about the violence reporting system, which uses both FrontlineSMS and Ushahidi. The technology tools, however, are only part of the program. In addition, the team launched billboard and community radio campaigns to promote the violence-reporting number; engaged local communities, government, child protection agents, and NGOs; and trained children, families, teachers, school directors, parents and community leaders (and now moto-taxi drivers!) about violence, its impact on children and how to respond to it. Children and young people have been involved in program design and implementation as well, and there have been thorough discussions on how to manage this type of sensitive information in a private and secure way.

For some older posts that demonstrate the evolution of the project, which started off in early 2010, click here.

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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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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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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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I’m thrilled to write that we have 4 masters level students (or recent grads) who have been prepping for the past few months for 8-10 weeks of ICT4D, child participation, and child protection work with our teams at Plan Benin and Plan Cameroon.

My last post here on Wait… What? was an excellent guest post by Paul Goodman (@pdgoodman) who has been working with Plan Benin for most of May to help optimize the Frontline SMS / Ushahidi-based violence against children (VAC) reporting system that we initiated a little over a year ago. Paul is a Masters Level student at the School of Information Management and Systems at the University of California, Berkeley. In addition to on-the-ground ICT4D experience in Haiti, Pakistan and Bangladesh with DAI, he has worked on several USAID funded projects including the Cuba Development project and the Global Development Commons. Paul has also worked in business development and as a press assistant, multi-media editor and freelance photographer.

Jacqueline Deelstra has just completed her Masters at the Fletcher School at Tufts University. She’s worked overseas in the past with Twaweza in Tanzania and Kenya, World Teach in Ecuador and Tostan in Senegal. While at Twaweza, she focused on citizen reporting, village mobile phone surveys, and the use of mobile phones in development and governance programs. Jacqui will be spending her time in Atacora and Couffo, Benin, learning more about the social context and social challenges surrounding the implementation of the above-mentioned Violence against Children Reporting system in Benin, and looking at its contribution to good governance.

In Cameroon, we will be working with Joe Pavey and Rebecca Tapscott.

Joe (@joepavey) is a Master of Communications student in the Digital Media program at the University of Washington, where the program has an emphasis on storytelling and technology. Joe also spent 7 years at Microsoft, where he specialized on new standards of practice for processing and encoding video content. His undergraduate degree is in documentary film production. Joe will support the Youth Empowerment through Arts and Media (YETAM) Project on the technical side, helping youth and local partners in Cameroon to improve video production quality and to streamline the process from editing to uploading. He’ll also work closely with the well-skilled Cameroonian ICT team that is setting up a violence reporting system using Frontline SMS and CrowdMap, based on our learnings from the system in Benin.

Rebecca is a first-year Masters degree student at the Fletcher School at Tufts University, with experience in both development and journalism. She has also worked as an assistant researcher on a story about the Daniel Pearl case, a legal assistant and a production assistant at NPR. She previously completed a 6-month internship with Tostan in Senegal, where she worked closely with staff and program participants to support program implementation and evaluation. She also wrote stories for the Tostan website and blog. Rebecca will support the local partners and youth who participate in the YETAM project, especially with uploading content to the web and growing more accustomed to social media and ICTs in development. She will also be doing research on the traditional practice of breast ironing as an independent side project.

Joe and Rebecca will spend 8-10 weeks in Cameroon with the Plan team. I’m super excited to have Paul, Rebecca, Jacqui and Joe on board, as are the teams in Benin and Cameroon.

Look for some posts from the team on the Plan USA Blog and relevant cross posts here at Wait… What!

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This is a guest post by Paul Goodman, who is spending the month of May supporting Plan Benin’s Violence against Children (VAC) prevention and response project. The post appears on Paul’s own blog and also on Plan USA’s blog.

Elsie, the VAC - Ushahidi Project Coordinator in Benin

I’m working with Plan Benin to support the Violence Against Children project. The team here has established a system whereby victims of violence and observers of violence can send text messages to Plan to report violence in their communities. Plan then processes and maps the messages and works with the government of Benin to investigate the cases. In about a year of operation the system has received more than 80 reports of violence against children. The reports include physical violence, sexual violence, psychological violence, and other abuses including kidnapping, negligence, and so on.

At the beginning of the year the team identified a number of technical challenges that they’re facing using the system, which rests on the foundation of two stellar open source technologies  FrontlineSMS and Ushahidi. Those technologies are the focus of my time here in Benin though along with everything else in life, nothing is black and white.

“Technical” issues are often social, social issues often have no technical remedies, and things become confused. Beyond the division of technical and social, there are many other factors to consider. Thorough problem definition and planning for the short, mid, and long term are necessary to help define expectations, support project evaluation, and improve the chances of sustainability. These themes should be revisited periodically and updated as necessary.

In recent months Plan Benin lost two staff that were key to the day-to-day management of the system. Their departure temporarily disrupted the flow of information through the system but also created an opportunity: with a renewed organizational focus on the system we have an excellent opportunity to revisit the purpose of the initiative, consider the day-to-day functionality of the system, and ask (and hopefully answer) questions about the initiative’s future.

Today I worked with Elsie S., Plan Benin’s Project Coordinator, to chart out the operation of the system. The purpose of the exercise was to clarify the day-to-day operation of the system and revisit the roles and responsibilities of the many actors that interact with this project. Getting a firm grip on all of this information and documenting it for others will make it easier to train staff and partners and build further support inside Plan and within the government of Benin.

Elsie sketching her version of the workflow

A few of the questions we asked and answered today:

– How long should it take for incoming messages to be processed (stripped of personally identifying information, mapped, and so on)?

– What model is best for managing this process? Should the responsibility be centralized at the Plan Benin Country Office? Or should it be distributed to the Plan Benin Program Units (PUs) where the majority of the reports originate?

– How can we modify Ushahidi to support a distributed model, where focal points in the PUs take responsibility and have agency?

– How can we create a shared vocabulary around the various actions within the Ushahidi system? What does “approve” mean? What does “verify” mean?

Me describing my version of the workflow and discussing realistic timelines for different actions within Ushahidi.

In the coming weeks we’ll work with Plan Benin staff to ground truth any revisions to the workflow and modify the system as necessary. We’ll also spend quite a bit of time creating the documentation that will ensure the continuity of operations in the future: reference guides for Plan staff, guidelines for maintaining the privacy of victims, and documentation of the relevant technical aspects of the system.

In parallel, I’ll continue working on some necessary tweaks to Ushahidi including establishing security protocols, enhancing the system’s mapping capabilities (thanks John Etherton for your location highlight plugin and support), and more. In ten days we’ll be joined by Jacqueline Deelstra, a recent graduate of the Fletcher School at Tufts, who will continue these activities and dig deeper on the relevant social issues.

More from Benin soon.

Note: For background and additional posts on child protection, child participation and the VAC Benin project, click here.

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Last year, I spent some time in Benin piloting an SMS reporting system to track and respond to Violence against Children (VAC). After almost a year developing the idea and thinking it through to see if it was potentially feasible (see 7 or more questions to ask before adding ICTs), in February 2010 we conducted 2 workshops with youth, staff and local authorities in Couffo and Atacora, Benin, to design a system with their input (see Finding Some ICT answers in Benin). The main pieces of the reporting system are FrontlineSMS and Ushahidi. A few months after, staff reported back on some of the challenges with implementation (see Tweaking: SMS Violence Reporting System in Benin).

Romeo Essou, project coordinator

Since then, many of the issues have been resolved, and we’ve improved outreach so that communities are more aware of the SMS reporting system and how to use it. We’ve also been looking at the system itself, continuing testing, and seeing what improvements are needed. We didn’t have resources to dedicate someone fully to the program at first, but after seeing the potential, Plan Benin assigned Romeo (see photo) to manage the pilot project full-time in Benin. It’s been quite a pleasure working with the team there, and Romeo is no exception. Having someone dedicated full-time to working with communities and staff in the two districts has really made a difference. From November to mid-January, several additional violence cases were reported and a good number of them have been followed up on and closed.

Last week, Romeo shared what we still need to find solutions for. Some of these are issues that we’d identified last year and others are additional things that Romeo has suggested as he’s gotten down to business.

Some people still call instead of texting, or they send “call me back” texts

Cases are now coming in

  • The team is fairly certain this is due to illiteracy. Plan will involve more school-going youth in the initiative because they have higher literacy levels and can support others with reporting if needed.
  • Romeo and the team will continue doing outreach and education on how the system works both at community meetings and via radio broadcasts in French and local languages.
  • To address the calls that may continue to come in, a voice mail will be set up on the phone that links up to the FrontlineSMS laptop, with a message explaining that people have to send in a text. Romeo will do some research to determine which languages to use in the message for the best result (French and the 2 main local languages….).
  • If that doesn’t resolve the issue, Romeo and the staff will call back anyone who phones in.
  • Cost of an SMS continues to be a discouraging factor for people in terms of reporting. Often when Romeo or other staff visit a community, community members take advantage of their physical presence to report additional cases of violence.  This is not necessarily negative, considering that we want to increase the number of incidents reported and followed up on; however, if it turns out that awareness around violence is high but the cost of the SMS is a deterring factor in reporting, more inexpensive channels to report also need to be offered. We are still negotiating with the local operators to get a free SMS line.

Spam

  • Some 50 spams a day are coming in. This is an issue on all mobile phones in Benin. Much of the spam comes from the mobile service providers themselves.
  • If the spam is coming from the same number, it’s possible that a workaround script could be written up at the point where FrontlineSMS forwards to Ushahidi. The messages can also be marked on Ushahidi as spam, but they will still be arriving via FrontlineSMS, unfortunately, unless numbers can be blocked somehow.
  • Needs further thought on how it might be overcome.

The Violence Tracking Platform (Ushahidi):

Ushahidi platform

  • We need to be 100% sure that any personal or identifying information coming in via the SMS reports is scrubbed so we do not put any children or witnesses at risk or falsely accuse anyone of violence against children by publishing the reports to the Ushahidi platform.
  • Romeo will develop a Privacy and Protection Checklist and train those administering the Ushahidi system to be sure to remove identifying information thoroughly before allowing it to be published on the Ushahidi site.
  • The identifying information still needs to be stored somewhere on the system to support with follow-up on the cases that come in. We may need additional development work on the platform to allow for that.
  • We hope to integrate the Ushahidi map into the Violence against Children website, which has educational material, videos and cartoons done by youth, and a discussion forum. However if the information poses a risk to anyone, we may decide to make the Ushahidi site private and keep it as a management tool rather than a public site.

Categorizing:

  • The staff who administer the Ushahidi website are not always clear which type of violence an incident should be categorized as (physical violence? sexual violence? psychological violence?).
  • Romeo will create short guidelines to help people to categorize the incidents properly. He’d like these to be incorporated into the Ushahidi platform.
  • Often a reported  incident can fit into more than one category – eg., both physical and sexual violence. If it’s categorized in two categories, then we lose the sense of how many incidents there have been overall, and we’re unable to properly chart the data. We need to find a way to manage this on the system so that we have proper statistics.

Recent reports of physical violence, sexual violence, forced marriage and exploitation

Follow up on reported cases:

  • We still want a way to track response and follow-up on cases within the Ushahidi platform, as often a report requires more than one verification visit.
  • We need someplace within the platform to store this type of information to keep records of follow-up.
  • This will require work by a developer, but it might be helpful for other institutions using Ushahidi as well. It’s also possible that FrontlineSMS Medic could be used for case management rather than Ushahidi, but it might prove confusing for staff to have to store and act on the same kind of information using two different tools.

Names of villages, hamlets, etc:

  • We would like to have a listing on the map of the various hamlets, villages, etc. They do not currently appear on the map since there is no record of them on Open Street Maps or Google Maps. Plan has this detailed information in its internal systems and we want to add it to the base maps so that it’s easier for administrators to locate the incident in the right community.
Coordination and outreach:
  • In addition to the technical work on the system, Romeo will continue to coordinate and share information with local partners and other organizations working on violence against children. There are similar initiatives already in place and we don’t want to duplicate efforts. Combining and sharing help line numbers and taking reports by both phone and SMS is one option.
Related posts on Wait… What?

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