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).
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
- 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.
- 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):
- 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.
- 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.
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.
- 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.