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Archive for the ‘Benin’ Category

Our Tracking Violence Against Children in Benin project won first prize for Most Innovative Use of Technology or Social Media in Plan’s internal Global Awards contest. The competition was fierce and we were up against some really great projects.

Here’s a nice video overview of the project and where we hope to take the initiative as we go forward.

We still have some kinks to work out and we are still in pilot phase, but we are pretty happy about the award in any case. It helps motivate us even further to improve on the idea until it’s fully functioning and sustainable and we know that it’s resulting in more reporting of violence, helping to track trends and cases of violence, and being used by local and national authorities for responding and following up on those cases that occur.

Many many thanks to everyone who has helped the project get where it is, including:  Henri da Silva, Carmen Johnson, Bell’Aube Houinato, Amelie Soukossi, Eleonore Soglohoun, Morel Azanhoue, Victoire Tidjani, Alfred Santos, Jean Sewanou, Michel Kanhonou, Paul Fagnon, Camille Ogounssan, Anastasie Koudoh, Mika Valitalo, Ken Banks, Josh Nesbit, Patrick Meier, Juliana Rodich, Henry Addo, David Kobia, James Bon Tempo, Stefanie Conrad, Theresa Carpenter, Penelope Chester, Shona Hamilton, and community leaders, parents, school directors, local authorities, children and youth in the 2 participating communities.

Related posts on Wait… What?

Fostering a new political consciousness on violence against children

7 (or more) questions to ask before adding ICTs

Finding some ICT answers in Benin

Tweaking SMS based violence reporting system in Benin

Community based child protection

New Plan report on ICT-enabled development

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Plan just released a new report called ICT Enabled Development: Using ICT strategically to support Plan’s work. The report is part of an on-going process by Plan Finland (kudos to Mika Valitalo for leading the process) in collaboration with Plan USA to support Plan’s country offices in Africa to use ICTs strategically and effectively in their development work. It was written by Hannah Beardon and builds on the Mobiles for Development Guide that Plan Finland produced (also written by Hannah) in 2009.

The idea for the report came out of our work with staff and communities, and the sense that we needed to better understand and document the ICT4D context in the different countries where we are working. Country offices wanted to strengthen their capacities to strategically incorporate ICTs into their work and to ensure that any fund-raising efforts for ICTs were stemming from real needs and interest from the ground. Plan offices were also in the process of updating their long-term strategic plans and wanted to think through how and where they could incorporate ICTs in their work internally and with communities.

The process for creating the report included 2-day workshops with staff in 5 countries, using a methodology that Mika, Hannah and I put together. We created a set of ICT training materials and discussion questions and used a ‘distance-learning’ process, working with a point person in each office who planned and carried out the workshop. Mika and I supported via Skype and email.

Hannah researched existing reports and initiatives by participating offices to find evidence and examples of ICT use. She also held phone or skype conversations with key staff at the country and regional levels around their ICT use, needs and challenges, and pulled together information on the national ICT context for each country.

The first section of the report explains the concept of ‘ICT enabled development’ and why it is important for Plan and other development organizations to take on board. “With so many ICT tools and applications now available, the job of a development organization is no longer to compensate for lack of access but to find innovative and effective ways of putting the tools to development ends. This means not only developing separate projects to install ICTs in under-served communities, but looking at key development challenges and needs with an ICT eye, asking ‘how could ICTs help to overcome this problem’?

Drawing on the research, conversations, workshop input and feedback from staff, and documented experience using ICTs in Plan’s work, Hannah created a checklist with 10 key areas to think about when planning ICT-enabled development efforts.

  1. Context Analysis: what is happening with ICT (for development) in the country or region?
  2. Defining the need: what problems can ICT help overcome? what opportunities can it create?
  3. Choosing a strategy: what kind of ICT4D is needed? direct? internal? strategic?
  4. Undertaking a participatory communications assessment: who will benefit from this use of ICT and how?
  5. Choosing the technology: what ICTs/applications are available to meet this need or goal?
  6. Adjusting the content: can people understand and use the information provided for and by the ICTs?
  7. Building and using capacity: what kind of support will people need to use and benefit from the ICT, and to innovate around it?
  8. Monitoring progress: how do you know if the ICT is helping meet the development goal or need?
  9. Keeping it going: how can you manage risks and keep up with changes?
  10. Learning from each other: what has been done before, and what have you learned that others could use?

The checklist helps to ensure that ICT use is linked to real development needs and priorities and appropriate for those who are participating in an initiative or a project. The report elaborates on the 10 key areas with detailed observations, learning and examples to illustrate them and to help orient others who are working on similar initiatives. It places the checklist into a 4-stage process for ICT integration.

  1. Understanding the context for ICT work: includes external context and internal experience and capacity
  2. Finding a match between priorities and possibilities: rooting the system in local needs and priorities and finding good uses for tools and applications
  3. Planning and implementing concrete initiatives: carrying out participatory assessments, linking to other development processes and addressing technical issues and concerns
  4. Building a culture of systematic, sustained and strategic use of ICTs: linking ICTs with program work, transforming the role of ‘the ICT guy’, and building expertise on the cultural and social aspects of ICT use

Additional material and case studies, ICT country briefings, and an overview of Plan’s current work with ICT4D in Africa are offered at the end of the report.

The report includes input from Plan staff in Ghana, Mali, Mozambique, Senegal and Uganda who participated in the ICT4D workshops. It also draws heavily on some of the work that Mika has been doing in Finland and Kenya, and work that I’ve been involved in and have written about in Mali, Cameroon, Mozambique, Ghana, Benin and Kenya involving staff, community members and community youth. You can contact Mika to get the workshop methodology in French or English or to comment on the report (ict4d [at] plan [dot] fi).

There’s so much rich material in the report that I almost want to summarize the whole thing here on my blog, section by section, so that people will take the time to read it…  I think this is a really important and useful piece of work and we’re very excited that it’s now available! Download it here.

Related posts on Wait… What?

ICT4D in Uganda: ICT does not equal computers

Demystifying Internet (Ghana)

It’s all part of the ICT jigsaw: Plan Mozambique ICT4D workshops

A positively brilliant ICT4D workshop in Kwale, Kenya

7 or more questions to ask before adding ICTs (Benin)

A catalyst for positive change (Cameroon)

Salim’s ICT advice part 1: consider both process and passion (Kenya)

Salim’s ICT advice part 2: innovate but keep it real (Kenya)

Meeting in the middle

I and C, then T (US)

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Henri from Plan Benin training on SMS reporting.

In February I was in Benin to support staff to pilot the idea of using SMS reporting (FrontlineSMS) and digital mapping (Ushahidi) to strengthen local and national systems for reporting, tracking and responding to violence against children.  We conducted 2 workshops in mid-February with youth leaders, frontline staff, community members, local authorities from the Center for Social Protection (CPS) and representatives from the Ministry of the Family to get things started.

For some more background, check out my previous posts on the Violence against Children (VAC) project, the questions we asked ourselves before getting started on the SMS and mapping initiative, and the February workshops in Benin and what we learned there.

Since February, staff in Benin have been following up with workshop participants and with local authorities and institutions, including: the Prefect, the Mayors, community supervisors, animators of the children’s/youth media clubs, headmasters and other school authorities and the CPS.  The youth in one community did a radio program about violence against children and talked about SMS reporting. They also designed an information sheet that’s been hung up all over the town to encourage the population to report cases of violence.

Henri, Plan Benin’s ICT Director who facilitated at the Benin workshops, went to Togo to replicate the training with staff and youth there.  He and Carmen, who manages the overall VAC project in Benin, have also been observing and collecting feedback on the system to see where it needs tweaking.  They have put a project plan together for the next 6 months or so.

Carmen the VAC project coordinator in Benin.

Observations that Henri and Carmen shared and some thoughts we have about resolving them:

Issue:

  • Most people call instead of sending SMS

Hmmm….

  • Why?  Habit?  Literacy?  Unclear indications of what to do or unclear expectations of what the system is for?  We need to find out more about this.  It would be good to know exactly what kind of volume we are talking about total in terms of SMS vs calls. (I will update this post when I find out.)
  • Should we start taking calls too then? And are there resources and capacity to manage calls in addition to FrontlineSMS (which is automated)? How are we linking with the Child Help Line in Benin?
  • Could both calls and SMS be administered in the Ushahidi system?  Eg., Just as an administrator needs to review any SMS’s that come into Ushahidi  before approving them, someone could be tasked with inputting information from a phone call into the Ushahidi back end to then trigger the rest of the process (verification, response, etc). And how would that impact on pulling data out of the system for decision making?  (See this post for more information on how the system is currently conceived)

Issue:

  • Some people are sending a re-call SMS (asking us to return the call)

Hmmm….

  • We need to find out why people are sending re-call messages instead of SMS’s.  Because in the current set-up, text messages are not free?  Literacy issues? Because our system looks like something else they’ve done where re-call was the norm?  Something else?
  • If it’s due to low literacy or language issues, how can we open the system to those who cannot read/write or who do not use French?
  • Plan Benin is discussing with the GSM provider to find a way to send back an automatic reply SMS informing people not to call but to send a message, and to take this opportunity to indicate in the message what is expected as information.  But if literacy/language is the issue, we will not have solved anything by doing this…. Sounds like we really need to make sure calling is an option, and that good integration with the national Child Help Line is a real priority.
  • Plan Benin is also negotiating getting a “green line” or free short code, so that might resolve part of this.

Issue:

  • Many people are not using the key word ‘HALTE’ (stop) at the beginning of the message, meaning that the commands don’t trigger the messages to automatically send the information to Ushahidi.  (In the current system, each SMS should include the key word ‘HALTE’.  This key word triggers a “thanks for your message” automatic response from FrontlineSMS, and the forwarding of the message to the Ushahidi back end for subsequent management and follow up by local authorities.)

Hmmm….

  • Staff noticed that most (but not all) of the messages without the key word ‘’HALTE’’ contained the word ‘enfant’ (child). Henri has added ‘enfant’ as a key word in addition to ‘HALTE’ — and says it is working fine.  So we will assess if this helps.
  • Another alternative would be to not use any keywords – we will need to look into whether we can set FrontlineSMS up so that any SMS that goes to that number gets auto forwarded to Ushahidi.

Early draft of a poster promoting violence reporting by SMS

Issue:

  • Most of the messages are too vague to find the place and the victim for responding (and people do not have GPS enabled phones).  We have suggested that an SMS report should contain certain information [HALTE+type of violence+where it’s happening (eg., school, home, etc)+village name+district+age+sex+name of child if known], but people don’t follow the suggested format.

Hmmm….

  • How can we simplify it or better explain the type of information that’s needed?  Something we need to dig deeper into and consult with users to figure out.  Carmen’s take is that we are at the beginning of the process and we need to be patient and sensitize a lot so that people get used to the idea and understand how things work.

Issue:

  • Compatible FLSMS phones and modems are very difficult to find.  We were only able to find one phone that was compatible in Benin (a used one) because newer phone models are not compatible and the modems we found refused to connect.

Hmmm….

  • We really need to get this resolved since the entire system in Benin rests on one phone. What if it stops working?  It’s really difficult to expand the project without a larger set of phone/modem options.  We’ll work with the FrontlineSMS forum or staff (both are always super helpful on this kind of thing) in the next couple weeks to figure out how to resolve the compatibility issues, because there are modems available in West Africa that should be compatible, but that we couldn’t get to function.

Issue:

  • We planned for community response teams to be able to subscribe to alerts on Ushahidi, so that when there is an incident reported in the zone where they work, they would be alerted by SMS and could set the follow up process in motion.  But we haven’t been able to get the alerts working on Ushahidi or set up email reporting there.

Hmmm….

  • We discussed with the Ushahidi team and the problem was that not all the strings of code in Ushahidi had been translated into French yet.  Thanks to @theresac and @penelopeinparis, who volunteered to translate a load of strings, we are getting everything into French, and Henry at Ushahidi is helping get alerts working.  We still need to finalize all the elements on our Ushahidi page however and get everything working.  We’d also like to customize our Ushahidi page to make it our own, similar to the customizing that Voices of Kibera has done with their Ushahidi instance.

Any additional thoughts or help on the above issues are most welcome!


As for next steps, Henri and Carmen shared their plans:

  • Present the system to political and administrative authorities, including: head of the Brigade for the Protection of Minors, juvenile judges, Ministry of the Family’s Director for Children and Adolescents, Director of Family Programs, Minister of ICTs, cabinet and authorities who regulate telecommunications, Ministry of the Interior and Public Security, National Assembly, mayors and prefects, schools and teacher-parent committees, community authorities, media
  • Train staff, government partners, school and parent committees, and local NGOs on the reporting system, including a 1-day workshop with all Plan staff and a 1 day workshop with local NGO partners, schools and government staff
  • Accompany child protection committees and organized youth groups to use the system.  This will be done by holding sessions with organized children and youth groups at village level to reinforce and raise awareness on the reporting system; training child protection committees to use the new reporting system; holding one day sessions each month with the village level child protection system staff to discuss follow up on reports that have come in, and installing FrontlineSMS in each local site and adding local focal points as Ushahidi administrators
  • Strengthen awareness in the public and with leaders to support violence reporting by developing a communications plan to generate awareness on the issue of violence, the importance of reporting, and the mechanisms to report via SMS; supporting youth to use arts and theater to raise awareness on the issue of violence against children; talking with religious leaders and village chiefs; creating television, radio, newspaper and web advertisements to reach the general public and decision makers
  • Secure a free short code (target:  by May)
  • Conduct a national level evaluation workshop with involved local and national actors (in 6 months)

As we move forward, more questions will surely come up and we’ll need to continually tweak things. But I feel that we’re off to a good start. The fact that people are calling in and SMS’ing in is a good sign already that the program has some potential, and that people are willing to report violence against children.

—————-

Related posts on Wait… What?

Breaking it down: violence against children

Fostering a new political consciousness on violence against children

Seven (or more) questions to ask before adding ICTs

Finding some ICT answers in Benin

Meeting in the middle

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Mapping Violence against Children in Benin

In my last post, I wrote about key questions to ask before adding ICTs to a development initiative, using the example of a violence against children program I’m working on in Benin. The piece that was missing, and which came together over the past 2 weeks, was the view from the ground.

We just finished two workshops (in Natitingou and Couffo Districts) with 24 youth from 9-10 villages in each district, the district heads of the Center for Social Protection (CPS), and the Ministry of the Family (both of whom are responsible for responding to cases of child abuse/child rights violations in their varying forms).  We covered several topics related to youth leadership and youth-led advocacy.

I was most excited, though, about getting end user input and thoughts about implementing a FrontlineSMS and Ushahidi set-up as a way of reporting, tracking and responding to violence against children.

I had a lot of questions before arriving to Benin, but by the end of my 2 weeks here, I feel satisfied that the system can work, that it’s reflective of real information and communication flows on the ground, that roles of the different actors – including youth – are clear, that it can add value to local structures and initiatives, and that it could be sustainable and potentially scaled into a national level system in Benin and possibly other countries.

What we are tracking.

Violence children said they experience at family and community levels.

Forms of violence that children and youth experience at home and in the community.

The UN Report on Violence against Children (VAC) identified 4 key forms of violence against children (physical, psychological, sexual and neglect) and 5 key places where it takes place (home, school, community, institutions, workplace).  Plan is one of the organizations that participated in the elaboration of the study. Now, together with local, national and global partners, we are working on sharing the study’s results and strengthening capacities at different levels to prevent and respond to violence against children.

Plan’s approach helps rights holders (in this case children and youth) know their rights and engages them in educating on and advocating for those rights. At the same time Plan works to strengthen the capacities of duty bearers (local and national institutions, including the family) to ensure those rights.

The VAC study revealed some shocking statistics on violence against children, yet we also know that under-reporting is a reality, meaning that the magnitude of violence is not fully known.  People don’t report violence for many reasons, including fear of reprisal and stigma, difficulties in communication and access to places where they could report. Institutions also face difficulties in responding to violence for a variety of reasons, including lack of political will, disinterest, lack of awareness on the magnitude of the problem, scarce resources, poorly functioning or corrupt systems, and poor quality information.  Even when violence against children is reported, national response and judicial systems in many countries don’t do a good job of addressing it.

How ICTs can help.

Watching testimonials captured as part of the workshop.

Watching testimonials youth produced during the workshop.

Mobiles can pull in and send out multiple bits of information, creating a kind of glue that can hold a system together.  In Benin, the use of SMS and mapping can bolster and connect the existing system for reporting and responding to cases of violence against children. SMS allows for anonymous and low cost reporting. It’s hoped that this will encourage more reporting.  More reporting will allow for more information, and for patterns and degrees of violence to be mapped.  This in turn can be used to raise awareness around the severity of the problem, advocate for the necessary resources to prevent it, and develop better and more targeted response and follow-up mechanisms. Better information can help design better programs. SMS can alert local authorities quickly and help improve response. Mapping is a visual tool that children and youth can use to advocate for an end to cultural practices that allow for violence against them.

In addition to FrontlineSMS and Ushahidi, digital media tools can be used to record audiovisual information that helps qualify the statistics and better understand attitudes towards violence.  At the workshops we trained youth to use low cost video cameras, mobile phones and audio recorders to document violence and to take testimonials from other youth and community members.  These testimonials can help youth improve and target their messaging to change violent behaviors and can be used to educate in their communities and generate dialogue around violent practices. Testimonials and audiovisual materials also help youth connect with people outside the borders of their communities to share their realities, challenges and accomplishments via the web.

What the system looks like.

My colleague Henri sharing the basic idea of the information flow and how it could intersect with a FrontlineSMS and Ushahidi system.

My colleague Henri explaining the basics of the system.

We had some ideas and a drawing of what the system might look like that we shared to get across the basic idea of the system and to obtain user feedback on it.

After the workshops, with input from the youth, national and district level Plan child protection staff, community outreach staff, the Center for Social Protection (CPS) and the Ministry of the Family, it ended up looking something like this (forgive my poor artistic talents….)

My low tech attempt at drawing out the system....

For now, the Frontline SMS piece of the system will be managed by Henri (see photo above) at Plan’s Country Office. Plan’s district level child protection staff will administer the Ushahidi system, receiving and approving the SMS reports that are automatically forwarded to Ushahidi from Frontline SMS.  Automatic alerts will be set up so that when there is a case reported in a particular community, the Plan staff person who liaises with that community, as well as the CPS point person, and the local police and any other relevant community level persons will be alerted.  These authorities will verify the cases and do the follow up (they are already responsible and trained for this role).  The goal is for management of the whole system to be handed over to national authorities.

Main challenges we face(d) and ideas for overcoming them.

There were many questions and thoughts from users about the system that need to be worked out (see below). But these are not insurmountable.

Lack of resources to respond to violence at the local and national level is the main challenge seen by the CPS and local Plan staff.  It will be easy to report now because there will be a locally available, low cost and fast system.  The number of reports will increase. What if we don’t have enough capacity to respond to them? Children and youth may feel discouraged and stop reporting.

Proposed Solution:  Plan Benin will continue to work closely with the Ministry of the Family and the CPS during the 6-12 month pilot phase in the Natitingou and Couffo districts.  The end goal is that the CPS and Ministry will manage the entire system. The information collected during the pilot phase will be used to advocate for more resources for prevention and response.

Anastasie during some group work with the youth.

Anastasie

Airtime and mobile phone access in order to report incidents was raised as a potential challenge by children and youth in both groups.  What if people don’t have credit?  Can Plan purchase credit for the participating youth leaders and buy them phones?

Proposed Solution:   My amazing colleague Anastasie, who coordinates the program in West Africa, turned around to youth and said, “Hah? Do you honestly think Plan can purchase credit and mobile phones for the entire country of Benin?  No! This is not only Plan’s concern. This is not only happening here in one community or one district.  This is a problem that we all share, and we all have a responsibility to do something about.”  The kids laughed and agreed that anyone could find a way to report by borrowing a phone if necessary or asking an aunt or friend to help them.  The youth that we are working with are all part of organized community youth groups, about half of them have mobile phones and all said that their families or neighbors had phones that they could borrow or use.  Still, Plan will approach the government and cell phone providers about getting a “green” number that would allow for free SMS violence reporting.

Phones and modems. “Here (at the Nokia Store) we don’t carry the older models, surely you would prefer this nice new one with many cool features and capabilities?”  Um, no, actually what we’re looking for is an older, cheaper phone or one of the modems on our list here!  We spent quite some time visiting stores and testing modems and phones to find one that worked with FrontlineSMS.  Mobile phones are a complex ecology with many factors — phone or modem model and auto-installed programs they come with, SIM cards, etc.–that can trip you up and there is not a lot of standardization across phones or countries, so what works in one place may not work in another. It’s good to have an additional day for testing things out.

Proposed Solution:  The young woman working at the Nokia store in Cotonou was very happy to sell us her used old phone for an exorbitant price…..  I’m thinking I will go on e-bay or someplace to find some older model phones that work with Frontline SMS to use as a backup.  I wonder if there are original (not pirated) phones at local markets….

Weak internet, electricity. Staff and CPS wondered: What if our internet is down, or not strong enough to go into the system and verify the reports in Ushahidi?  Will the messages from FrontlineSMS forward to the Ushahidi system if the internet is down?  What if there is a power cut? Will FrontlineSMS still capture the SMS’s and forward them?

Proposed Solution:  Power and electricity are always a challenge, but we were able with a normal degree of patience to make the system work. I was constantly reminded how my habits are based on having constant electricity and high speed internet.  Use patterns are quite different when it’s a weak, intermittent connection, but most people in places with customary weak connections and unreliable electricity have higher tolerances for the situation.  Internet and electricity are not really in our hands, but we did use mobile internet as a back up and that worked in some cases.  The Ushahidi system will be managed from the two Plan district offices for now, which have good internet (the training site where we were working did not). Eventually if/when the system is passed to local authorities this will need to be looked into.

Our own technical knowledge.  We were asked: How can we set it up so that the CPS or Plan staff or local authorities can get an SMS when a case is reported so that they can go immediately to check it out?  Can people make reports by email?  Can we get statistics on a regular basis from Frontline SMS and Ushahidi to send to our superiors?  Is there a way to track the status of each case so that we know where it is in the process from reported to resolved?  Well, yes, there is but we couldn’t get the email or the alert system working.  Likely this is our lack of experience with the system…. and the weak internet didn’t allow us to do a lot of poking around on user forums while at the workshops to find solutions.

Proposed Solution:  We’ll continue to explore FrontlineSMS and Ushahidi to better learn all the functionalities and see what potential ones we can use.  We will also add relevant feeds, add an “about” page, clear off the test SMS’s, etc., so that our Ushahidi instance can go live.  There are likely add-on functions that we could use to query data in FrontlineSMS for exporting to spreadsheets for sorting and managing (I have done this with Frontline SMS Forms but couldn’t make it work with text message contents).  We will look into to a way to manage the status of each incident report, moving from reported into FrontlineSMS, approved in Ushahidi, sent out by alert to the relevant authority for verification, verification completed and marked in the system (hopefully with a report), and some kind of closure of the incident – what response was given or what legal or community resolution process was started and what was the result – and finally, incident closed. Some of the applications developed during Ushahidi Haiti may be useful for us here, or those being used by FrontlineSMS: Medic.

Privacy and protection for violence victims/witnesses who report.  In this sense we have two challenges.  Can we capture all the information that comes in, yet scrub it before publication on Ushahidi so that it doesn’t identify the victim or alleged perpetrators, yet keep it in a file for the local authorities to follow up and respond?  And a second challenge:  If everyone knows everything that happens in the community, how can we ensure privacy and confidentiality for those who report?

Proposed Solution:  Find out how this was managed in the Haiti situation in the case of names of missing or separated children.  Learn more about all of the possible data exports from both FrontlineSMS and Ushahidi.  Find out if a separate box for “Private Information” could be added to the report section of Ushahidi for information to be kept in the system but not published on the public site itself or if there is a program that can query the data base either in FrontlineSMS or Ushahidi. The second challenge, that of information confidentiality at the community level, is actually more of a concern.  Staff will have follow up meetings with children and youth to identify additional ways to ensure confidentiality at the community level.

What if your phone rings while you are making a video report with it!? Strangely enough, this was one of the hottest questions with the most debate at the workshop.  I found that amusing, but it was a question that needed to be resolved then and there.  I suggested that it was unprofessional/rude to answer your phone if you were in the middle of a video testimony.  But what if your family has been in an accident?!  What if it’s an emergency!?

Proposed Solution:   OK, well in the end we decided it was up to each individual to decide what to do!

Next steps.

Draft campaign poster after the first workshop; information to send by SMS will be updated to reflect input from the CPS in Couffo.

Draft poster. Information to send in the SMS will be altered to reflect input from the CPS.

Our main next steps will be follow up training for Plan staff, Ministry of the Family and Center for Social Protection, including discussions on how to pass management of the system over to them. We’ll also continue to support youth to promote the SMS hotline and to do their video and photo testimonies.  We will continuously monitor how the system is working and in about 6-12 months we’ll evaluate what has happened thus far with the system in order to make decisions about potential scaling up to the national level in Benin and/or to other countries. And we’ll follow up on resolving any of the challenges noted above.  During the pilot phase we will also tweak the system according to suggestions by users – including the youth, the CPS, Plan staff, and other reporters and responders.  For the evaluation, we will want to measure results and factor in a variety of elements that may impact on them, both those related to ICTs and those not related to ICTs.

Key principles confirmed.

Your ICT system needs to rest on an existing information and communications flow. Conversations about a new ICT system can be a catalyst to help identify and map out or even adjust that flow, but it’s critical to understand how information flows currently, and to find points where ICT systems can help to improve the flow.

End user input and testing is critical. We learned a lot and our thinking evolved exponentially during the workshops because we had children and youth present, as well as Plan frontline staff who work on child protection at the community and district levels, community members, local authorities responsible for child protection and responding to cases of violence, and the relevant ministry.  At first, my colleagues from the Country Office and I were uncertain that the system could be used for more than gathering information on violence for future decisions; we didn’t feel confident that there was a reliable local/national response system in place.  We wondered what the point of collecting information was if there would be nothing done about it.

However, the excitement of the CPS, children, and Plan staff working at the district level changed our thinking, and during the workshop we adapted it towards supplying information for future decisions as well as for immediate response.  Local authorities did have concerns about their own capacity to respond, but embraced the system and its potential to help them do their jobs.  They suggested many ways to improve it, and fleshed out our original ideas on how the information should flow to those responsible for responding and supporting victims, including local actors that we hadn’t thought of during the initial design phase.

The CPS, for example, suggested that the SMS’s should contain the full name of the victim, which is something we hadn’t thought was necessary for information gathering.  “We will have a much easier time finding the victim and responding if we have a first and last name.”

Testing SMS with the youth was important. We initially set up the word “HALTE” as our key word, but during testing noticed that people were spelling it “HALT” and “ALT” in their messages. So we adjusted the key word in FrontlineSMS to “ALT” to capture the alternative spellings that people might use when sending in reports.  Something we can find out during the next 6 month testing period is how to set up the system for local languages as well.  Local staff brought up the issue of adult literacy.  During local promotion of the violence prevention hotline these will all be key factors to consider.

Youth have a main role in promoting the SMS number and orienting peers of where to go for support.

Youth's role in promoting the line and orienting their peers will be critical.

The role of the participating youth leaders was a bit nebulous before the workshops for me.  I wasn’t clear if they were to be those who reported violence or if they would have another role. I was concerned about potential retaliation against them if they played a leading role in reporting violence. At the workshops it became very clear what they saw as their role – working to promote the SMS number for violence reporting, taking testimonials from youth and community members on the situation of violence, carrying out radio and poster campaigns against violence, leading educational sessions at schools and in their communities about violence and the SMS line, working to approach local leaders and decision makers to engage them in the campaign, and orienting those who had questions about which authorities and institutions they could approach for support if they had been victims of violence.  They are also key people to consult with around how the system is working during the monitoring and evaluation – what are the challenges children and youth face in reporting by SMS, how can we work around them, what other factors do we need to consider.

Input from the CPS and Ministry was critical to flesh out the information flow.  Participation by the CPS and Plan’s Child Protection point persons who know how things work on the ground brought us amazing knowledge on who should be involved and who should receive reports and alerts, and at what levels different parts of the system should be managed.  Their involvement from the start was key for making the system function now, for sustainability over time, and for potentially scaling to a national-level system.

Continued monitoring and evaluation of the effort will be critical for learning and potential scaling to a national system in Benin and for sharing with other countries or for other similar initiatives.  We’ll establish indicators for the various steps/aspects outlined in the information flow diagram.  As we pilot the system in these 2 districts in Benin, we will also want to pay close attention to things like:  additional costs to maintain the system; reporting and response rates; legal action in severe cases; adoption of the system and its sustained use by local entities/government bodies (Ministry of the Family and Center for Social Protection); suggestions from users on how to improve the system; privacy breaches at community level and any consequences; numbers of verified cases; number of actual prosecution or action taken once cases are reported and verified; quality of local level promotion of the hotline and education to users on how to report; progress in obtaining the green (free text) line; factors deterring people at different levels from using the system.

The end goal, something to evaluate in the long term, is whether actual levels of violence and abuse go down over time, and what role this system had in that.  Our main assumption — that education, awareness, reporting and response, and follow up action actually make a difference in reducing violence — needs also to be confirmed.

Related posts on Wait… What?

If you are still in the mood to read… I added a 7a and a 7b to my 7 or more questions to ask before adding ICTs post based on suggestions from readers and my time in Benin.

Here is an update on the project after 2 months:  Tweaking: SMS violence reporting system in Benin

For background on the broader Violence against Children (VAC) initiative:

Fostering a new political consciousness on violence against children

Breaking it Down:  Violence against Children


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Josh's FLSMS Ushahidi Diagram

Drawing by Josh Nesbit (Frontline SMS: Medic) and James Bon Tempo (Jhpiego) from an amazing brainstorming session in early Feb 2010.

When looking at integrating ICTs (Information and Communication Technology) into existing programs, or making an initiative go further or work better with ICTs, there is a lot to figure out before you even get started….

Over the past few months, I’ve been supporting the development of a mobile data gathering/ crowd sourcing and mapping workshop for youth in Benin.  The training is part of a broader initiative to reduce violence against children.  We’ve decided to use Frontline SMS and Ushahidi as tools in the project because we think (and want to test whether) mobile data collection/ crowd sourcing incidents of violence will allow for a better understanding of what is happening in this area.  We also think that geo-visualizing reports of violence against children may have an impact on decision makers and might allow them to better plan prevention and treatment programs and services.

At first I was most worried about whether we could get the technology itself set up and working, but as I started digging in, it was immediately apparent that the technology was the last thing to worry about.

The first thing to consider is probably:  Why are you doing this?

Well, we all have our different reasons…..  But even in a worst case scenario where someone wants you to use ICTs because they are cool or you have funding for them (*not the case in the project I’m writing about, but I’ve seen a lot of this going around) you might be able to salvage the project if you ask the right questions and get the right people involved in finding the answers.  Many of the questions I’m asking myself and my colleagues now will be asked again next week when we are all together on the ground with local staff, youth and community members. I expect there will be more questions added to this list, and that a lot of our current assumptions will change.  But here is the starting list that we’re working from (in no particular order, as answering one may alter answers to another one):

1) What are your specific information and communication needs and goals?

  • Why are you collecting the information?
  • What will be done with it?
  • Who will it be shared with and why?
  • What change will it contribute to?

For example: In our case, we want to gather information on the amount, types and location of violence happening in communities where we are working on a Violence against Children (VAC) project.  We want to know where the violence is happening most, and what kind of violence it is. The information will be used by the youth and project participants, staff, and relevant local or national authorities. We want to generate awareness, inform programmatic efforts, and advocate for more attention and services to prevent, respond to and treat violence against children.

2) Are you working within a particular framework or project/program already?

  • Do you have existing indicators that you want to meet or track using mobiles or mapping or specific information that needs to be gathered?  Does someone else have existing indicators or initiatives or information needs or formats that you should be linking in with/ following/ supporting?  If neither, you probably need to take a step back and think through your goals, purpose, and outline what your information needs are, and why you are gathering information or setting up a project in the first place.
  • Who are the target audiences/persons/decision makers/populations that you want to impact?
  • What information do you need to gather from and/or show to these groups in order to reach your established goals?

For example:  In our case, we are framing our whole project within the UN Study on Violence against Children (UNVAC).  The study identifies types of violence and contexts in which violence happens.  Our information gathering will be set up within that framework.  If possible, we’d also like to track the age and sex of those who experience violence, because that can help in designing prevention programs and services.

3) How is the issue you are working on currently dealt with?

  • Are there local structures that are involved or engaged with your topic/theme/project/initiative already?
  • What do they look like?
  • Who is involved in them?
  • Who currently provides solutions or responses?
  • How can they be involved/engaged?
  • What is the existing information and communications flow? Can you tap into it?
  • Will ICTs improve upon it? (if not, then stop here!)

For example:  In our case, we need to know more about the current community attitude towards violence. We need to know more about local mechanisms and whether they deal with violence as a crime or if those who are violent towards children are ever prosecuted (whether via local justice or national judicial systems)  We need to know which government services intervene or treat cases of violence.  Is there a Child Helpline that we can work with?  Who are the local allies?  How does this initiative fit into larger district or national initiatives and where are the connection points?  How can this initiative  enhance and/or improve what is already existing?  We will know more about this when we are on the ground next week.

4) What are the parameters for information collecting? What is the local use of ICTs?

  • Based on the broader framework of your project or initiative, what is the geographic range for information collecting? (1 community? One district? Nation-wide?)
  • Is there detailed geographical/map information for the area you want to work in? Do you actually need it?  If it doesn’t exist, what will you do about it?
  • How do people in the community use their phones? Are they individual phones? Family phones? Community phones? Who owns phones? Who has access to them?
  • Do people in the community have internet access? Who? How?
  • What is your set-up for collecting information and who will collect it/submit it?  Eg., do you expect a broad public to use SMS to send in information? Or will you do mobile data gathering where trained individuals go around collecting information using mobile based forms such as those on Frontline SMS Forms module?
  • How will people find out about your initiative?  How will you advertise the number to send information to — by radio, television, billboards, handmade posters, word of mouth, in schools?

For example:  In our case, we’ll work in only 2 districts to start.  Because we are concerned about privacy and protection (eg., retaliation against children who report violence) it may be OK to work without extremely detailed maps that could identify particular households or persons.  We are working with youth groups who are trained on violence, but we are afraid that they could be put at risk if they are going around collecting reports from individuals as a mobile survey.  We also feel that information might not be honestly shared if it were collected in survey form.  We assume that not all children own phones, but that phones are readily available.  We assume that if families own phones, they are controlled by one or the other parent.  In a school setting, we assume that children could borrow each other’s phones if some students have phones.

We are thinking that there will be adult allies, and that local community networks can spread the word that children can use SMS to send in violence reports.  We will need to get suggestions from youth and community members on how to ensure that SMSing information in doesn’t put children at further risk if they do not own their own phone.  We’ll have to find a way to remove/reduce the risk of being found out and retaliated against.  If we can’t do that, we won’t do the project.

5) What are the privacy and protection issues that you may run into? This is especially critical if you are collecting information from and/or about children under legal adult age or with sensitive or potentially dangerous areas such as conflicts, elections, health or human rights.

  • What are the risks to those who report information?
  • How can this be managed in the project structure/information gathering set up?
  • Will you have a private Ushahidi instance or public one? (eg. available to the public, or only available to those involved in the project?)  Who can access the RSS feed and the local alerts, and does this put anyone in particular at risk? If you have a public instance, who will have access to the information, and what will your parameters be for removing identifying information that could put people at risk.
  • How can you assure that information remains private both for individuals reporting and within the FLSMS/Ushahidi system once collected and that it’s treated confidentially by those managing the system?
  • Are you prepared to address any information/privacy breaches if they should happen? How? Who will be responsible?

For example:  In our case we are still concerned about privacy and protection, and potential retaliation against children who could be caught reporting violence.  We will discuss this in depth with staff and participating children and youth to be sure that they are aware of the implications of this type of project and information gathering.

Some potential risks that we are already aware of include: a child not deleting the SMS after reporting; a child reporting and expecting immediate help which may not be available; risk to the youth group that is promoting and leading this project; community rejection of the project.

Some possible ways of reducing risk include good promotion of how the project works and of how to delete an SMS after sending; not using an easily identifiable automatic text reply to those who report (eg., an auto reply SMS that says “thanks!” might be smarter than one that says “Thanks for reporting!”); openly raising awareness about the project and getting community support for it; ensuring adult allies and engaged adult decision makers; password protection for the website at first until we’re sure that privacy and protection are well managed and ensured.  Additional mechanisms will be discussed with local staff, local youth and engaged adult community members.

6) How will you close the circle and manage expectations?

  • Will there be a response to those that submit information? What? Who will respond? How? What is the plan?
  • How will you ensure that there are not expectations around the project or information gathering system that you cannot or are not set up to meet?
  • How will you return the information to the community/local district/those who provided so that they can use it for decision making or program intervention?
  • How will on-line/offline be managed and streamlined into an information gathering, communication and feedback system that works for the different levels of access of the populations you want to collect information from and share information with?
  • In your project design, how will you take into consideration and maximize local information sharing formats, customs, and opportunities?
  • And how will you ensure that the information remains in a protected/private state in order to avoid putting anyone at risk?

For example:  In our case, we are not sure yet what the local response mechanism is currently when violence is reported.  We will find out more when we are on the ground in the communities next week with local staff, and we see how we can link the initiative in with existing local systems.  However, we will likely not be able to provide any immediate support to those who report violence unless there is already a system in place that can be enhanced by better reporting through SMS.  We will probably need to be very clear that the point of the project is to collect information for future decisions, not for providing immediate help.  This may or may not have an effect on people’s interest and willingness to actually use an SMS based system to submit information.

We will discuss and agree with the community, youth, local staff and local organizations on how and when the information will available to the community in order to close the circle to be used for decision making and program design, etc.  Determining who has constant access to the information is also a part of this discussion.

7) What other questions come up based on the context of your initiative and your experience?

March 1:  Based on feedback to the post, I’ve added a couple more categories here:

7a)  How will you ensure that your project is sustainable?

  • What will the project look like in 5 years? Where will it be?
  • What happens when you leave? Who will manage and run the initiative? Will you or someone else be needed and available later on to support? How will this be managed?
  • What equipment are you basing your ICT system on? Who will own and care for it? How will it be maintained/upgraded and sustained? What capacities exist (or will you strengthen) at what levels to do this? What future costs are implied in maintaining the system? How will they be covered?
  • Who will own/manage any equipment? How will you ensure that it’s not commandeered by those with more power in the community?
  • What costs need to be considered for sustained functioning, and how will they be met?

7b)  What about scale? Is it something you are striving for and, if so, how will you get there?

  • Can the project set up/idea/initiative be replicated? Where and how?
  • Is scale something you are striving for? If so, is it do-able? How?
  • What sort of buy-in from local and/or national actors will you need to scale?  How will you involve those actors early on and get their input into the process?
  • How are you systematizing and sharing information and lessons learned?
  • How and when will you monitor and evaluate the project to know what outcomes, results, and impact you had?
  • How will you know you had an impact at all? And how will you measure the particular impact that your ICT tools or set up had in reaching those outcomes/results/impact?

**(would still love to hear other people’s key questions too – pls comment below….)

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So, now, after all that, finally…. What will your Frontline SMS, Ushahidi set up look like?

This part is very well covered by the different toolkits that have been developed (see links at the end of this post), but so as not to leave it hanging, here are some of our technology related tasks and questions that we will address when we arrive in Benin:

  • Setting up Frontline SMS and our Ushahidi page for the project
  • Setting up an automatic link between Frontline SMS and Ushahidi so that any SMS’s that come in will go automatically to Ushahidi for uploading onto our map
  • Determining how we will verify reports that come in
  • Determining how to manage auto-replies in a way that lets the person reporting an incident know that we received it, yet doesn’t put them at risk if the wrong person finds the auto-reply message on the phone.
  • Estimating budget for incoming text messages
  • Ensuring there are no legal issues around who is holding this type of data
  • Linking in with a local Child Helpline to involve them in the pilot and  see if we could integrate with them (and use their  short code eventually if they have one)
  • Reviewing on-going system management needs – verifying incidents, managing the back-end on Ushahidi; who will act as the local point person
  • Being sure that all the technology works on the ground….
    • Do we have the right equipment/phones?
    • Is the laptop/server working?
    • Are we able to connect with the phones?
    • Is the information linking back into Ushahidi properly?
    • Are key words / automated responses working?
    • Is verification working?
    • Can we export data?
    • Other things to consider?

Useful resources:

Ushahidi’s Community Resources for Non-Techies (including the Preliminary Practical Considerations guide, which is based on the above post!)

Mobiles for Development Guide by Hannah Beardon

Changemakers and Kiwanja collaboration:  SMS How To Guide

Frontline SMS:  Ning group for asking questions and learning and Frontline SMS site

RANET:  Utilizing Mobile: Installation and Use of Frontline SMS for basic data collection or outbound messaging (there are 3 parts to this series, and you can find it in French and Portuguese also)

Mobile Active: data about mobile use, mobile data communications costs, mobile coverage and operators by country and How to Set up an SMS System.

Mobiles-in-a-Box: Tools and Tactics for Mobile Advocacy

Ushahidi:  The Ushahidi Blog

iRevolution:  for broader discussions, thoughts, questions on crowdsourcing, crisis mapping, and the works.

New Tactics in Human Rights:  for practical tools and discussions around new technology in human rights work

Related posts on Wait… What?

3 ways to integrate ICTs in development work

Finding some ICT answers in Benin

Tweaking: SMS violence reporting system in Benin

Fostering a new political consciousness on violence against children

Breaking it Down: Violence against Children

It’s all part of the ICT jigsaw

I and C then T

5 ways ICTs can support the MDGs

11 concerns about ICTs and ‘social media for social good’

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