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Archive for the ‘violence’ Category

This is a guest post by Rebecca Tapscott who, along with Joe Paveyis interning with us in Cameroon for the next couple months. Rebecca wrote a first post about the what and the why of setting up an Ushahidi system in Cameroon to track violence against children and Joe goes more into depth about the technical side of setting the actual system up in his post Digitizing violence reporting. Sounds complicated… because it is!.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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 guest post by Joe Pavey who, along with Rebecca Tapscott, is interning with us in Cameroon for the next couple months. Rebecca wrote a first post about the what and the why of setting up an Ushahidi system in Cameroon to track violence against children. Here Joe goes more into depth about the technical side of setting the actual system up.

Our first major discussion about the VAC Cameroon site was in regards to how reports should pass through the system. For obvious reasons the information contained within these reports is extremely sensitive, so each step of the workflow process needs to be determined with the best interests of the children involved in mind.

The existing offline system for reporting violence against children was agreed upon through an exhaustive deliberation process with government, community, and local council members. In short, a lot of hard work has gone into making the existing offline system something that all parties agree on and it would not only be negligent, but counterproductive not to use this as a blueprint. For this reason the online system we are working on should respect, support and ultimately serve to expedite the current process, not replace it.

Under this current system Plan serves in the capacity of witness in cases of child abuse. Plan Cameroon has partnered with several governmental agencies to investigate and respond to reports they receive. Which agency this is depends upon the circumstances of the abuse.  Age, gender, and location are all factors in determining which agency will be responsible. For example, abuses taking place in the home are currently handled by the Ministry of Social Affairs, but cases involving female children are handled by the Ministry of Child and Women’s Empowerment.

The current policy also requires that all reports of violence against children received by Plan staff be forwarded to the sector office within 48 hours.

Existing community-level reporting flow

Following this, the report has 24 hours to reach the country office in Yaounde. This one of the processes we are hoping to expedite with the implementation of the digitized system.

Existing flow of next-level reporting - at Program Unit and Plan Country Office

If this sounds complicated, that’s because it is. As outsiders who are new not only to the culture, but also to the peculiarities of local bureaucracy, much of Rebecca’s and my first session was taken up with trying to understand the rules and regulations already in place. Thankfully we have Cameroonian colleagues in the local office to help us navigate and understand all of this.

The Ushahidi System

Ushahidi allows three methods for submitting reports: (1) Text Message, via Frontline SMS or another text messaging tool, (2) Email, and (3) Submitting a report directly through the site. These actions can be taken by individuals in the community or by Plan Staff if they are alerted of a particular incident. A fourth means of submitting reports to Ushahidi, via voice messaging, was previously available through a plug-in called Cloudvox. Unfortunately the company that created the Cloudvox plug-in was recently acquired and has suspended this product for the immediate future, and we haven’t identified an alternative voice messaging system. This is unfortunate as we were hoping to be able to offer voice messaging as a reporting method for non-literate youth — although bandwidth limitations may have rendered this impossible anyway.

Information workflow for Plan Cameroon VAC Crowdmap site (updated; this is version 2.)

Based on the information that needs to be tracked and reported on, our current plan is to separate reports into four categories, each with several subcategories as follows:

  1. Form of Violence
  • Physical
  • Sexual
  • Emotional/Psychological
  • Negligence
  1. Gender of Victim
  • Male
  • Female
  1. Age of Victim
  • 0-5
  • 6-12
  • 13-18
  1. Location of Incident
  • Home
  • Work
  • School
  • Community

Current Crowd Map set up with 4 main categories.

Creating these reporting categories (and each of their subsequent subcategories) will allow this information to be tracked separately, or to be looked at in terms of how categories overlap with each other. Since the Ushahidi platform allows users to choose more than one category or sub-category when submitting an incident report, no data need be lost in the effort to isolate and contextualize information.

For example, by tracking Gender and Location of Incident separately we will be able to more easily visualize how many incidents of abuse are taking place at schools in a certain community, how many of the victims are girls versus boys, and how each of those categories relates to reports from other regions. This will be especially important information to the government who has different agencies in place for tracking violence against children and youth depending on the circumstances. It will also be useful for Plan staff who can then tailor programs and awareness campaigns in a specific community towards the issues that are most prevalent there.

Plan Cameroon staff, partners and youth have create a detailed online map of each council area in which this project will take place, however, mapping of reports will be restricted to a less precise level described to us as the ‘community level’. It’s hard for Rebecca and me to conceptualize just how specific of an indicator this is, though once we are living in the community – a transition taking place this week – it should become easier to measure. The reason for mapping the location of incidents at the community level is privacy. If reports were mapped too precisely they could compromise the identity and safety of a child — a result that would be entirely unacceptable.

On the Ushahidi ‘back end’, each report of an incident will also contain a Description section that will allow information outside categorical parameters to be included in reports. This could be the body of a text message, a summary of a voicemail, or any other details that are deemed to fall outside the determined privacy boundaries (eg., this will allow us to keep identifying information and other details in the system, yet keep it from going public).

Over the course of our week in Yaounde, we engaged in many discussions regarding how we could make the online information workflow match that of the offline system. The conclusion seemed to be that involving community members and Plan staff in initial approval of reports might be possible, but that expecting all six of the varying government agencies that currently respond to such reports to use this digital system would be problematic. At this point we are hoping that the official agreement can be reworked slightly so that only MINAS, the Ministry of Social Affairs would need to be involved in the system.

By week’s end we had drafted an initial proposal for what the workflow for the system could be. It is by no means final and will likely go through numerous revisions over the course of our work here, but it will provide us a good base to build from in the future.

Unfortunately our progress on setting up the site itself has been handicapped by technical issues with the Crowdmap website that cause the site to crash when trying to create subcategories. We have engaged with members of the Ushahidi staff and they are currently working to fix the bug, but we don’t have a timeline as to when they will have the issue resolved.

We have now left Yaounde for Bamessing where we will be initiating our field work on the YETAM project, working with youth on creating short films, performing more community mapping, and we hope that the mobile Internet connection will allow us to continue to work remotely on the Crowdmap site.

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Guest post by Rebecca Tapscott who, along with Joe Pavey, is interning with us in Cameroon.

Joe Pavey and I are here in Yaoundé working as ICT4D interns for Plan Cameroon to help develop an Ushahidi/Frontline SMS system to report violence against children (VAC) and gender-based discrimination.  The project is conceptually the same as the Ushahidi site set up for Plan-Benin that another colleague of ours, Paul Goodman, worked on last month, although we have not completed the planning stages or started to implement.  At the outset, it is apparent that there are certain logistical and systematic differences between the projects, particularly in terms of the role of government partners.

Our team consists of Joe and me, Judith Nkie (the National Coordinator of the YETAM project), Nathalia Ngende (the Child Rights Advisor), Georges Niatchak (South Sector ICT Coordinator) and Charles Chiappi (ICT Manager).  We met for a few hours this past week to clarify some details of the project. (Note: This discussion built on training conducted in late May with staff and partners working on the YETAM project. In that training, the goals of an Ushahidi component to the project were generally agreed on among all. In addition, the information flow was discussed, a role play was done to help clarify roles and responsibilities of different stakeholders, challenges and bottlenecks to work through were identified along with the need for alternative reporting channels for those without SMS access or those are not literate, need to establish a baseline and indicators for success was discussed, protection risks were raised, and sustainability and ways to promote the system and the idea of violence reporting were considered.) 

This post discusses the purpose of the project and how it might be useful in the short and long-term.  Joe will follow up in a second post with some information about the logistics of setting up the Ushahidi site, and some remaining questions and next steps*.

Why YETAM, why Bamenda?

YETAM (Youth Empowerment through Technology, Arts and Media) is a Plan project established in 2008 that has been implemented with youth between 12 and 21 in eight African countries (Benin, Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Mozambique, Rwanda, and Senegal).  Plan Cameroon has three YETAM sites, one in the Northwest region (Bamenda), one in the North region (Garoua), and one in the Center region (Yaoundé).  The Plan team has chosen to pilot the VAC-Cameroon Ushahidi project with YETAM for two reasons.  First, VAC is of utmost relevance to youth, so it makes sense to place this new project within a youth-based project.  Second, YETAM participants have shown enthusiasm and passion for the YETAM project, and Plan believes that this energy and dedication can make the Ushahidi reporting system a success as well.

In preparation for this pilot project, the YETAM participants have mapped the towns of Ndop (in the Bamenda PU), Okola (in the Yaoundé PU), and Pitoa (in the Garoua PU), which can be viewed on OpenStreetMap.com.  The Ushahidi component will be new to the project but the team has been thinking about using new tool since last year and learning from the project in Benin.

How can Ushahidi combat VAC and gender-based discrimination?

The VAC-Cameroon Ushahidi site will be used for reporting violence against children and gender-based discrimination.  The idea is to establish a partnership with government ministries, in particular the Ministry of Social Affairs (MINAS) to respond to reports with the necessary legal and social support.  The Ushahidi system provides certain tools that will help make reports actionable for both a government response to individual reports, and a youth-led response to VAC and gender-based discrimination at the community level.

In particular, the ability to map the location of the report and categorize each report by the victim’s age, gender, and the location of the incident (home, work, school, or community) will allow YETAM participants and Plan Cameroon staff to use the information to identify what types of violence are occurring in which communities.  This information can help Plan staff target awareness trainings to serve the needs of specific communities.  YETAM participants can use the information to develop social advocacy campaigns, which are already a part of the YETAM project.

Plan Cameroon also has a broader psychosocial program that works to build resilience and help victimized children reintegrate into their communities.  The psychosocial program can use information from the VAC-Cameroon Ushahidi site to better understand where different kinds of violence are prevalent and hold corresponding trainings for social workers and community-based organizations.

Additionally, MINAS recently drafted a child protection code that has yet to be finalized or ratified.  There is resistance to finalizing the code because Cameroon already has a Family and People’s Code, and some people believe that since children are a part of the family, a separate code would be redundant.  However, children face unique challenges and threats that are not addressed in the Family and People’s code.  We hope that the data gathered by the VAC-Cameroon Ushahidi site can demonstrate some of these unique problems and serve as special and innovative tool to facilitate reporting of child abuse and gender-based discrimination.

Challenges:

No initiative would be complete without its challenges, and there are some hurdles that still need to be overcome, including

  • Empowering government partners to ensure that perpetrators of VAC are pursued, that justice is served, and that children are protected.
  • Building government capacity to ensure a smooth handover of site management and long-term sustainability for the project.
  • Ensuring that there is a point person in the government (MENAS) who will approve and verify reports in a timely manner.
  • Securing long-term funding for the project.
  • Involving police so that perpetrators will not be released and with the hopes of reducing the child abuse cases.

Note: Joe and I are prioritizing the VAC-Cameroon Ushahidi project for our work over the next ten weeks.  However, we are quickly realizing that the Plan Cameroon team has a strong work ethic, passion, and deep capability.  It is already apparent that establishing this Ushahidi site, training YETAM participants and communities to use it, establishing a strong government partnership for the project, and launching the site will take more than our allotted time.  We will do our best during our time here to support the planning, development, and implementation of the project as it progresses.

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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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Ernest training youth in Okola.

 

In  Garoua, Cameroon last week at a Training of Trainers meeting for the Youth Empowerment through Arts and Media (YETAM) Project, Ernest Kunbega Gwanvoma from GIMAC (Geographic Information and Management Center) took us through the youth digital mapping process that he and Plan staff and other partners facilitated this past year.

Ernest’s presentation is posted below (with his permission), along with some comments from the rest of the group.

 

Why Digital Mapping?

In line with YETAM’s emphasis on use of new technology in youth and community development work, Plan introduced the use of GPS and digital mapping. Training the youths in the use of GPS and digital mapping permitted them to map out their council areas and create an information system, including the road network and other socio-economic infrastructure of their area. This exercise exposed the youths to the realities of their environment, for it took them to all the nooks and corners of their area. This way they could easily identify the problems of their communities and share with their peers all over the world. And what better way than to indicate all this than on a map? Eventually the digital maps produced will be used to track cases of violence, gender discrimination and community development planning issues. They will be used locally and shared on Open Street Map to a wider world community.

Mapping in Ndop Council Area

Objectives

The general objective of the exercise was to produce digital maps for 3 council areas; Ndop, Pitoa and Okola, where YETAM projects are being implemented. To accomplish this, participating youth were trained on the use of GPS for field data collection. They created way points of socio-economic infrastructures for their areas. A data base on all the socioeconomic infrastructures mentioned above was created. The youth also tracked the road network of their council and put it on the digital maps. This information was all uploaded into Open Street Map.

Methodology

We used the following working methodology:

 

  • Training of students /community youths in the use of GPS for field data collection, its potential uses and practical sessions
  • Elaboration of data codification sheets and production of waypoint forms/tracking sheets and data collection sheets for schools and health centers
  • Collection of field data
  • Analysis of data and production of digital maps
  • Uploading of digital map into Open Street Map

 

Data codification sheet, way point forms and data sheets

 

Training youth to use way point forms.

During the theoretical sessions, the youth worked in small groups to brainstorm the data that they wanted to collect about their communities. Community members and Plan staff with experience in data collection, advocacy, research and development programs gave input as well. A final set of data to collect was agreed upon, including schools and health centres in all 3 council areas.  Each group (from Ndop, Pitoa and Okola) also had its own particular aspects that it wanted to map out, based on local context.

To enable the youths collect field data in an organised manner field documents were created and made available to them, including:

  • General codification sheet
  • Waypoint form
  • School data information sheets
  • Nursery school information sheet
  • Primary school information sheet
  • Secondary school information sheet-General Education
  • Secondary school information sheet-Technical Education
  • High school information sheet
  • Health centre information sheets
  • Tracking sheet

 

GPS practice in Pitoa

Collection of field data

In each locality, the start off was at the District officer’s office where a cover letter or letter of introduction explaining the rationale for the field exercise was collected. This letter was presented in the communities as the need arose to avoid any form of embarrassment from the community.

The data collection exercise in was carried out by community youths, students, resource persons and the consultant’s team. In Ndop and Okola, the Partner Vision (PAVIS) and IRONDEL staff (respectively) and all resource persons were involved in the data collection. The student youth population was not available due to classes, so the out-of-school community youth who were involved in the training did the data collection. In Pitoa the staff of Solutions Technologiques Alternatives (STA) and all the resource persons were involved in the data collection. The community youths and the student population participated intensely in the exercise for they had just finished with their examinations and their principal gave them permission to participate in the field exercise during school period.

Formation of Groups

Youth filling out way point forms in Okola

To facilitate field data collection in each of the council areas, field groups were created, headed by a resource person or a staff of the consultant. The groups were allocated an area of work. One group was in-charge of tracking all the road networks and the rest of the groups collected waypoints and data on socio-economic infrastructures.

In places where the information sheet (data collecting forms) could not be filled instantly, the forms were dropped off to be filled by the competent authorities and to be collected later, this was the case especially with schools. Cars and motor bikes were hired to transport data collectors to the field in each locality.

At the end of each day, a review of the day was done; problems, lapses and wrongly collected information were pointed to the different groups for corrective measures to be taken.

Downloading /converting  GPS  Data

To be able to analyze the GPS data the waypoints and tracks were downloaded and saved in appropriate formats that could be visualized in JOSM. (Waypoints-GPX and text format, Tracklogs-GPX and DXF formats)

Attributing waypoint types

Students collected data to link with the way points, for example at this school in Pitoa

Based on the field data collected attribute tables were built for schools and hospitals etc. The data collected on schools and other aspects were triangulated for accuracy (when possible) with data previously collected by Plan or available from local government offices.

 

Production of digital maps

To produce the digital maps of the three council areas the JOSM offline editor was used. The waypoints and tracks were loaded into JOSM. The waypoints were digitized and appropriate attribute information assigned to them as tags. The tracks representing the road network were also digitized using JOSM.

Uploading and visualization of the digital maps

The produced maps were uploaded using JOSM to the Open Street Map site with online connection as soon as they were finished. The maps can be seen at the Open Street Map site.

Challenges and constraints

Bad roads made the mapping difficult in areas where vehicles and motorbikes couldn't pass after a certain point.

  • The student population was not fully involved in the actual field data collection in some communities because they had to be in class, so we worked only with the out-of-school youth population.
  • In Ndop and Okola, rain disrupted field activities and work had to slow down given the bad nature of the roads, which became very impracticable to vehicles and bikes, making the whole exercise difficult, strenous and time-consuming.
  • It was not always easy to arrange for transportation.
  • Most of the students and drivers did not know their full community areas well, so local community guides were recruited to take teams around.
  • In some of the areas the data sheets of schools could not be filled because the head teachers were not available.
  • In one particular area, a head teacher deliberately refused to fill the forms demanding bribe from the youths.
  • In some of the schools the head teachers had no information about the student enrolment and as such the youths had to go to each class and count the students themselves which was time-consuming.
  • Youths had to trek long distances in some of the inaccessible villages by vehicles because roads were very narrow.

Discussion

Despite the challenges faced during the field data collection the mapping exercise was quite successful. Having the digital maps is a real achievement. Having a solid data base attached to geographic location will be a powerful tool to support the youth’s local advocacy work. (Live version of the map is here. To see data, turn on the data layer as shown in the image below by clicking on the blue tab on the right side of the map.)

Open Street Map image of Ndop with data layer turned on. Data to the left belongs to the blue dot near the center of the map.

Pitoa Council Area with data layer. (Visit Open Street Map for interactive view).

Okola Council Area with data points. (See Open Street Map for interactive map).

The group at the workshop (PAVIS, IRONDEL and STA partners, Plan staff and Ernest himself) concluded that digital mapping was a good exercise. One participant commented that the heads of the school hadn’t been aware of the importance of collecting data about their own schools, and the mapping exercise motivated the youth and the head teachers to begin to collect and track data, to look at the status of their building structures and to count their students.

Others commented that the mapping exercise is a tool that really takes the youth around to their environment. Many of the youth only knew specific parts of their communities, but the digital mapping exercise brought them around to the entire expanse of their community. It gave them a reason and an opportunity to get to know the realities of their environment.

The group agreed that in the future, it would be advisable for hand-drawn mapping followed by digital mapping to take place as the very first step of the project, before other project activities (arts, media and advocacy efforts) happen, because the mapping provides the youth with a deeper awareness of their communities and the main issues therein. It also allows them to collect solid data as well as a visual tool that they can use to then carry out their advocacy activities with local councils. (Note: This year, hand drawn mapping was done as a first step, then the arts and media activities followed. Because it was a new activity requiring additional training and preparation for staff and partners, the digital mapping was done in as third step).

One question the group will explore is how to train and support the local councils (who have responsibility for decentralized community development in Cameroon) with IT equipment so that they can keep the maps updated and/or create new digital maps on their own.

These same maps will serve as a base for an additional phase of the project that will involve tracking and mapping cases of violence against children and gender based violence and working with local communities and local government social services to raise awareness about violence and to prevent and respond to cases of abuse. (Similar to the VAC Benin project).

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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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From the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, March 22

The organization where I work has been present on the border between Cote d’Ivoire and Liberia for awhile now, supporting Ivorians who are escaping the conflict as well as the Liberian communities that are receiving people from Cote d’Ivoire.  (See another good map here.)

What is it like for those who are fleeing Cote d’Ivoire? An account came in by email this morning from our disaster specialist who just returned from Nimba County, located on the border. He told of a woman he had met who arrived in Liberia completely naked, with three children under the age of 6.  She had fled the violence in Abidjan on a Red Cross truck. Then she’d walked, carrying her baby, from the Western town of Daloa to the town of Giglo, passing near Duekoue (where a massacre is said to have taken place). She then continued on to the Liberia border; about 250 km. She had been travelling with her sister and her sister’s 2 children but her sister didn’t make it to Liberia.  She’s buried in the forest. My colleague described the woman’s children as so distressed they can barely speak.

My colleague went on saying that ‘Some people told me that armed men came to their villages and attacked them.  They saw neighbors killed by gunfire, just metres away from them.  Other people told me they fled to small houses in the bush, for fear their villages might be attacked.  But it didn’t make any difference.  When armed men came to the village and found no one there, they’d simply come into the bush, find people and kill them. The people I talked with told me the clashes were the result of ethnic problems.  Their ethnic group was being persecuted by others.’

He describes mostly women and children crossing the border from Ivory Coast and only a few men.  ‘I don’t know what happened to the men and boys.  Some young people told me their brothers and fathers were fighting for one of the sides in the conflict in Ivory Coast.  But no one seems sure of what is happening back in their home countryMany people who have fled Ivory Coast are staying with relatives just over the Liberia border.  Along the border area, many people are of the same ethnic group so there is no trouble with the newcomers.  However, every day, as the fighting grows more intense, more and more people arrive in Liberia.’

The term ‘endgame’ has been all over the headlines for the past 3 or 4 days now, but the ‘end’ of Gbagbo doesn’t mean that things will go back to normal for most people any time soon. Last I heard there are a million people displaced internally and 200,000 externally. I rather doubt it’s the ‘end’ of the crisis for them.

There was a saying people used a lot in El Salvador, though I hear it originates in Africa:  When the elephants fight, it’s the ants who suffer.

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