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.
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
Text messages to help protect children against violence
Plan International case study: Helping children report abuse in Benin
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