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Posts Tagged ‘Frontline SMS’

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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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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