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mGESA mobile mapping application

I wrote about a mobile mapping tool called mGEOS a few months ago, mentioning that I’d probably get a chance to try it myself in late July. Well that is just what happened.

I was at a workshop on ICT4D, including digital mapping, in Kwale, Kenya, and Peter Njuguna from Plan Kilifi’s District office came to share mGESA (aka Mobile Geographical Services for Africa) with us.

As far as I can tell, the difference between mGEOS and mGESA is that mGESA is a tailored application of mGEOS, designed together with Plan’s community based front-line staff for their specific information collecting and geo-visualization needs in Kenya.

Update: mGESA was the name for the pilot project. The final application is called PoiMapper (see www.pajatman.com). You can give it a try by downloading it and installing it on your mobile!

According to Njuguna, “the application is designed to run on simple mobile phones that have GPS capability and on which you can run applications.” It’s installed on the phone in the picture (update: the phone is a Nokia 6700 classic).

Njuguna explained “In Kilifi, we diverted from the route of going for applications that are there on the shelf or buying an application over the counter. We went the route of developing an application from scratch. We are working with various partners. We have Plan in Finland, we have Plan in Kenya, we have the University of Nairobi and we have the company Pajat in Finland. Plan Kilifi is the implementing office. So that is where we are coming from.”

The project has been on-going for 7 months. The first thing to define, according to Njuguna, was “Why do we need mapping? Why do we need GIS in the first place? Well, we need GIS to enhance the work we are doing and to try to answer some of the questions we are asking on a day to day basis. So that’s why we wanted to incorporate GIS into our work. Everything we’ve developed is towards helping us answer questions and make decisions in our program and sponsorship work. We wanted to build something that would suit our needs.”

The end users of mGESA are front-line staff in Plan Kilifi District office, and eventually in all of Plan Kenya’s district offices. “Kilifi front-line staff have all been involved in developing the application. The first step was developing a list of points of interest, for example, schools, hospitals and health centers, interest groups, water sources, trading centers, and the like; and outlining the kind of information that staff regularly collect about the points of interest for use in their work.

mGESA points of interest

“Developing the points of interest was a challenge,” said Njuguna. “It might look like we just sat down and listed them. But it has been a process. We had to go over and over it. We had to be sure the questions made sense, that the questions that we were asking were the right ones and made sense to people in the field.”

mGESA was tested in the field for the first time in mid-July. Njuguna and the team are hoping to kick off in another 3-4 weeks and start collecting the actual data. When the points are mapped out using the mobile application, then they are uploaded to a server that links with Google (or other) maps. The team is exploring the possibility of getting Kenya maps with administrative boundaries to use as the mapping platform. The data collected in mGESA can be exported into excel and .pdf files.

Peter let me try out mGESA while we were doing some GPS mapping in Kinango. He was using the opportunity to test accuracy, and whether mGESA was pulling in the same coordinates as the Garmin GPS units that we were using (it was). I found the data collection process to be quite simple. You basically arrive to your point of interest, take the point on the phone, and scroll through a menu to select pre-existing information (such as name of the district, type of point, etc.) or fill it in yourself. You can take a photo of the POI if your phone has photo capabilities (which most GPS enabled phones should have). I didn’t get a chance to upload data to the server or the web to see how easy that process is.

Peter Njuguna, ICT coordinator at Plan's Kilifi District Office

The group at the workshop had just been trained on several ICT different tools, so they had a lot of questions about mGESA for Njuguna:

What phones does it work on?
Any phone with GPS and capability to download an application will work.

Does it use up your airtime?

mGESA will work on the phone even without any airtime, but during testing, it seemed to work faster with about 10 shillings of credit (equivalent to about $.13).

Is mGESA free?

No. The application is in development and will eventually end up on the commercial market, via Pajat Management in Finland.

Can the application produce a base map or only points?

It can map points of interest only.  Later on it should be able to map out lines (roads) and areas.

mGESA data points on the web interface

Where do the points of interest go?

The points of interest that are collected on the phone are downloaded via a USB cable onto a computer, in the same way that you would download photographs from a camera. Then the points are uploaded to the on-line platform, and also then they will be visible on top of a Google map or other kind of map.

Is mGESA compatible with Open Street Maps?

Now that we know about OSM, this is something we shall look into, as it could be quite useful.

Will the information that you collect be public or private?

At this point the information will be closed, because the application is still in development.  Also for privacy reasons, some information will be shared and other information not shared. For example, if we are collecting personal information on individuals, or data that could put someone at risk, this will not be shared on the map.

What types of uses will the application be suitable for?

Plan can use mGESA when determining plans for phasing out of one area and moving into another area, for example. Instead of collecting data and indicators on paper, staff and managers can see this information on a map and the information that is collected can help us to know where to work.  Having the points of interest mapped out and linked with development information, and being able to select out different information layers on the map (on the internet) should make these decisions easier and more sound.

Will communities be involved and able to use mGESA for their own purposes?

Yes, communities will be able to use the information collected to make their own decisions. Communities can also purchase mGESA for their own use. We might also say to them, come and bring your phone and we will install this application so that you can use it for your own purposes.

Why are you developing a software from scratch and that costs money to the end user if there are existing tools available?

We know that GPS gadgets are expensive and so we thought – why not look into a mobile option. We also had very specific ideas and needs, and we had people willing to develop the idea from scratch. It’s a customized application based on our existing information needs and systems, and we can collect it by mobile rather than trying to find and purchase GPS units here in Kenya.

Update: see this post on Mobile Active for more information on the continued piloting of PoiMapper.

Related posts on Wait… What?

mGEOS: a mobile mapping tool

A positively brilliant ICT4D workshop in Kwale, Kenya

Youth mappers: from Kibera to Kinango

Salim’s ICT4D Advice Part 1: consider both process and passion

Salim’s ICT4D Advice Part 2: innovate but keep it real

Modernizing birth registration with mobile technology

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Saturday, was the last day of the 2-week Youth Empowerment through Arts and Media (YETAM) workshop with the youth.  Each of the sub-groups had the task of prioritizing 2-3 areas that they wanted to focus on over the next 6 months and developing a basic plan. The plans included their focus issues, analysis of the causes of the issue, what they would do about it using their reinforced media and arts skills, when they would do it, and how they would know that they had achieved their short term goals (indicators). Photo: members of one of the media teams.

Nathalia, age 18, presented for the theater group. “We are going to work more on the issue of devaluation of girls by their parents.  This is caused by the belief that men were made to dominate and women to serve, the idea that girls don’t bring any benefit to their parents, but bring only trouble, and the idea that girls are physically and mentally weak.”

The other 4 groups’ topics are:

· Music/Dance group: children’s rights in general, education as the key to a successful future, the value of local culture and traditions.

· Media group:  disaster risk reduction and risks to youth in the community such as the discotheque, alcohol and drugs, and violence.

· Painting group: child rights in general, drug abuse and protecting children from violence/risk.

· Journalism group: sanitation and hygiene, education.

Mobile data gathering?

The groups will prepare work on these topics and extend their messages out to the school community and the surrounding villages.  To track their progress, they plan to survey audiences that have seen their work (eg., their films, paintings, songs, theater, newsletters, etc).  This made us think about the idea of using mobile phones to do the surveys (Nokia Data Gathering or Frontline SMS Forms, depending on which is more feasible and cost effective).

The youth could create surveys on a few devices, and then go around to survey people who have attended their events or viewed their work and heard their messages.  The youth could then have immediate results by exporting the survey results into excel for analysis.  In the process, the youth can learn about statistics, charts and graphs.  Eventually they could also take surveying to another level, such as looking at behaviors and practices, and use the information to inform the outreach work that they are doing.  Photo:  Thinking about mobiles for more than calls and SMS.

“The kids see charts and graphs sometimes in their books, but they never have a chance to learn what actually goes into making a chart or graph, or to cover anything about statistics.  This would be a fabulous hand-on way to see how data is collected and used for decision making and to measure results,” said Lauren, the Peace Corps volunteer teacher at the school. “It would be great for them to get to see immediate feedback on their own work!”

Feedback from youth

Photo: journalism group shows their newsletter.

At the closing ceremony the youth were sad to go. “This is an opportunity that we had to participate in something that has never happened here at Cumbana,” said one girl.  “I encourage my fellow students here to show through their behavior, actions and their studies this coming year that they are now different.  That they are changed.”  (theater group)

“I never imagined that I could be a painter, but now I have the dream that I can do it.  I am happy because I showed what I’m capable of and I expressed my feelings through art.” (painting group)

“My favorite thing was making the big mural. I feel very proud and I can show my friends what I’m capable of.” (painting group)

“This initiative allowed us to show light on our reality. I also know now that I have talent in my mind and in my hands to express myself now and to build my future.” (journalism group)

“I really thank Plan and Nokia because with this workshop I saw myself transforming my life. I will become an artist and I will make something out of my life” (painting group)

“I liked helping to raise awareness in people and to change things in our community and in ourselves.  I want to share the success we’ve had in this project and our work, and to involve more people. There are many things we can achieve.” (media group)

“The best thing about the workshop was the way that they listened to us, they gave us courage to believe in ourselves. They reminded us that nothing comes from nothing and that only through education can we prepare for our futures.” (theater group)

“I liked working with equipment that I had never seen.  Now I know how to use it. I feel able to learn without fear.” (media group)

And facilitators?

“It was great to see the youth increase their knowledge about their culture, history, rights and the role they can play in their community as agents of change.  I loved seeing the youth apply the things that they learned and then do the work by themselves.  I would like to see more adults in the community participating in a workshop like this. There are many things that we can benefit from as well.” (Facilitator)

“I thought the workshop was fantastic.  The kids gained so much experience and confidence and really took advantage of these new opportunities.” (Facilitator)

Related posts:
On Girls and ICTs
Putting Cumbana on the Map

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I had a chance to meet with Plan Cameroon’s Program Technical Team today (including those that look at Monitoring and Evaluation, Health, Education, Sponsorship, Child Protection, Water and Sanitation, Gender and the overall Program Support Manager) to give a quick brief on the ICT4D research and training that Plan Finland is supporting with Plan offices in 8 countries in Africa (Mali, Senegal, Cameroon, Ghana, Togo, Mozambique, Kenya and Uganda).

We are working with Hannah Beardon, who wrote Plan’s Mobiles for Development guide (available in both English and French) and building on that towards some more focused and concrete ideas for ICT use in these 8 countries. We’ll share the research with staff during 2-day workshops to brainstorm and gather ideas on information and communications needs, as well as available tools that could be used or adapted to local situations.

The 2-day workshops are planned for Aug and Sept. Hannah, Mika (Plan Finland) and I are developing the methodology and will make a training DVD to send ahead of time to each country (apparently complete with our selves doing presentations!) since we don’t have funding to do face-to-face training. We’ll have a staff person in each country as the main facilitator, and 10-12 key staff, from management to frontline, will attend. Mika or I will beam in by skype to support if needed. We’ll use the Frontline SMS demo video that Mika and crew did also, (see my earlier post about this from a few months ago), show how Nokia Data Gathering Software works, share the Common Craft Social Media videos, among other things. Hannah’s methodology will also come in for thinking about how ICTs could enhance existing efforts.

The idea is to both learn about new tools as well as look at current programs and see if there are ways to use ICTs to improve impact, and how to begin tailoring them to the programs and local settings. We’re also doing research on government policies and how Plan’s work links there. I hope that we can also look at partnering with local developers and ICT4D innovators in each country….

The idea of ICT4D was a bit new to some of the Plan Cameroon staff and not at all new to others. One interesting idea they shared was using SMS in anti-malaria programs to periodically remind people to retreat their bednets. There was some concern about literacy rates if one relies on SMS, and interest in using voice response, but given the number of languages in Cameroon, voice could also be a bit of a challenge. I’ll have to try to find out if/how that’s overcome in other places. Another concern was ‘scamming’ and how to avoid that happening. But it seemed that the issue of scamming is not something that Plan alone would face, but something in general that is faced with mobile phones.

The program support manager was really keen on using mobiles for program monitoring as that is something that can always improve and be more efficient with ICT, he said, and wants to test some ideas. The ICT manager also said he wanted to write something up. The sponsorship manager suggested trying out some data collection or quicker communications tools for linking with community volunteers. And as mentioned earlier, child media and child protection are areas that can be greatly enhanced and supported via ICTs (help lines, SMS incident reporting, social media and mobile reporting).

After the 2-day workshop, we should have something really nice to go forward with.

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As part of our mobiles for outreach and data gathering training last week, we went out to a community about 20 minutes away from the hotel today to hear Silla, the district civil registrar, talk about a project that Plan Kenya is supporting that aims to modernize the birth registration process. Plan Kenya is looking incorporating mobile data gathering and outreach into the project, so it was a good opportunity to test data gathering. We tested the Nokia Data Gathering Software using a form that the team had created earlier in the week based on the paper forms that the District Registrars office uses. It all worked just fine. Photo: Silas from Kwale District, and Petri, Director of the Nokia Research Center in Manaus, Brazil.

Silla is really an expert on birth registration and anything that has to do with it. He can quote you just about any law related to the subject in great detail. Currently, for registering births, people have to go to the sub-registrar/assistant chief’s office which can be quite far. Once there, sometimes there are not enough actual registration forms and they just give the registration information to someone who writes it in a school notebook. Later when they have more forms, the information is transposed to the official form, and sent along for processing. It can take awhile for processing, and people have to return to the sub-registrar’s office personally if they want to find out if it’s ready. The district is quite large, so they may have to travel up to 100 kms sometimes to go into check, and the certificate may not even be ready yet. Photo: Silla schools us on civil registration and explains why the district wants to modernize the process.

I talked to Ali M and Ali K (‘the Ali’s’ as we call them, since they are pretty much inseparable) who both work with Community Based Organizations (CBOs) that are participating in the birth registration project. (They were both at the video training with me last month here also). They explained some of the main reasons that not having a birth certificate makes life difficult:

If children don’t have birth certificates, they cannot get passports obviously, but that is the least of the issues. They cannot attend secondary school without one, nor can they benefit from any type of social service or insurance. Kwale district has a very high incidence of child marriages, yet if there is no birth certificate there is no way to prove in court that a girl is too young to be married. Other kinds of abuse also cannot be proved as child abuse. Without proper registration, the district does not get its fair share of the national budget because it’s not clear how many people are actually there. Photo: Ali K and Ali M – real leaders and innovators in community development.

As the Ali’s explained, if Kwale District is successful in incorporating SMS’s, mobile data gathering, and mobile outreach into the birth registration process, not only will they be the first district in Kenya to do it, but Kwale will be the first to even computerize the birth registration process. A couple ways they want to use mobiles are to provide a phone number that people could SMS their registration number to and find out if their certificates are ready or not, thus avoiding a long trip into the district office for nothing. They are also thinking of shifting the actual data gathering from hand written (carbon paper with several copies) to mobile data gathering and computerized data storage. In any case, a full project is being developed and piloted that will automate much of the current time consuming processes.

I remember when I lived in El Salvador and the municipality changed from hand written logs to computers. You used to have to go really early in the morning and wait in a huge line to get a number. Then you waited again till they called your number, went up and gave someone your information. That person would give your information to someone else who would look up the name/date, etc. and after an hour or 2, they’d call you and give you a little piece of paper with your record number on it. From there you would go wait in the cashier line to pay a fee for the copy of the certificate. Then you would go to another line at another window and give that number to someone else and sit down again for another few hours while that person would go into the archives books (bound books of hundreds of records) and find your certificate for you (birth, death, marriage, etc.). They’d make a copy and then it had to go to an official somewhere to authorize the copy before they’d give it to you. So basically you had to get there around 7 a.m. if you wanted to get it the same day, and it was a whole day affair.

Around 2000, they got a computer system in and modernized the process. I went in to get a copy of a document, and I clearly remember the security guard laughing at me because I looked at the certificate twice in shock when I paid my fee and was handed the actual certificate after about 30 minutes.

If the Ali’s and the Kwale District are able to get the equipment and set the project up, it could mean huge time savings for people and translate into greatly increased numbers of parents getting birth certificates for their children. The Ali’s have already taken the idea to a national level meeting and have other districts interested in their idea. Hopefully Kwale pulls it off and the model can be nationalized once any kinks are worked out! Photo: Mwenda and Ali, Kwale district CBO members.

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Building on the last post, I wanted to share also some of the discussion at last week’s Kenya workshop about incorporating mobiles into our work. People in general were pretty excited. Even those people who were skeptical seemed to see mobiles as tools that could improve work we are already doing if well incorporated and done from ‘the bottom up’ in sustainable ways, based on program information and communication needs. Some great discussions came up and participants shared some potential solutions and good practices.

Issue: Access

We are working with children. How many children have phones? How do we get information from children? We work with communities who are the “poorest of the poor” – so how do we get info from them using FLSMS – do we expect them to have phones? Or people may have phones but no credit? How do you handle such circumstances?

Use a short code if you can get one

Credit is a very important issue. If organizations or institutions want to use SMS, then there is an investment cost unless you can acquire a short code. If you have a short code you deposit money to make this free or much lower cost for people.

Don’t assume that children don’t have access to mobiles

We should not assume children do not have access to phones. If the information is out there, children will find someone that is willing to help them make a call or text. Many children now call us (at the Child Help Line) even without a fixed line. They have a teacher, an auntie, a big sister who will allow them to borrow the phone. I’ve seen that almost everybody in the community has a SIM card. They do not have a handset, but when they need to make a call they borrow the handset for a few minutes and somehow they do it. We can’t make the argument that children can’t use technology. There are innovative ways of using the technology so let’s put the technology out there and stop assuming that people can’t access it. The issue is how can we make the technology reach as many as possible?

Give out SIM cards with a few minutes on them to protect privacy and confidentiality

We had a similar situation with a reproductive health project that was offering out information that most girls wanted to remain confidential. What we did was gave out 10 bo SIM cards. We passed them out in little boxes. Many of the girls had phones but wanted to send in anonymous questions so they used the SIM cards to send the SMS in, and then removed the card from the phone, put it in their pockets, and replaced their original SIM. It only costs 1 shilling via Orange. We found that normally the SMS conversation lasts for around 6 shillings. They can maintain anonymity this way. It’s cheap and they can just keep these SIMs in their pockets.

Issue: If mobiles begin to replace face-to-face contact and relationships with partner communities.

Using Frontline SMS for community outreach and communications has many advantages, particularly in terms of the information that we constantly need to gather. However, we should be careful though that it doesn’t substitute field visits. If people get used to getting information quickly they are likely to avoid going out and getting in touch with communities to see what is happening. If you just sit and wait for an SMS you will lose this face-to-face contact with the community.

Mobiles can be a tool, but must be integrated with other communication means

This point reminds us that we should not totally substitute it but use it as an additional tool in the toolbox to improve, cut costs, reduce, etc.

Issue: A text does not give enough space for full and clear information in health or other cases

We talked about using Frontline SMS for radio. In our participatory youth media programs, children bring out issues in video, in radio, etc. We are not always able to respond immediately to their concerns and issues. FLSMS could be a way to respond to these issues. Are there examples of how to pass on this type of technical information? If I’m a midwife and am too far from hospital, I need very clear information. How could this be done with SMS via an auto reply and only a short amount of text?

Use SMS to bring face to face help more quickly and to track/record incidents

SMS isn’t a solution for everything, but I know of an example of how that can work. There is another program called Ushahidi that is about crisis mapping. It’s a digitized map. Sometimes when a situation becomes extreme people are asked to share their locations using GPS and then you can send local people to these places on bicycles or through other means to help. This allows the professional help to arrive more quickly. Maybe SMS can’t solve it but it can bring help more quickly.

Use SMS as a supplement, not a replacement for human contact and long-term work

In the case of trying to change harmful practices and traditions, we need time and eye contact. If we are working with trying to make cultural changes, such as in the case of infanticide or something, you can’t just send a text that says “this is a bad practice”. You need to come close to people. I believe FLSMS can offer a secondary way or a supplement to a given community meeting, to strengthen a rapport with the community, but it’s not a replacement for our long term work and ongoing relationships with people.

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I spent last week in Kwale, Kenya in the company of several colleagues learning about and discussing the use of mobiles in community development, both for outreach and communications and for mobile data gathering. There was a variety of people — from frontline staff to members of Community Based Organizations (CBO) in Kwale, to monitoring and evaluation (M&E) staff from Plan Kenya’s districts and central offices and Plan’s West Africa Regional office, to IT staff, to youth and those working with youth media, to partner organizations working on child help lines and social media outreach.

Photo: Anthony from Plan along with Mativo, a former Plan colleague, trained us on FLSMS

We looked closely at Frontline SMS (FLSMS) and Nokia’s new Data Gathering Software (NDGS) and brainstormed on ways that this type of tool might support the work that people are already doing. Really an interesting week!

In addition to the more common ideas of using mobiles for health campaigns, disaster/crisis situations and general communications and monitoring, people mentioned:

For youth media programs:

-Organizing weekly radio contests via Frontline SMS and allowing many more youth to participate in the radio program that way. Now for contests, they have to write a letter with their answer and bring it to radio station by foot. Using SMS many more could participate, increasing listeners and engagement.

-Assessing the radio show right after the recording. The youth and children could go in the audience and gather the data they normally do by hand using mobile data gathering software, thus easing the processing time and analysis of the information.

-Monitoring progress and changes made in relation to the show at a broader level — the participating youth could use mobile data gathering to monitor change related to the issues they are targeting in the radio shows and to see if youth organization and awareness building is impacting on the community over time.

Photo: people got really excited when their first forms appeared on their phones to be filled in!

For Child/Human Rights work and Global Child Rights Campaigns:

-Assessing the knowledge/awareness of the communities about rights issues and/or our global campaigns

-Receiving reports and sharing information about violations of rights (gathering info on whether children are being registered at birth, the incidence of school violence, girl’s or women’s rights violations, cases of child abuse) and offer short information on where to go for help.

-Monitoring child abuse cases, e.g. community members could text in key words such as ABUSE or MARRIAGE to report and track child abuse cases and early marriages happening in the community:

Birth Registration (UBR) implementation

-Tracking birth registration certificates and sharing information on the steps of the registration process. With auto SMS replies we could enhance information accessibility 24/7. We could provide instant feedback to people on the status of their birth registration. It would be a very quick way of sending information to many.

-Using mobile data gathering software, the birth registration process could be made paperless and computerized, thus saving time and effort for the population and increasing the number of children who are registered at birth.

Photo: Jackson and 3 other colleagues from Brazil trained us on the NDGS.

Monitor services

-Running a mobile survey or a rapid assessment to find out whether a service like Childline is reaching people and whether the service is known and being utilized in the field.

Communicating among Plan staff, CBOs, Communities

-Passing along information such as training dates, schedules, meetings, etc., to avoid making a trip out to the community to get information

-Surveying on health, school attendance, and school enrollment through a network of teachers

Communities communicating amongst themselves

-Communities have a lot of information they want to share among themselves, among the Community Health Workers (CHWs), with the other communities and other leaders – they could do this with FLSMS.

Managing Meetings and Decisions

-Inviting participants, confirming attendance, updating on the absentees when you’ve reached a decision they could be contacted this way. You could even involve those who are absent in voting by SMS if you don’t have quorum; eg., text in 1 for this candidate, 2 for this other one, or vote yes/no on something.

Photo: SMS was seen as a great way for communities and CBOs to communicate and organize.

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