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Posts Tagged ‘mapping’

Ivan and Massilau working on some mapping in Inhambane, Mozambique.

I had the pleasure of working with Iván Sánchez Ortega in Mozambique earlier this month, and I learned a ton about the broader world of GIS, GPS, FOSS, Ubuntu and Open Street Maps from him. We also shared a few beers, not to mention a harrowing plane ride complete with people screaming and everyone imagining we were going to die! But I suppose it’s all in a day’s work.

Below is a cross-post by Iván about Maps for Mozambique. You can find the original post here, and a version in Spanish here. Note: the opinions expressed below belong to Iván and not to his former, current or future employeers…..

*****

Last week was a small adventure. I went to Mozambique to make maps, as part of the Youth Empowerment through Arts and Media program. The main goal was to train youngsters in order for them to make a basic cartography of the surrounding rural communities.

This travel is part of the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team activities. After the successes of Kibera and Haiti, we want to check how much we can help by providing cartography.

Cartography in developing areas provides a great amount of situational awareness – in order to help, one needs to know where the help is needed. In the case of Mozambique rural communities, we’re talking about knowing who has a water well and access to healthcare and education, and who doesn’t.

The problem with rural Mozambique is that the population is very disperse. Each family unit lives in an isolated set of huts, away from the other families in the community. There is so much land available that the majority of the land is neither used or managed.

Which leads to think that, maybe, the successes at Kibera and Haiti are, in part, due to them being dense urban areas, where a kilometer square of information is very useful.

It has been repeated ad nauseam that geographic information is the infrastructure of infrastructures. Large-scale humanitarian problems can’t be tackled without cartographic support – without it, there isn’t situational awareness, nor will coordinating efforts be possible, something very important in an era when aid can get in the way of helping. However, even with agile surveying techniques and massively crowdsourced work, the cost of surveying large areas is still big. And, as in all the other problems, technology isn’t the silver bullet.

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That said, the way one has to go to reach the rural communities doesn’t have anything to do with the occidentalized stereotypical image of rural sub-Saharan Africa. There are no lions, nor children with inflated bellies due to starvation.

There is, however, the image of a developed country but in which the public agencies work at half throttle. Mass transit, garbage collection, urbanism, civil protection, environment, job market, education, social security. Everything’s there, but everything works at a much lower level than one could expect. To give out an example, the Administraçao Nacional de Estradas (national roads administration) plans switching of one-way lanes over hand-drawn sketches.

The reasons that explain the situation of the country are not simple, not by far, but in general terms they can be resumed in two: the war of independence of 1964-1975 and the civil war of 1977-1992. Living is not bad, but also not good, and part of the population is expecting international humanitarian aid to magically solve all of their problems.

When one stops to think, the situation eerily reminds of the Spanish movie Welcome, Mr. Marshall. Only that everyone’s black, they don’t dance sevillanas, and instead of railroads they expect healthcare and education.

Wait a moment. A reconstruction 20 years after a civil war, external aid, and the need of cartography for a full country. This reminds me to the 1956-57 Spain general flight, popularly known among cartographers as the American flight.

These aerial photographs, made in collaboration with the U.S. Army Map Service, had a great influence in the topographic maps of that period, and even today they are an invaluable resource to study changes in land use.

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Which is, then, the best solution? To inject geospatial technology may be a short-term gain, long-term pain in the form of 9000€/seat software licenses. Mr. Marshall won’t come with a grand orthophotogrameric flight. Military mapping agencies won’t implement SDIs (spatial data infrastructures) overnight. Training aid workers and locals into surveying is possible, but slow and expensive, although it might be the only doable thing.

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Mapping Magaiça and other photos from Mozambique

Being a girl in Cumbana

Putting Cumbana on the map — with ethics

Inhambane: land of palm trees and cellular networks

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

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I spent the first 2 weeks of November in Mozambique working on the continuation of the Youth Empowerment through Arts and Media project. This year, we are piloting digital mapping in addition to the other ICT tools that we’ve been integrating into the project. We weren’t able to find anyone locally in Mozambique who could train on Open Street Map but luckily were able to link up with Portuguese-speaking Iván Sánchez Ortega from OSM in Spain. (In case you didn’t catch the link – the official language in Mozambique is Portuguese…)

Iván was a great trainer and the youth from the two associations (Vuneka and Litanga) that we are working with really took to the idea of digital mapping and learning some new skills in the area of painting, theater, print journalism, radio, video and blogging. See some of Ivan’s thoughts on this Maps for Mozambique post.

Here are some photos of the work we did while in Mozambique….


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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ICT4D in Uganda: ICT does not equal computers

Demystifying Internet (Ghana)

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

A positively brilliant ICT4D workshop in Kwale, Kenya

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

A catalyst for positive change (Cameroon)

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

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

Meeting in the middle

I and C, then T (US)

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I’ll be speaking on a panel called ICT4D, Innovations and the MDGs next week during UN Week in New York and another on Girls and Mobiles hosted by Mobile Active. So, I’ve been putting together my thoughts around girls, child rights, ICTs and the MDGs.  The angle I’m taking is not from the large donor, top down, huge institutional program side, but instead, looking at examples from the work I’ve been closest to over the past few years at the community and district level, mostly focused on child and youth participation in the development process. Check my MDGs through a child rights lens post for more background.

My last post (3 ways to integrate ICTs into your development organization) uses Hannah Beardon’s framework to discuss how organizations can integrate ICTs into their work. Hannah suggests that ICTs can be integrated directly(providing access to ICTs), strategically (using ICTs as tools to support development processes) and indirectly (using ICTs to improve efficiency and communication within the organization).

To complete that post, I’m listing below 5 ways that ICTs can facilitate accountability and transparency, citizen engagement, and public debate, all of which are necessary to bring about development improvements and achieve the MDGs. Obviously these are not the only ways ICTs can support the MDGs, but this post would have been miles long if I’d listed all the initiatives that are out there.

1) Engaging children and youth in the development process

An engaged and active population is a key ingredient for good development programs. Children and youth have much to offer, are directly targeted in the MDGs and many other development initiatives, offer valuable ideas and energy, and make up around half the population in many of the countries that are lagging in reaching the MDGs. ICTs can help children and youth engage in the development process and bring their ideas, opinions and voices alive at the community, district, national and global level. ‘Using new technology, new media, children and youth can claim a space that they didn’t have before. They can influence certain things, advocate on particular issues that are important to them, take ownership in communities and in leadership. ICTs excite them and encourage them to be more involved and engaged.’ Anthony Njoroge, Plan Kenya Community ICT Manager.

ICTs empower young people with skills that make them more confident and more involved at the community level.‘Using ICTs, children and youth have become more responsible because they are not waiting for adults to come in with something. Now they are designing it themselves, they are creating space for themselves and bringing their agenda to adult meetings instead of waiting to be invited in or having to work within the agenda of the adults. It used to be that you’d start working with 20 youth, you’d invite them into a community meeting. You’d see the number go down to 10, to 4, to 3, because they didn’t see any relation to themselves in the topics and the goings on. With integration of technology and the arts however, youth have a high level of interest. It’s really bringing in their opinions, their thoughts and ideas to join their voices with parents. Now they use arts and media to promote communication, dialogue on their issues and look for ways to resolve them. Before they were totally missing from the discussion, but now they are here.’ Judith Nkie, Plan Cameroon Youth Empowerment through Arts and Media Project Coordinator.

Arts and ICTs were used in the above-mentioned project as tools for youth engagement, mapping and prioritizing, research and community dialog. The media produced with the ICT tools was shared first within the community and then outside at the district, national and global levels as a way of engaging decision makers and the public in the youths’ agenda.  For more on how arts and ICTs are being used in the above-mentioned project, see this post. Watch 100 videos made by youth in 6 African countries on topics they are passionate about.

GPS work in Kwale, Kenya

2) Identifying resources and mapping patterns for better decision-making

Tracking and visualizing information is an excellent way to improve decision-making capacity. The advent of simpler and open source participatory digital mapping tools allows community members to map their communities digitally and to have more ownership of the information. Mapping helps identify patterns that may not have been visible before. Local maps shared on-line allow local people to provide their own information from their own perspective, and that information serves multiple purposes at the local level and beyond.

Digital mapping can be helpful when governments decentralize. Municipalities are mapping resources as well as projects and interventions. District authorities can track their own initiatives and those by local and international organizations to avoid duplication of efforts and wasted resources. When maps are public, the population can better demand answers about where resources are being allocated and why. Maps can help with disaster risk reduction and tools such as Ushahidi can help during emergency response. Mapping information is also useful for holding up a mirror to the population to ask them questions about themselves and their behaviors and for showing the direct consequences of actions; for example in a Community Total Led Sanitation mapping project, the community faces its realities about where their own waste is entering food and water sources.

Map Kibera is a good example of participatory digital mapping. mGEOS is a mobile mapping tool developed to help Plan Kenya staff to gather and share data needed for their daily work. Map Kibera and Plan Kenya are collaborating in Kwale on youth and governance work, and in Mathare to work on Community Total Led Sanitation using digital mapping tools (see July 27th entry). In this video, a district youth officer in Kenya talks about why digital mapping is useful for his community.

Mapping Violence against Children in Benin

3) Pulling in quick information to guide further investigation, response, or advocacy; pushing out information for targeted actions

ICTs can be used to gather quick information from a broad population. This can be useful in a variety of situations and themes, including those outlined in the MDGs. For example, SMS are being used to report on whether teachers are showing up at school, where violence against children and women is happening, where help is needed in the aftermath of a disaster, and for tracking endangered wildlife. Crowd sourced information can help governments and agencies get preliminary information so that further investigation and support can be provided in a particular area. Another example is the use of mobiles in different health initiatives, including:  child-birth care; HIV and AIDS prevention and treatment programs; support for volunteer community healthcare workers; and bed net treatment reminders. Most of the ICT and development world is also already familiar with the work of two organizations:  Ushahidi and FrontlineSMS who have been combining SMS with digital mapping.

A program that I’m closely involved with is SMS reporting of violence against children in Benin, where local communities, government agencies and NGOs are collaborating to improve the child protection system. This type of program shows promise if heed is paid to the pros and cons of collecting information by SMS, and if those implementing are clear about the type of information that will be gathered, privacy implications, and how the system will complement existing systems. (Here is one document that outlines some considerations). Increasing controls by governments and mobile phone companies, including SIM card registry and Mozambique’s recent government shut down of SMS services during the bread riots are good examples of how quickly the ICT landscape can change, and how flexible and agile those working in the area of ICTs need to be.

Checking info on constituency development fund

4) Supporting accountability and transparency

ICTs are useful to support accountability and transparency, necessary for attempts to track and ensure good use of funding for different efforts, including those related to the MDGs and other aid and development programs. Making information more available to the public by mobile is one such way.  SODNET’s budget tracking tool, for example, informs Kenyans of how much funding is allocated by the Constituency Development Fund to different municipalities in different categories. Combined with mapping, as outlined in this post, the budget information can help constituents to track where their funds are actually being spent.  Other interesting examples of how ICTs can be used for transparency and accountability can be found at TacticalTech’s Info Activism site and at Technology for Transparency.

Paper forms will soon be digitized….

5) Improving municipal services and information management

Civil registration documents, especially a birth certificate, are a precursor to demanding any number of rights or accessing a wide array of services. Without a birth certificate a child may not be able to sit for school exams, receive immunizations or free health care or claim rights to inheritance or legal protection in courts of law. Proof of age is critical in successfully prosecuting perpetrators of crimes against children such as child trafficking, sexual offenses, early recruitment into the armed forces, child marriage and child labor. ICTs are being used to digitize civil registry in Kenya, for example. Not only are records being digitized, but mobile phones are used to make it more convenient for the population to know when their documents are ready. This saves people time and money and means that more parents will register their children.

But wait, there’s more!

These are only a few examples of ways that ICTs are being used at the grassroots level to improve participation, transparency, accountability, debate and ownership of the development process.  The MDGs are lofty, but informed local community participation and ownership is key in efforts to reach them and in ensuring that marginalized populations can also be included.

Please add your examples of ways that ICTs can support development and ICTs in the comments section!

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A positively brilliant ICT4D workshop in Kwale, Kenya

The road to Wa is paved

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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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At last week’s workshop in Kwale, we had the good fortune to have 4 folks from Map Kibera with us to train us on GSP and Open Street Map so that we could support youth in 3 districts where we’re working on the south coast of Kenya (Kwale, Kinango, Msambweni) to map their own communities. Jamie Lundine and Primoz Kovacic are Map Kibera staff, and Kevin Otieno and Millicent Achieng are youth who are trained on mapping. See the video above where Kevin and Millicent talk about the experience or watch it at the link here.

Kevin Otieno from Map Kibera

Both Kevin and Milli have been working with the Map Kibera staff since October, mapping out different areas in Kibera. For our introduction to Map Kibera, they started us off with a general overview of Voice of Kibera.

Kibera was a blank spot on the map (just like Kinango). (Jamie Lundine)

Jamie continued on with an overview of GPS and the Map Kibera project.

How GPS works. (Primoz Kovacic)

Primoz gave us the details on using the GPS devices and Open Street Map.

Hotel Kaskazi LTI Diani is now officially on the map

We practiced by mapping out our hotel, and adding it to Open Street Maps.

Then we went to Kinango District to start making the community map there. We met with the District Official and George, the District Youth Officer, explained why we were there. The DO said he’d heard good things about Map Kibera, and he ‘wanted to meet some of those youth mappers’. He welcomed us to move around the community.

The 4 teams did the first piece of the map, and will continue on with it in the future in Kinango but also in Msambweni and Kwale. The maps can then be used for different purposes, such as looking at existing resources and missing resources, or resource allocation, social auditing (eg., the government said that they built something here but it doesn’t seem to exist), tracking and responding to child protection issues, etc.

In addition to that, the arts and media content that youth produce as part of the project will have a much nicer digital map to sit on than what we currently have available… practically no information exists on digital maps about these 3 areas.

Here’s a video about the community mapping. If you can’t access, try the link here.

I had the pleasure of attending a Nairobi party on my last night in town and meeting up with Mikel Maron and Erica Hagen, who make up the rest of the Map Kibera team. I also ate some really bright pink rice…. yum….

If cotton candy were rice....

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Is this map better than that map?

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Youth in Ndop, Cameroon

For the past few years I’ve been supporting the Youth Empowerment through Technology Arts and Media project (YETAM) in several countries in Africa.  The last few weeks I was in Cameroon, where the initiative is expanding to new communities, based on learning from last year’s work in Okola.

The project

The project uses technology, arts and media to spur youth engagement in the community development process and youth-led actions around challenges youth identify in their communities. In the process they think about their personal and community strengths and resources, develop skills for problem solving, team work, research and investigation, and get training on how to use some different ICTs (information and communication technologies). They also build confidence and self esteem and learn how to bring up different issues in their communities and involve their peers, families, local authorities and local leaders in actions to address them.

Audience

The main ‘audience’ for the arts and media is the communities where the youth live and nearby communities. Some of their teachers, parents and local leaders also take part in the project and related training. This helps youth to build up support for their agenda. The arts and media is aimed at engaging communities in dialog and discussion that eventually leads to positive change.  Youth often have opportunities to participate in and use their new skills and their arts and media to advocate at national levels as well. Via the Internet, the youth’s voices are amplified to also reach their global peers and decision makers. For example, the YouTube site for the project has over 100 videos made by youth over the past 2 years.

Youth drawing on issue of water

Actions

Last year, the youth in Okola identified poor quality drinking water as a key challenge. They got the community moving to restore a damaged and contaminated spring bed and improve the water quality (without external funding).  This year we’ve incorporated a stronger focus on prevention of violence and gender discrimination because those were the themes that emerged most heavily across all the participating countries in the past 2 years of the project.  We hope the youth will improve their analytical skills around these areas and begin to look at these issues in more depth, strengthen their understanding of the causes of violence and gender discrimination, and develop strategies for overcoming them.

Process

The whole process starts when staff begin discussions about the project and its goals with interested local communities and youth. It’s a dialog and negotiation process, aimed at building local ownership and partnership for the initiative. Staff identify local partners skilled in the areas of technology, arts and media to accompany and support the process.

Staff and partners learning to use GPS for Open Street Mapping

TOT

A 1-week training of trainers (TOT) ensures that everyone is on the same page with regard to the project objectives.The TOT also helps deepen staff and partners’ understanding of some of the issues such as gender and violence, and is an opportunity to build skills on new ICTs that can be used in the project.  This year, for example, we had a session on GPS and OpenStreetMap because we want to add digital mapping to the toolbox to complement hand-drawn mapping, since both are of value to the work we are doing. (Shout out to @billzimmerman and @mikel for pointing us in the direction of Ernest, our fabulous GPS and OSM trainer from Limbe).

Critical questions

At the TOT, we discuss some of the critical questions in a project like this, such as:

Whose media? The arts and media created in the project should belong to the community, not to the funding organization or the arts and media partners. This has connotations then in how it is attributed and copyrighted, and who keeps copies of it, and what it is used for. The best way to manage this seems to be to see organizations and funders as ‘sponsors’ of the project and to ‘brand’ the media as such (this project was funded by xxx and does not represent official positions of xxx).

My personal bias is that the media and any web associated with the project should not carry an institutional logo or be hosted on an institution’s website, but should be established and managed locally using free tools like WordPress and YouTube with support from partner organizations.  I think that we should be looking at these kinds of initiatives as youth and community capacity building not as an institutional branding opportunity.

A middle ground could be that the media is ‘owned’ by all the involved partners and all can use it to promote their own objectives, or that some of the media supports an institutional position and that media is put on an institutional site, and other media can be created by the community for its own purposes, and hosted/posted on free sites like the ones I mentioned. This aspect can still be a little bit tricky, if you ask me.

Whose agenda? The agenda should be built by and belong to the youth and the community. They are not making promotional materials for us or the local partners. We also should not be censoring media.  This is an issue sometimes when the position of the community does not follow institutional positions.  This can be addressed by resolving the issue of ‘whose media’.

Which media? The project aims at building skills in various media forms. The primary audience is local, and so we help youth learn to select their media form by thinking about the primary audience’s access and media habits or traditions. Often painting, drama, newsletters, comedy, poems and singing, radio, and video are more effective than say YouTube and blogging for getting a message across to local community members who may not have electricity and/or Internet. Digital media serves a purpose, but for a different audience, normally at the national or global level.  In addition, sometimes one tool is better than another for addressing a particular topic, for example, violence may be difficult to portray on a film without identifying the person who was mistreated and putting them at risk of retaliation.

At the same time, the thing that draws a lot of the youth into the project is the opportunity to learn computer skills, to manipulate and manage a camera, to go onto the Internet. So we bring these tools in as well to build those skills in young people, even though they may not have Internet access on a daily basis. We also ensure that youth have access to the tools and equipment they need to continue making digital media and accessing the Internet and computers by working with schools and partners on an agreement for owning and managing the equipment and supporting youth to use it.

Media for what? We all know that kids can make amazing arts and media and that they can learn to use computers and cameras and mobile phones without a problem. So what? The goal of the project is what children and youth learn in the process of making that media, what skills they build, and then what they actually do with their skills and their art and media that counts, what changes do they achieve for themselves and in their communities? How do they generate dialog while making the arts and media and/or how do they use their final ‘products’ to push for positive change.

Adapting to the local setting

During the TOT, partners and staff create a detailed plan for how they will train the 60 or so participating youth on technology, arts and media over a focused 2-week period and beyond through refresher training and hands-on work. We’ve set the goal of 30% theory and 70% practice to help guide partners and facilitators as they prepare their sessions. The goal is not training professional artists, journalists and technologists – it’s using arts, media and technology as tools for youth participation, action and advocacy.

Mercy presents the youth's map

Mapping

To identify the themes that the youth will focus on, we facilitate a participatory mapping process. The youth create a base map of their community and discuss the community’s history and what makes it unique – they create their community profile.

Then they identify community resources and risks based on the 4 categories of child rights:  survival, development, participation and protection. In other words, they identify what exists currently in the community that supports children to survive and develop, and how the community currently protects children, and what spaces children currently have to participate.  They then look at where those 4 categories are not doing so well, and where children are at risk.

Youth, parents and local authorities discuss the map

The map is shared on the first day of the youth workshop and discussed with participating teachers, local authorities and parents in order to generate additional input and to get buy-in from the adults.  In small groups and plenary, they together prioritize the issues and decide which ones they will focus on during the workshop and beyond, using arts and new media tools. In follow up sessions, they will also make a digital map of their area for uploading to the Internet, and their arts and media work will be uploaded as points on that digital map. The digital map and the hand drawn map bring distinct benefits to this kind of process.

I love mapping. It’s a really interesting process, because when you start by looking at resources and when you are working with youth, so many things come out that would not come up if you came in and asked about needs or problems and only worked with adults. Communities are used to NGOs coming in to ask them what they need, to train them to see only their problems and to feel like victims, and to then expect the NGO or external agent to ‘resolve things.’ If you start by identifying only needs and problems, there are so many things in a community that will be missed. I notice that youth are not as well-trained as their parents in playing the victim. They are much better at talking about their community and what it means or holds for them than their parents are. When I show up as an outsider, they often want to show me beautiful places, special places, things they have and are proud of, not their needs and problems.

Some of the challenges youth identified and will work on

The real work

After the workshops comes the real work.  The partner organizations, staff, teachers and community leaders who are involved support the youth over time to continue their learning in the different areas, to do refresher training in areas they didn’t fully catch during the first round, to generate dialog in the community around the themes youth have identified, and to work on the issues they have identified through organized youth-led actions and advocacy at different levels and engaging decision makers at the local, but also district and national, and sometimes even global levels.

This is where the real change happens and is the real heart of the initiative.

My Cameroonian colleague told me one day ‘This project is like a catalyst in my body.’ It has motivated and driven her to learn new skills and take on new challenges, to push herself to new levels to achieve the goals set out. I’ve seen it have the same effect on the youth and on myself as well. In the end, that is what we want to achieve — motivated and engaged people, working together to make positive change in their communities and beyond.

Resources

This morning I came across this toolkit ‘A Rights-Based Approach to Participatory Video Toolkit’ by Insight, and I absolutely love it. It pretty much spells out what we are doing (though we had nothing to do with writing it up), and confirms a lot of the hunches and ideas that we’ve had while developing the program. I highly recommend it if you are working on rights and media.

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Yesterday my colleague Mika Valitalo at Plan Finland sent some information about mGeos, a cool project that Pajat Management (a Finnish company), Plan Kenya, Plan Finland, Helsinki University of Technology and University of Nairobi have been collaborating on for the past year. Note: Mika and Pertti Lounamaa from Pajat gave me written permission to share this info.

The idea? To develop easy-to-use GPS-based mapping software that runs on low-cost mobile phones.

Detailed map information is missing from most of the 'developing' world

What needs is mGeos responding to? Being efficiently able to provide health, education and humanitarian aid or even most industrial services is critically dependent on knowing where to provide these services. Basic location information about points-of-interest (POIs), routes to them and areas to service are missing from the countries in most need of public service improvement. In ‘developing’ countries especially, critical map and location information is largely incomplete, outdated or missing. For example, in the image here, you can see small town map details available for Finland (left image) vs for those for Kenya (right image).

Earlier experiences in a few program countries as well as responses to a questionnaire conducted with Plan Kenya staff showed a desire and clear need to use location data more effectively. There is also a need to make it available on low-cost phones that are more accessible.

Stefanie Conrad (my awesome boss) for example, sees it like this:

“Geographic analysis of the distribution of social services such as wells, hospitals, telecommunication facilities, broadcast services, schools, etc. is essential for Plan’s program work in order to have a sound understanding of the best way to provide access to those services. In reality, most of our country offices work with non-geographical systems, for example, lists of communities. In many countries, the government itself does not have sufficient mapping of communities in place. Decisions on where to put something to guarantee access to populations often becomes a thing based on best guess.

Mobile phones with GPS could support more equitable and technically sound placement of basic services. Digital pictures and maps could be used with communities in order to facilitate discussions about where to best place a well, for example. This can often be a difficult process, as usually community leaders try to get these types of services to be conveniently placed as close as possible to their own homes….  Many of our offices also have difficulties producing the maps needed for corporate communications (area overviews, local area maps, etc) – this would become possible with GPS.”

The mGeos project aims to respond to these identified needs. A 3-month field pilot is planned to take place in Kilifi, Kenya, in July.  I’ll be in Kenya in July and if the pilot goes forward then, I am hoping to be able to see personally how mGeos works!

What are mGeos’ key features?

  • mGeos service platform

    Supports collection of structured data as numbers, text, exclusive and multiple choice and images; and also location data including points of interest, routes and areas

  • Multiple front ends:  standard internet browsing for laptops and large screen smart phones and mobile browsing (xHTML/WAP)
  • Dedicated application for GPS enabled mobile phones
  • Authoring tool for defining forms and corresponding database model for storing the collected data
  • Open API for accessing stored data
  • Based on a SaaS (software as services) model

What does the mGeos system consist of?

  • client software which runs on low-cost S40 GPS enabled mobile phones (eg. Nokia 2710)
  • server running a database where all the collected information is stored and accessed
  • portal i.e. webpages which show the collected Points of Interest (POIs) on Google maps (or other maps) and allow browsing, exporting and sorting of the collected data.

What would mGeos look like in action?

Say a field worker named Victoria arrives to the Kilifi District Program Unit in the morning. She’s planning to visit Kujemudo community. Before leaving for the day trip, she takes a GPS enabled mobile phone from the office and downloads the latest updated ‘Points of Interest’ (POI) list from the computer to her phone.  The POI list has been created by Victoria and her colleagues by gathering location data while visiting different communities during the past couple of months.  Today Victoria also wants to map important POIs in the communities, among many other tasks.

After arriving to Kujemudu and having a meeting with the local community based organization, Victoria rides her motorbike over to a school building in Ezamoyo village, takes her GPS enabled mobile phone in hand, and starts the mapping application.  The she chooses ‘add POI’ from the menu, selects the POI category of ‘school’ and adds the name of the school. After that she also types in the additional information such as the number of pupils and teachers, ownership of the school, etc.  Finally she takes a photo of the school, attaches it to this record and saves the information to the phone memory to be transferred later to the computer server.

Next Victoria visits Mkombe village where the location and information of the school has already been entered into the database by her colleague Peter a few weeks earlier.  Victoria uses the POI browsing feature to find the right school (browse by POI category).  When she finds the existing data record, she chooses ‘edit’ in order to update the information. Because part of the school has been reconstructed, she takes a new photo of the school and replaces the outdated one. Also, since the number of students has increased, she edits the ‘school population’ field to match the current number. Finally she saves the record.

While visiting Mabirikani village the next day, Victoria checks one of the wells, because she has heard that it has collapsed due to recent floods.  Since this is clearly the case, Victoria takes the mobile, searches the well from the data base and marks the record as deleted.

mGeos web screen shot

The next day, Victoria arrives to the Kilifi District Program Unit, connects the phone to her computer, and uploads all the new records and changes. Then she sends them to the mGeos webpage, which gets updated (i.e., now all the users can see the Ezamoyo school building, the updated information from Mkombe, and will notice that the well in Mabrikani is no longer in use).

When Victoria sees the new information in the system, she notices that she has mistyped the number of pupils in Mkombe school.  Since she is the author of the information, she can also edit the record in the mGeos webpage to correct the information. After checking that all the other information is OK, she leaves the phone in the office and continues with other work tasks.

When will it be tested? We plan to fully test the application in Kenya in July. Plan Kenya/Kilifi District Program Unit has identified a number of  POIs ( schools, health facilities, water points, trading centers etc.) they would like to map. They have also listed additional information each POI should have. For example, for schools they would collect information on: name, type (special, integrated, non-integrated), level (primary, secondary…), numbers of pupils, availability of water and sanitation services, etc. etc.  This information would be entered into mobile phones running mGeos software and later transferred to the server for sharing, analysis, editing, reporting and exporting.

Once the pilot has run, and user input is collected, the system will be adjusted and improved so that it can be fully launched.  I’ll keep following the mGeos story and post more as it’s tested and rolled out!

Update:  For more information see these later posts:

mGESA: Mobile GEographical Services for Africa

Mobile Date Collection through Points of Interest in Kenya (on Mobile Active)

The final application is called PoiMapper (see www.pajatman.com). Give it a try by downloading it and installing it on your mobile!

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Henri from Plan Benin training on SMS reporting.

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

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

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

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

Carmen the VAC project coordinator in Benin.

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

Issue:

  • Most people call instead of sending SMS

Hmmm….

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

Issue:

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

Hmmm….

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

Issue:

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

Hmmm….

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

Early draft of a poster promoting violence reporting by SMS

Issue:

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

Hmmm….

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

Issue:

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

Hmmm….

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

Issue:

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

Hmmm….

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

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


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

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

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

—————-

Related posts on Wait… What?

Breaking it down: violence against children

Fostering a new political consciousness on violence against children

Seven (or more) questions to ask before adding ICTs

Finding some ICT answers in Benin

Meeting in the middle

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Josh's FLSMS Ushahidi Diagram

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Useful resources:

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

Mobiles for Development Guide by Hannah Beardon

Changemakers and Kiwanja collaboration:  SMS How To Guide

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

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

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

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

Ushahidi:  The Ushahidi Blog

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

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

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