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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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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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