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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 In ‘developing’ countries especially, critical map and location information is largely incomplete, outdated or missing.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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