The past weekend was busy for the crisis mapping community, with a very full four days of events at the International Conference on Crisis Mapping.  While the ignite talks and self-organized sessions were fantastic what capped off the weekend for about 30 of us was the day-long activation simulation of the Digital Humanitarian Network (DHNetwork).  This effort was made possible by the support of the ICT4Peace Foundation who provided funding for logistics and for TechChange to design and carry out the simulation. UN-OCHA provided travel support to DHNetwork members who needed assistance in order to ensure that all entities could participate.  As well, key observers such as UN-SPIDER, USAID, the State Department, Department of Defense, Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI), and the Woodrow Wilson Center were invited to be present and give direct feedback throughout the day.

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This has been reposted from the DataDyne blog. If you’re interested in learning more about this topic and Magpi, check out our upcoming course with the mHealth Alliance on Mobile Phones for Public Health. Class starts on June 3!

More features, more speed, more ease of use, same prices!

In January 2013, DataDyne will unveil a completely new version of EpiSurveyor — including a new name! Yes, we’re retiring the venerable “EpiSurveyor” — with 10,000 users in 170 countries easily the most widely used mobile data collection system in the development sector, and the most successful ICT4D (ICT for development) project ever — and replacing it with “Magpi”.

We chose Magpi (rhymes with “sky”) because we realized that a lot of people thought a product named “EpiSurveyor” could only be used for epidemiological surveys.

That’s understandable, but we want to make sure people know that EpiSurveyor is being used to collect all kinds of data: in health, agriculture, supply chain, consumer surveys, and more. So we’re losing the name.

More Than 40 New Features!

Our Nairobi development team has added more than forty new features, more speed, more ease of use — and all the same pricing, including the free version. Magpi is a completely new application, written from scratch, that works like EpiSurveyor (so you’ll have no trouble using it if you’re used to EpiSurveyor).

Mapgi’s beta testing is ongoing, and the 1.0 release will be in January 2013. Note: there will be NO interruption in service when we make the switch. Sign up for our mailing list to make sure you are notified when Magpi goes live! (if you’re an EpiSurveyor user, you’re already on the list).

Watch Magpi in Action!

And in the meantime, you can watch this video (made with the help of our friends at TechChange) of DataDyne CEO and co-founder Joel Selanikio demoing both EpiSurveyor and some of the big improvements in Magpi. The Magpi section starts at about the 3:25 minutes mark:

Interested in learning with us? Check out our next course on Technology Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship, starting Oct. 1. Apply now!

 

What does it mean in a country transitioning from a long and bloody civil conflict if almost every citizen owns a mobile phone? Can the ubiquity of mobile communication play a role in breaking-down perception barriers and promoting reconciliation between communities?

I workshopped this question last week with Sri Lanka’s largest youth movement, Sri Lanka Unites, at their 2012 Future Leaders Conference in Jaffna. The conference brought together more than 350 youth from all of Sri Lanka’s ethnic and religious communities for four days of workshops focused on building relationships and empowering students to take action to support reconciliation nationally and within their local communities.

Few countries have higher mobile penetration than Sri Lanka- where 95 percent of the island nation’s population has a sim card and access to a mobile phone according to GSMA’s Mobile and Development Intelligence Unit.

Leveraging that connectivity asset for peacebuilding could be immensely valuable, particularly for country-wide civil society groups such as Sri Lanka Unites which seek to re-build relations between previously warring ethnic and religious communities through youth conferences such as FLC as well as grass-roots development initiatives.

To explore the ways in which mobile and social tools could be deployed in Sri Lanka for peacebuilding and development, I spoke briefly about the evolving deployment of mobile-based tech tools such as FrontlineSMS and Ushahidi by civil society groups to assist in everything from mapping electoral violence in Kenya to supporting earthquake reconstruction in Haiti and coordinating flood relief and fundraising in Pakistan.

 


Myself and Chandika Jayasundara (the co-founder of a fantastic company called Creately) then split the 350 delegates into groups and asked them to workshop the potential role of geo-social tools and crowdsourcing approaches in addressing one of Sri Lanka’s major health crises: the recent upsurge of dengue fever infections throughout the country.

The responses of the delegates to the dengue fever epidemic provides a few key lessons and questions for NGOs and donor agencies looking to leverage mobile and social networks to support reconciliation efforts and development initiatives in countries transitioning from civil conflict.

 

Coalition building and feedback loops are key
Experiences from crowdsourcing operations in Kenya, Haiti and more recently Libya have shown that it’s not enough to simply collect information about the situation on the ground. If technology tools are to enhance development and humanitarian interventions in the slightest, this data needs to be properly analyzed, its meaning widely disseminated through effective public campaigns and resources mobilized by relevant actors to redress the issue or problem.

The need for a firm feedback loop between information collection and change agents, especially in post-conflict settings, was hammered home in the dengue fever workshop. The participants focused not only on collecting and mapping info on the spread of the disease, but also on the need to address much broader challenges of social norms around water maintenance through public campaigns and institutional change.

With these objectives in mind, a two-stage strategy of coalition building and campaigning emerged, each part of which was enhanced by deployment of mobile-based and social mobilisation tools. The first stage would be to accurately determine the extent of dengue fever within Sri Lanka. Some delegates proposed partnering with one of Sri Lanka’s major mobile network operators (eg, Dialog or Mobitel) to conduct a mobile survey using tools such as GeoPoll to determine prevalence of dengue fever and access to treatment centers. Others saw a SMS short-code service such as the 4646 service, which was used after the Haiti earthquake in 2010 to report needs, as the best means of collecting info.

 


Participants generally agreed that regardless of data collection method, the purpose of aggregating this data would ultimately be to visualise it spatially using mapping tools such as Ushahidi. Being able to physically see collected info on where dengue fever is prevalent, determine the specific location of stagnant ponds and identify districts where misconceptions about symptoms and treatment of the tropical disease are common was seen as vital to targeting of SLU efforts.

The second phase would thus be a large-scale and targeted public information and dengue fever eradication campaign, in collaboration with various NGOs, private sector operators and relevant government departments and Ministries, using this mapped, crowdsourced data.

Hugely creative ideas for the awareness-raising phase of the campaign were proposed, with suggestions ranging from YouTube clips and cross-country walks to online courses and mobile games educating users about the causes and preventative measures associated with dengue fever.

Deploying SLUs high-school chapters to run educational workshops in local communities and partner with medical NGOs, the private sector and relevant government departments to eradicate stagnant ponds in their local neighbourhood was also proposed.

Rather than simply creating a shopping list of ‘cool’ technologies and apps that could help SLU outreach, the participants therefore conceived of the avenues of information collection and popular participation offered by mobile technologies in an institutional context in which change agents (eg. civil society actors, the private sector and government agencies) must partner to create feedback loops capable of taking substantive action.

 

Common issues cultivate common identities
Creating new mechanisms of accountability should be central for all social change initiatives or interventions deploying technology tools. But underpinning this integrated thinking in Sri Lanka is a larger observation about the nature of reconciliation in post-conflict societies.

In many ethnically, religiously and linguistically diverse countries recovering from bloody and divisive civil conflict, distrust between communal groups often continues to pervade inter-group relations for years after the end of formal hostilities.

These perceptions and ties can come to permeate and intermediate the social and economic interactions of everyday life, in many cases being manipulated by political candidates in close contests to catalyse voters- often violently- at local, state and national elections. The repeated paroxysms of Hindu-Muslim violence in India are just some disturbing examples.

Electoral and party regulations that incentivise (or require) inclusion of all regional and communal groups into political campaigns and agendas are vital, as is sharing of power through inclusion of minority groups in cabinets and various forms of decentralisation. However, research on civil society and peacebuilding by Ashutosh Varshney has also shown that it is the relationships and trust developed between individuals of ethno-communal groups which are vital to preventing minor scuffles or even false rumours about other ethnic groups from taking on a communal nature and escalating into all-out ethno-religious warfare.

Sri Lanka Unites’ recent ‘S.H.O.W You Care: Stop Harassment Against Women’ campaign is a fantastic example of the kind of local campaign that can help build trust between communities and be enhanced by tech tools. Across the country, more than 300 young men involved in SLUs high-school chapters boarded over 1250 buses in Colombo district to inform women of their avenues of redress and encourage passengers to intervene when they see incidences of violence.

The campaign received widespread media attention. But the merits of ‘S.H.O.W,’ and even the potential dengue fever project developed in our workshop cannot be assessed solely on how they change attitudes and behavior towards gender-based violence or eradicate dengue fever.

Just as important is how large-scale campaigns such as these can foster new relational ties and trust between individuals and organizations of diverse ethnic and religious groups, creating popular consciousness of issues which cut across various individual identities and require action on an equitable basis- regardless of ethnic or religious backgrounds.

 

Put tech in its rightful place
So what role can mobile phones play in reconciliation? TechChange’s own Greg Maly recently observed that 90 percent of the social impact created by technology-enhanced development initiatives are the result of feedback loops created by people (or ‘the crowd’) partnering with various organizations and institutional actors to improve service delivery and solve collective problems through public campaigns or grass-roots action.

The workshops on dengue fever in Sri Lanka demonstrated how true that observation is in divided societies transitioning from conflict. Ultimately, even when campaigns such as SHOW or the proposed dengue fever eradication campaign prove only partly effective in achieving their immediate objectives, it’s vital to remember the importance of large-scale, public-interest campaigns and other regular avenues of cross-communal collaboration in reframing notions of identity and slowly re-building trust between deeply divided communities.

Mobile and social tools provide new avenues for information collection, political participation and communication that can assist in establishing ties and building trust. But their utility for reconciliation is dependent in the end on the values and expertise of coalition partners and the technology-enhanced feedback loops of institutional change they help to form.

This past week I had the privilege of meeting and working with fifteen fellows from across the African continent who came to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia for a two-week training organized by the UPEACE Africa Program with a supporting grant from IDRC Canada.

The training covered a variety of areas related to strengthening research capacity for governance and security in Sub-Saharan Africa and was designed to provide these fellows with critical support for carrying out their PhD work at various institutions of higher education across the continent.

Dissertation topics included:
– The Life of exiled Zimbabwean Soldiers in South Africa: Coping with the Repressed Memories of War and Political Violence
– The North & South Sudan Conflict on Abyei since 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement: Challenges & Prospects
– ‘Go back to your Ancestral Land’ Autochthony, Citizenship and the Quest for Return Among Internally Displaced Persons in the Rift Valley Province, Kenya

 

Session Overview: Mobiles, Maps, and Presentations

My sessions provided the fellows with a practical reflection on the role of technology in governance, peace and security as well as hands-on exposure to a variety tools and platforms that are being used to collect, visualize and analyze data.

On the first day, we explored FrontlineSMS, EpiSurveyor, GeoPoll, and OpenDataKit and their applications for supporting research via mobile data gathering. Activities from our online course TC105 Mobile Phones for International Development were used as a basis for this session.

On the second day, we looked at ArcGIS Online, Ushahidi and MapBox – all mapping platforms for data visualization and analysis. As part of this session, fellows had to create their own maps, analyze advantages and disadvantages of using different platforms, and reflect on applications for their own research.

We also spent time each day working with Prezi, the web-based zooming presentation tool. Prezi was probably the most popular platform of all the ones we explored, given what seemed to be a formidable and far-reaching frustration with PowerPoint. It sounds like almost all the fellows will be transitioning to Prezi for their classroom teaching and presentations in the near future.

 

Technology Capacity Building: Regional Implications

In the fields of international development and peacebuilding, attention is often focused on solutions and programs that meet basic needs and deliver urgent care (disaster response, food, water, shelter, health etc). For those efforts to have effective and sustainable impacts over time, countries must also have their own robust higher education and research sectors that provide critical analysis, develop comprehensive strategies, and train future generations of leaders. That is why programs like the UPEACE Africa Program that are focused strengthening the capacity of universities to carry out this work are so important. Special thanks to Tony, Jean-Bosco, Tsion and Tewodros and all the fellows for making this a memorable experience.

While the primary focus of TechChange has been and always will be online learning,
we believe it’s important to be connected to the communities like this and support this type of in-person learning. As an organization, we look forward to participating in similar projects, trainings, and initiatives in the near future.

Text to Change’s Chief Technology Officer, Marcus Wagenaar, sat down with me yesterday to discuss new projects on the horizon and innovations in the mHealth field.  Text to Change is an international NGO which uses technology for social change, or as Marcus puts it, “not just a tech company.”  Instead, outreach is where Text to Change works. As the knowledge bearers about mHealth systems and needs, they help design, conceptualize, manage and analyze outreach and projects with their implementing partners to address gaps in healthcare systems and information.

I asked Marcus to talk a bit about some of his favorite projects:

m4rh

Mobiles for Reproductive Health (m4rh), in collaboration with FHI, uses SMS and web based software to send targeted messages about reproductive health.  The user gets their first message and is given 1-3 options for response, such as “if you want more information about condoms, text back 001.” They are then inside a tree of responses win which they can navigate back and forth and discover new information.  The project has been running in Kenya and Tanzania for over a year with pilots in Ghana and Rwanda underway. FHI provides the content and updates, Text to Change runs the IT backend in each country, all from Kampala.

m4rh is one of Marcus’ favorites because it’s “inherently scalable, once it’s set up anyone can access it for free by texting the first keyword to get the main menu” and it’s the “perfect example of Text to -Change because it provides people with information to make informed choices about their lives. In situations where information is lacking or inaccurate around sensitive issues of reproductive health, m4rh allows people to access information that can give them more control over their lives.  They still make their own decisions but at least they have all necessary information to make an informed choice.”

As example of its popularity; in May 2012 more than 40 thousand people have accessed the M4RH information service in Kenya alone. The specific information people access in the system is analyzed. Also, SMS surveys amongst users are carried out to enable deeper analysis of behavioral patterns. By combining this information various things can be deduced. Examples are: which contraceptives are popular in which age groups, what are the differences in male and female use of the system, are the choices people make influenced by the system, etc. These research results or not yet in the public domain but have been shared at various mHealth conferences and we hope to be able to share the results with a wider audience in the near future.

Medical Male Circumcision

The Medical Male Circumcision project, in partnership with Jhpiego in Tanzania and potentially Uganda, is a service hat sends information, similar to m4rh, as well as supporting patient recovery.  Individuals in the beneficiary population get messages regarding where they can receive Medical Male Circumcision and why it’s important, such as “Male circumcision can reduce the risk of female-to-male HIV transmission by 60%”.  After surgery, patients receive messages as soon as the surgery is complete regarding what to expect during their recovery. The Medical Male Circumcision project provides a Virtual Nurse who advises patients: “Make sure that you do not have sex for the first two days,” for example, or later on in the recovery “if your urine is discolored, visit the clinic.” The messages are “specific but lighthearted” with quiz questions every week to engage the patients and to assess how much they know about Medical Male Circumcision. Messages are meant to be encouraging and a “positive way to ensure recovery,” reduce stress, and “decrease health costs overall” by addressing concerns before they become serious health issues.

Text to Change monitors how many people they reach with their messages, how often they are reached, and how much it costs to reach a person. Researchers were able to show a statistically significant association between those men who texted in to the toll-free number asking where male circumcision was available and those who actually followed through and got circumcised. This is a good example of providing people with information to help them making informed decisions about their own health.

Data Collection

The data collection project is in the pilot phase with the Center for Disease Control in Tanzania within the mHealth Alliance. The project targets mothers after they have delivered and will speed up data collection about Vertical or Mother-to-Child-Transmission (MTCT) of HIV.  Currently, midwives and nurses fill in registers for mothers and babies to track their data by hand.  The individual patient data is rarely analyzed and often inaccessible to researchers and government representatives so that today there is no reliable number for the transmission rate for MTCT in Tanzania.  This Data Collection tool pilots a new form for tracking MTCT data, where healthcare workers take data from the standard register, write it on a worksheet and then copy it line by line and send it to a central location using SMS.  The data collected will allow the CDC to calculate the transmission rate for the first time in Tanzania and will enable impact evaluation of interventions that aim to lower the number of Mother to Child Transmission of HI, which is part of the Millennium Development Goals.

I also asked Marcus to give a window into exciting innovations in the pipeline:

FormHub              

FormHub is an Open Source initiative by Columbia University.  Text to Change is working with Columbia to develop and use their platform in the field. Text to Change is currently implementing this technology with one of their partners. The partner will conduct a survey in Uganda’s Luwero District, interviewing 1000s of teachers and students in secondary school about physical abuse, sexual abuse, living conditions, and emotional and physical wellbeing of children.  This is the first ever large-scale survey about these sensitive issues performed in Uganda. The partner designs the survey questions, Text to Change enables easy data collection using mobile technology and the formhub platform. Using cheap Android phones, 60 trained Ugandans will carry out the survey using FormHub.

Marcus also wants to use FormHub to automate data gathering in health and medical setting in remote clinics because it’s simple to use for the designer, data collector and data analist and it’s open source.  Many more interesting projects to come!

Vusion

Vusion is a new SMS open source platform development by Text to Change. The backend is based on the Vumi system developed by the Praekelt Foundation.  Marcus sees Vusion as the next big thing in SMS messaging, and here’s why:

  • Vusion is focused on providing a scalable enterprise messaging platform
  • It can connects to multiple telecom companies and aggregators in multiple countries and multiple shortcodes
  • Once Vusion is set up, you won’t need a programmer to design campaigns or access data so it’s easy for non-technical project managers to use without programming skills
  • An API enables access to SMS data from external applications, which enables easy development of for example; advanced real-time data visualizations, website-widgets, twitter integration, etc.
  • Vusion has different access levels and enables organizations to implement and manage multiple SMS programs in parallel from one central platform.

Programmer? You can download Vusion from github and see what the skeleton looks like.

Some of the cost implications of SMS projects are annual dedicated shortcode fees and aggregator costs.  Vusion reduces this by enabling shortcode sharing. Users can use the same shortcode for small projects to share infrastructure and still be in full control over their campagins and projects  This is the approach Text to Change has been pioneering for years but Vusion will make it easier for organizations to be more involved in their own campaigns by having full access to their projects and the associated data.

Vusion was launched with an extensive demo on the 15th of June in Amsterdam. There is no recording of real-live demo but an accompanying presentation is available on slideshare.

Interested in learning about Mobiles for International Development? Check out our upcoming course, mHealth: Mobile Phones for Public Health, starting in November.