How citizen activists can check politicians’ statements on air pollution

Are you sceptical about what your Ministry of Environment declares about air pollution? Test it! This is what some activists member of two associations (PEN and Science for Change Movement) have done in Prishtina, Kosovo.  By means of digital tools that work as sensors able of measuring and monitoring the presence of PM2.5 –

Atmospheric particulate matter – also known as particulate matter (PM) or particulates – are microscopic solid or liquid matter suspended in the Earth’s atmosphere. The term aerosol commonly refers to the particulate/air mixture, as opposed to the particulate matter alone.Sources of particulate matter can be man-made or natural. They have impacts on climate and precipitation that adversely affect human health.” (Wikipedia) – in the air, activists have assessed that the air pollution in an area around a school exceeds acceptable limits. Data show how the pupils of the school are at high risk of exposure to poisoning. This can undermine the cognitive and physical development of the children, according to several studies conducted by renowned institutions.

mappa prishtina

“The red line represents the areas in which the measurements were conducted where values exceeded acceptable limits according to the Air Quality Index that is used by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The measurements that are seen here were conducted on January 25, 2017, and the maximum level of PM2.5 pollution reached 160.44 micrograms per cubic meter. Whereas the values that are considered to be allowable are 0-25 micrograms per cubic meter. Image courtesy of PEN and the Science for Change Movement.”

This research has been possible thanks to the collaboration of the school staff that has allowed the research. Many similar tests have been conducted by activists in Kosovo involving young students who have the chance to learn very early the importance of good air quality.

Read the full article on making sense and get more insights and details about the investigations presented above. Maps and more education activities that have directly involved primary schools children are reported at the end of the article.

The use of drones in the humanitarian sector

In the last years, the use of drones has increased dramatically due to prices drop and technological progress that make the use of drones easier.  Therefore, the use of them has been studied and applied in the humanitarian sector in order to facilitate and accelerate the response to humanitarian crises. The guide “Drones in Humanitarian Sector” made by the Swiss Foundations for Mine Action (FSD) and its partners (CartOng, Zoi Environment Network and UAViators)  provide us with interesting and latest insights to understand how drones can actually have a positive impact on the humanitarian action with a focus on natural disasters.

By Federico Rivara

According to a survey conducted among humanitarian workers, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (aka drones) application would be interesting in five main sectors: 

  • mapping services
  • delivering light items in remote areas
  • damages assessment practices
  • monitoring changes
  • increasing situational awareness

For all of them, case studies reported by several actors are presented in order to tell readers how humanitarians can use drones and which knowledge is required.Today, most of the humanitarian organisation which use drones establish partnerships with services providers that have sufficient capacity for humanitarian actions, technological skills and field capacity for drones deployment.


With respect to mapping, drones can play a better role than traditional GPS\GIS services due to the fact that they can work in particular weather conditions (for instance, clouds can reduce the use of satellites) but also provide live information about fast-changing environments. On the other side, drones often need more flights to carry a data collection – especially for large areas –  given their low battery levels. Moving to the field, UAVs made possible the mapping of Haiti after the earthquake in 2010 to prepare the assessment of densely populated slums by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) where information provided by drones could be more precise than those given by GPS. Obviously, alternatives are complementary rather than opposite and the use of one or other tools depends on the context and the plan.

drone - gps

Final recommendations about mapping refer to emergency relief. In fact, today drones are not so often used because the preparation can take too much time if there are not organisation or external services providers already close to the area affected with enough deployed drones. Moreover, people and policy-makers still look at drones suspiciously given the military connotation they have. However, the fact that many civilians are getting more familiar with this technology can change the perception on them.

Cargo Delivery

Often, the delivery of basic needs after a crisis is difficult due to the poor infrastructures conditions and other challenges. Therefore, UAVs can play an important role. The technological progress in this field is not developed that much to provide assistance on large scale, in large areas and providing massive help. However, the supply of medical and health items is already possible and several organisations have already used drones to deliver them. Examples come from all over the worlds and regard the delivery of vaccines, purified water bottles and contraceptives but also the collection of Tuberculosis sputum samples.

Actors that work on it (NGOs, universities, start-ups, logistics companies and so on) can either land the UAV on the field or parachute the items. It often depends on the regulation that the interested country has. A database, Global Drone Regulations Database that gives updates of almost all of the countries of the world has been launched by UAViators and supported by the FSD,  The New America Foundation and the  Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation ACP-EU. Everyone can register and provide updates on drone laws of any country.

Several aspects need to advance if cargo delivery by means of drones will become usual. Besides the regulations, all the actors involved need to communicate more to understand each other area of expertise. Technological progress will also reduce the costs to use UAVs and humanitarian organisations would be more willing to use these services either developing internal capacity or collaborating with external providers. Training and staffing in order to deploy drones in conflict zones are needed to guarantee collaboration and safety of the operations. Finally, an increase in the use of them can reduce people’s risk as they should not deliver aid with helicopters and planes. A final recommendation that the guide gives states that more field tests are needed to statistically obtain information about cargo drones efficiency.

Other Applications

drones search and rescueThe last section of the guide refers to the use of drones for Search and Rescue (SAR) operations in the aftermath of a humanitarian disaster and on the monitoring and real-time information provision. While SAR actions can be already supported by means of drones, monitoring and real-time information provision is still not very common given the fact that mid to large-sized UAVs and complicated transmission technology would be required to get information on large areas. However, drones have been used to assess the damages occurred after the typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines in 2013. So, operators could understand which materials were needed to repair the hospital without putting the life of people at risks. However, drones have to be deployed at the right moment. Otherwise, their impact on the decision and planning making would be highly limited.

To conclude, UAVs can surely play an important role in the humanitarian crises and solve several challenges faced in these contexts. However, technological progress is still required. This process has to proceed alongside with regulations decisions and with the awareness of the fact that many ethical, privacy and security concerns occur when the use of drones implies the collection of data.

You can download the full report here

Photo Credits: DFID  – UK Department for International Development and Wikimedia Commons


Join the webinar “The use of drones in the Humanitarian and Development sector“.

Click on the image below for more info.


ICT for Mapping and Emergencies: good practice from Nepal

Few days left and the ICT Innovations for Development online course will continue. The fourth module “ICT for Education” will kick off onThursday the 5th. Meanwhile, let’s see what have we gone through during the third module, “ICT for Mapping and Emergencies” with Nama Budhatoki , finished few days before the holidays. Examples, tools and practices have been the core of the four sessions.

By Federico Rivara

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Maps4health? What is the connection between healthcare and maps? The 1854 London Cholera Outbreak map developed by Dr. John Snow is considered one of the very first example of Geographic Information System (GIS). Dr.Snow developed a sort of proto-GIS supporting his theory that cholera was a water-borne disease. His analysis showed a connection between number of cholera deaths and wells location.

By Paola Fava

This is just a very first example of the linkage between health and maps. Maps can be used for complex geographic analysis of health indicators but also simply to identify the exact location of health centers or healthcare services.

Particularly in emergency situations, such as the 2014 Ebola crisis in West Africa, maps were used to locate health facilities, laboratories, schools, wells and any other significant infrastructure that could provide information to support aid workers facing the emergency. Combining this information with other indicators such as population data, number of disease cases, etc… maps provided a better overview of the disease widespread and its effects. Hpfblog2ere is an example of maps developed by WHO showing, on the left, the location of laboratories in the areas affected by Ebola Virus in 2015 and, on the right, the number of Ebola cases in October 2014.

Identifying the exact location of health facilities is not always an easy task, especially if using a top-down approach, asking government bodies, health authorities or organizations.

On this regard, is an interesting tool, that uses an alternative, bottom-up approach to identify healthcenters around the world, providing information such as their geographic position, services provided, number of full time/part time beds, staff availability, etc…The application is an opendata initiative, therefore freely available and anybody can contribute by using their Facebook or Twitter account.
It’s a project co-founded by Mark Herringer, Tim Sutton and Dražen Odobašić, and supported by many partners such as ICRC, MSF, HIF (International Hospital Federation), the Health Care in Danger project and HOT(Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team).

pfblog3 can be particularly useful in emergency situation, (i.e.: in case of disease outbreaks or natural disasters) in order to have baseline data or assess damages or even, more importantly, to help people seeking for medical care. Of course, the main challenge is to verify the information and keep it updated but the network of organizations behind it, such as the Humanitarian OpenstreetMap Team (HOT), MSF and ICRC, is already a great start!

Photo credits:
Main photo: Ted Eytan
Photo1,2: WHO EbolaMaps

Digital Health Information Fragmentation

Small health centres in remote villages in some regions of Africa can be quite crowded places…
Those crowds are not only made by patients but also by NGOs’ and organizations’ staff who are running their programs by bringing different types of medicines or collaborating with health staff to collect healthcare information.
Each organization brings its own project, maybe a pilot one, with a good amount of requests or activities to be implemented. So, for example, beside already established standard government forms or registers, community Health Workers (CHWs) are asked to fill out additional forms/registers.

Although the final objective should be to facilitate their work and improve the provision of health care to the most needed, unfortunately this often creates an extra burden to the already understaffed facilities, it generates confusion, overload and waste of precious time on bureaucracy, time that should be rather spent on patients’ care. Furthermore, health workers may receive incentives for the extra workload, thus changing work priorities resulting in poor/ late reporting of standard and well established data to the Ministry of Health.

Many of those pilot projects also involve the use of digital information, using digital data instead of paper forms.

A significant example of the fragmentation of digital health programs is illustrated on the measles map of Uganda developed by Sean Blaschke at UNICEF, as mentioned by Dikki Sepfblog5ttle in his post on Pathblog. The map itself explains why in 2012 the ministry of Health in Uganda called a halt to all eHealth and mHealth Initiatives in the country until they got approval from the Director General of Health Services. The objective was to limit the fragmentation of programs and make sure that the data collected up to that point would feed into the national digital Health Information System, rather than creating additional parallel systems.

The widespread of digital information is already a step forward towards the integration of information as ICT can facilitate the information and data exchange especially if data is collected in appropriate and compatible format.

However, we are still quite far away from the final objective…. And, as David McCann wrote in one of his post on ICTworks about the situation in Uganda, reality sounds more like this:
You’ve managed to track drug stock-outs in a sub-county in Moroto using solar chargers and 50 Samsung Galaxies. That’s great, can we share data with a similar project I did using BlackBerries in Gulu? Probably not. You’ve rolled your own drug-stock-tracking application. And yet when members of Big Aid met with the Ministry of Health, to account for the overlapping features of their mHealth applications and whether API integration is possible, one actually responded along the lines of “well, it’s backed by a relational database, so in theory, yes.” While true, this misses the intent of the question by a wide margin’.

Maybe the halt promoted by the Ministry of Health in Uganda is a way towards increasing interoperability and coordination of projects. For sure, it indicates that government has started to look into taking ownership of these projects and technology to serve the population’s needs.

In other countries specific mobile-health groups, such as the mhealth working group in Malawi, are meeting regularly, with the involvement of the Ministry of Health, to face the issue of integration and overlapping of mobile health projects.

Both the use of compatible technologies and the involvement of stakeholders at various levels are two key elements to start overcoming the problem of mhealth projects fragmentations.

By Paola Fava

Photo source: Margherita Dametti for COOPI

ICT and Development: 9 principles and 5 methods to start with

The relation between Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) and development, and the presentation of methods and principles for the digital development have been the focus of the first module of the online course ICT Innovations for Development. Joshua Harvey, consultant at UNDP for the Human Centered Design, has led the participants during this first part of the course, ended on the 21st of November.

What does development mean? What do we mean with “technology for development”? The first step to introduce this first module has been defining these two concepts from their historical evolution to the widespread acronym ICT4D: “The practical application of knowledge of the intersection of computation, data, and networks for social transformation and the provision of assistance during and after crises“.

The idea of social innovation and digital development is based on the hypothesis that the communities we are working for actually use ICT tools and that these instruments can create new opportunities for change and transformation of the socio-economic context. Innovation, therefore, is simultaneously product and process as noted by the Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR). “When we talk about innovation for development, we do not talk about technical aspects nor of the structural parts of a tool. Instead, we are talking about how technology can intervene in a specific social context and about processes that generate solutions to tackle people’s needs“. In fact, digital development has to be people oriented. A project has to be thought, structured and implemented for and with the beneficiaries of the new product or the service provided.

Unfortunately, theory and practice do not often match” Joshua explains “but (thank God!) we have some principles that can lead us in designing and implementing our interventions“. Our lecturer has shown and explained the main principles of the digital development.


1. Design with the user: who is the project for? Who are the stakeholders? How does the authentic experience of the user inform your design? How can we understand the real needs and necessities 0f the beneficiaries?

2. Understand the existing ecosystem: What is happening in the problem space? What are your constraints – policy, infrastructure, capacity, will? What exists to facilitate solutions? What are the ideas, opinions of the people about the problem? Did someone try to solve it? What are the limits?

3. Design for scale: Is the project structured from the specific context, from the number and kind of users? Is your product or service growth-oriented? How to develop tools today to allow a growth tomorrow?

4. Design for sustainability: Is your product or service dependency-aware? Will it be dependency-aware in the future? Is it financially sustainable?

5. Be data driven: Are you measuring? What are you measuring? How are you using your measurements?

6. Use open standards, open data, open source, open innovation: How “deeply” is your product or service a public good? Is it accessible to everybody? Are the collected data, the measurements, the documents and the methodologies available?

7. Reuse and improve: Have you considered the already existing instruments and technologies in order to innovate and reuse them?

8. Address privacy and security: Are sensitive data protected? Are the privacy and security respected? Besides the law, are others tools used to guarantee privacy and security of individuals?

9. Be collaborative: The project is more efficient when more people and several perspectives are involved; so, how can we engage more people?

These principles are essential to ensure that we are making a good product in a responsible and efficient way“.

Finally, during the last session, the lecturer has presented many methodologies to make concrete the concepts and the principles previously analysed.

The methods are the concrete things we do, how we translate our ideas into practice“.

Here we report some of the methods discussed:

Design research: the central idea of this approach is that experiences, needs and preferences of the user play a central role in the design and the conception of the product or service. “What happens if I build a chair not because I know how a chair is made, but according to how do people take a seat on the chair?“.

Prototyping: this is not about building something but to improve something that already exists according to what we need. It is an extension of the first method, it is a process that starts from user’s necessities: through comprehension and observation of someone’s need, you can reply with an adequate product. That is why it is important to foreseeing a phase to evaluate user’s reaction in order to improve the product.

User testing: this is the phase in which the user’s response is considered. It is a try of the prototype, a further step after the prototyping, to ensure that the product or service is suitable for the user.

Agile Development: once more, the user is the focus. Here it is not anymore about tools or instruments, but about people’s stories. These stories reveal necessities, and these needs are translated into the tool’s requirement we are developing. It is an interactive process which does not start from a concept or a study to directly reach a final target, but it is a process based on a continuous elaboration.

Lean: now, it is time to introduce the product into the real world to fully understand if it is suitable in the context. It is important to understand how to launch the product into the market through a precise strategy, a business model that makes our product competitive and more advisable than others.

All these methodologies are parts of a unique framework that considers the person as the central element of the project. After the observation and the comprehension of the preferences and necessities of the user, and after a deep analysis of them, it is possible to move to the design phase. Once the product is developed, this has to be tested and modified until the achievement of a people oriented and efficient result.


Open Data Collection for a better governance

In the last years, a great hype has surrounded open data. This has been possible due to the fact that, recently, great attention has been given to open data movement and the open-source philosophy. The aim of these tendencies is to collect and provide a large amount of data for free. Big datasets can represent an important contribution to a large number of subjects: policy-makers but also the public, private,nonprofit sectors and the development aid sector. This is why we have talked with Georges Labrèche, lecturer of the module “ICT for data collection” organised by Ong 2.0 and starting on the 24th of November.

By Federico Rivara

Sometimes, it seems that there is a discrepancy between the amount of data available (“a lot of data”) and the real use of them. Even more, actors who should exploit the availability of large information generally do not have the tools and the knowledge to get access to them. Why? Georges Labrèche, the founder of Open Data Kosovo, provide us with some insights about how Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) can make an important contribution to data collection.

aaeaaqaaaaaaaamfaaaajdyxowy5ntm3ltbmy2etngq4ny1iodczlty1mdkxmdg2mzdimw“The starting point is that any researcher, at any level, needs to prove or disprove a hypothesis. A lack of data can undermine this intention. Often, data are available and potential beneficiaries are not aware of it. It is not about having a technical expertise or possess a lot of data. It is about having the proper means to get access to the data – that can be relatively easy – and know where to look and ask in order to work with them“. Looking in the proper space means knowing the people, the community that is involved in the sector you work in. For any sector, there will be a community experienced, fascinated and able to provide support with respect to specific fields of interest.

For instance, those interested in geo-mapping or who need a mapping support have to be aware of the community behind  OpenStreetMap, YouthMappers and also Humanitarian Open Street Map that are some reference points. Similarly, those involved and interested in data journalism can follow these four ways to interact with the data journalism community. Even more, at a political level, OpeningParliament let civic organisations share and discover experiences and good practices led in real contexts. “All of these realities can lead to a better governance and entail more transparency”.

Moreover, “especially in the academic sphere people are highly willing to provide their support and improve technical skills through practical experiences demanded by external actors such as public institutions”. Often, there is a gap, a weak communication, between institutions and motivated communities. This explains why “there is a need for good education and awareness about digital technologies projected to a good governance”. Georges, with a background in software engineering and international relations, can perfectly observe these dynamics.

Open Data Kosovo goes in this direction. On one hand, local action makes possible the engagement of youth with digital technologies to be applied in real projects in collaboration with institutions. On the other hand, consultancy activities also for international subjects such as NGOs can enlarge the  network of the people involved. Both can create great opportunities especially for young people but also set up platforms where everybody can participate such as this one, launched by Amnesty International to scan villages under risk of attack in Darfur.

There are some certainties. Data are available and means to collect them do exist. Tools and procedures to collect them will be the focus of the sessions taught by Georges Labrèche in the two coming weeks within the online interactive course ICT Innovations for Development. Kick-off session on the 24th of November, fourth and final meeting on the 5th of December.

 Below, the TED talk by Tim Berners-Lee: The year open data went worldwide

10 best practices to reach communities in complex emergencies

You arrive at Bangui airport in the Central African Republic (CAR) from headquarters, you switch on your smartphone to tell your family and colleagues that you’ve arrived and nothing happens: “there is no network”, said Jean-Luc Mootoosamy, Programme Manager for CAR for the media development organisation Foundation Hirondelle. “One of the closest elements to us here, our phones, doesn’t work. It is the first reality check.”

by Jacobo Quintanilla

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ICT Innovations for Development: here are the scholarships winners

We have officially concluded the process of Scholarship Awards by delivering 23 Scholarships to bright talents across the world (surprise, surprise – three scholarships more than planned!) that will attend the long-term online course “ICT Innovations for Development”. The scholarships are made possible thanks to the generous support of Fondazione Cariplo and Compagnia di San Paolo within the framework of the project “Innovation for Development”. The selection of 23 candidates who received the Scholarship Award has been a tough job for the Selection Committee, considering the tremendous high amount of applications received – 448 in total. And, today we are immensely happy to announce the winners of the Scholarship Award.
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Financial inclusion: potentialities and drawbacks

In the last years, financial Inclusion –  provide banking services to a larger number of users – belongs to the development agenda as a crucial element supposed to improve the financial requirements of those people who don’t have access to traditional financial services and eradicate poverty. That’s why we have seen a boom of new realities based on digital services that aim to go where traditional channels can’t.
However, as Gianluca Iazzolino – postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Oxford on media and democracy and consultant for the Mobile Money for the Poor (MM4P) program at UN Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) – tell us, “mobile money services can actually be dangerous in the moment in which they create new exclusions instead of inclusions”Given the importance of the financial inclusion and its important digital part, Ong 2.0 offers a module on this theme, taught by Iazzolino, within the course ICT Innovations for Development.

by Federico Rivara

profile-picIazzolino warns us about the risks of the sector. “Today” Iazzolino tell us “the actors that provide digital financial services don’t limit their action only to mobile money (the digital transfer of money by means of mobile phones) but they tend to offer more services such as insurances and loans“. The reason is simple: these services entail larger profits to the operators that provide them.

The risks of the system are several and lead us to a current hot topic: the circulation  and availability of a huge number of data. The financial services mentioned before make the tracking of the user’s data possible. Consequently, the fintech companies can have a precise knowledge of the client’s credit score (the creditworthiness of a person). “The new excluded are therefore those who don’t have constant revenues coming from informal channels, as often occur in African countries realities“. Those who are invisible and don’t produce data might be excluded from a policy, for instance, because they are not considered.
Similarly, Iazzolino explains, independent operators of this business is realistic only for people who already run other activities. For example, in the over the counter (markets not regulated according to the official rules of a specific area) remittance business, the intermediary agent between the user and a company is often a person who already manage other enterprises and who can afford longer-term investments. 

m-pesaThe pursuit of profit, as already mentioned, is a basic element for the development of new platforms. But, the incomes barely go to the areas in which these platforms work. Look, for instance, at M-Pesa. This is a service that allows payments and money transfer through mobile phones. Today M-Pesa is a solid reality that works in many European and African countries. Safaricom, a communications company, launched the platform some years ago. Vodafone is the majority shareholder of Safaricom, based in London, where the larger revenues go.


The potentialities of the digital financial services can reach a lot of levels. For instance, government-to-person payments  are becoming more popular. Through this system governments can pay, for instance, salaries and retirements benefits of their citizens, decreasing the transaction costs. The authority and role of the state have to be clear. Otherwise, some services could be in the hands of powerful actors that stand between the citizens and the state in an intermediary layer. For instance, MasterCard has realised the opportunity coming from the identity cards in Nigeria, the most densely populated country of the African continent.  Similarly to other countries, a lot of people don’t have documents due to weak register offices. Therefore, MasterCard agreed with the Nigerian government to release 120 million of National Identity Smart Cards that allow people to have a document but also to make payments. On one hand, these companies help governments to overcome such a big issue but, on the other hand, “these systems can give incredible power to external actors that can keep in check a state“.

These projects look at the so-called bottom of the pyramid, the poorest and largest global group. People belonging to this group do have bargaining power, knowledge and entrepreneurial capacities. What is still missing is the market. Iazzolino moves our attention to another curious point. “Interestingly, the financial inclusion is part of the development agenda since the Maya Declaration, occurred in 2011, a year in which it was very clear how the markets of the north were saturated while the south ones are still explorable“.

“To know the technological tools that make the financial inclusion possible is necessary in order to understand how we  can set a flexible system that looks at everybody’s needs”. We have to face the discussion now since the fintech industry is increasing every day and the paradigm has to be fixed. To know specific cases, design money transfer strategies helpful for the development strategy and understand how financial inclusion can really reach everybody are some of the aspects that Gianluca Iazzolino will present in the module “ICT for financial inclusion“.


Photo credit: whiteafrican Mobile Phone with Money in Kenya via photopin (license)