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

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, healthsites.io 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

Healthsite.io 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
Photo3: Healthsites.io

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.

principles

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)

The phone besides the hoe. How ICTs are changing the agriculture

Today, 5 billion people use mobile phones and the total number of subscription is 7.4 billion. Moreover, almost 3.5 billion people are connected to the internet and this number is not expected to stop soon.
Agriculture represents one of the most affected sectors. For instance, farmers use mobile devices to know prices, products and also information to manage properly their resources. This is essential to reduce the transaction costs.

by Federico Rivara

Regarding this topic, we have interviewed Simone Sala, a consultant at the Food and Agriculture of the United Nations (FAO) and lecturer of the module ICTs for Agriculture and Environment within the course ICT Innovations for Development organised by Ong 2.0.

simone_sala_bangladeshSimone works for a division of the FAO which aims at developing and suggesting communication techniques supposed to ease the dialogue amongst various actors in rural contexts. “This is necessary in order to, for example, facilitate the collaboration between smallholders and government agencies”, he explains. Very recently, coincidently with the G20 held in Hangzhou, China, FAO, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) have teamed up to create a platform over ICTs regarding the sustainable agriculture development.

The dialogue amongst different actors and the information flows”, as Sala says, “makes often the difference to the results of a project”. He tells us how a project over the water resources in Lebanon became more efficient once his team better understood  how to use the communication technologies. During the first stage of the project, the team was too focused on the technology transfer, without a deep analysis of the local context. Talking more about the available means with the actors involved improved the project that today can go on.

“If the information is well spread and accessible”, Sala says “a large number of users can be reached”. An example comes from Ethiopia and its Ethiopian Agricultural Transformation Agency. The 8028 Hotline service, based on a simple technology such as the telephone, allows thousands of farmers to get advice and information about agriculture practices by means of SMS or interactive voice response. Launched in July 2014, the agency registered 7.3 million phone calls made by 1.2 million registered people.

According to Sala, in the light of his experiences, “some dynamics – within the agricultural context – occur in African countries as well as in Italy. A common problem is indeed represented by the access to technologies which might lead market diversification. Moreover, today farms are, on average, small. This implies that farmers are unable to afford technological investments. A state intervention could reduce these barriers”.

However, other actors can allow more access to technological innovations.

Farm Radio International represents an example. “The radio is one of the main information channels for the smallholders in rural areas”. This organisation, based in Canada, has developed a network that consists of 500 radio partners. Today, it works in 38 African countries and aims to give voice to smallholders so that the radio can spread information which comes directly from them and reach other farmers with similar problems and needs.

Moreover, Digital Green.  This non-profit organisation has thought to make videos in which the protagonists are the farmers themselves. The “actors” show their agricultural practices to the viewers who are farmers as well. In the video below it is possible to see how the communication  by means of video can be more simple because the video makers and viewers belong to the same community.

Finally, Ignitia. This social enterprise, based in Sweden, has been the first actor willing to make weather models specific for the tropical areas. Thanks to them, it is possible to know precise weather forecasts for very specific regions. The unpredictability of the weather is one of the main problems for farmers, especially in countries where they cannot count on weather stations. Today Ignitia is present in Western Africa, 80,000 farmers have been involved (2015) and they declare a forecast precision close to 84%.

“A large number of tools is available and every day more of them are launched”, Sala claims “people who work in the development sector need to know them. More importantly, aid workers have to understand which instruments is the best in a specific context”.

This is why Simone will be teaching his module within the course ICT Innovations for Development. The module consists four meetings (first lesson on the 11th of November) in which he will discuss ICTs for agriculture, information channel and data sets, main actors in these sectors, applications, case studies, exercises and so on.

Photo credit: MedSpring and Flickr

OpenStreetMap: the simple map that became a global movement

When I created OSM (OpenStreetMap), more than 10 years ago, my idea was to create a simple map“. So thought Steve Coast, creator and founder of the OpenStreetMap (OSM), probably wouldn’t have imagined that in 2016, the registered users around the world, would have been over 2, 4 million, a number that makes OSM the Wikipedia of the maps and, in the terms of participation and sharing, the largest map in the world.

Written by Claudia Mocci

 

One of the questions I often asked to myself and I guess that all the users ask themselves the first time they use this tool is: what makes OpenStreetMap so special?

There are two key aspects to be considered, one purely technical and an other more sociological. Contributing to OSM, by “drawing” what is visible can technically be done from anywhere and from anyone. Using one of the various editing interfaces, you can create the data starting from an aerial photograph of a particular place in the world and drawing long lines (roads, waterways, paths), or drawing around the areas (buildings, playgrounds, forests …) that you can see in the picture.

The second aspect, according to me, is the most important and it’s related to social utility: these maps are based on the philosophy of open source and open data, sharing and free reuse are the cardinal principles.

Contributors and users are different, as different are the reasons that lead each of them to contribute. There are random or systematic mappers, those who participate because they have a special connection and interest with a particular place, others that add and modify datas associated to humanitarian events and crises.

The data produced by OSM, as raw and free, have given birth to many important social projects, as Wheelmap, an online map and related app, open and free for the wheelchair accessibility. Wheelmap allows users to share and access information on accessibility for wheelchairs in public places.

On the subject of humanitarian emergencies, there is a project developed by HumanitarianOpenStreetMap Team for remote mapping of areas affected by the crisis, the Tasking Manager .The basic idea is that a free geographic database improves the readiness of response in case of crises and natural disasters, helping to save lives. In addition, access to this geo-database is a great way to get involve local actors and the start of the community resilience processes. Another aspect, not least, is to consider: this kind of mapping – conducted mainly by volunteers using open source tools with connections often household – has no cost for humanitarian organisations.

Shortly, maps help aid workers to understand and respond to humanitarian crises (MapAction, 2015). The Director of Save the Children International, Charlie Mason (from MapAction, 2011, p 3) said that: “In case of emergency we need maps, maps of the affected population, displaced persons, the main streets, other humanitarian actors, clinics, water points and so on, all the things we need to plan and coordinate the response “. OpenStreetMap has become even this, a comprehensive and participated response for this type of need. Projects such CartOng, Missing Maps and many projects born after the earthquake in Haiti in 2010, in Nepal in 2015th the latest in Ecuador and Sri Lanka are a practical and tangible demonstration.

 

Photo credits: Mapping in Lubumbashi (RDC)