At the other end of the line: voices from Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia

Blog entry originally posted in November 2014 on the Humanitarian Innovation Fund website.


Over the past couple of months mVAM project has grown, and fast. The catalyst has been the Ebola virus disease (EVD) outbreak.

When the mVAM project started in 2013, we envisioned the advantages of remote data collection in areas that are frequently affected by conflict, natural disasters, or inaccessibility (e.g. villages cut off by impassable roads during the rainy season). The thought of not being able to collect data due to an infectious disease outbreak never crossed our minds. Fast forward a year, and we are suddenly collecting food security data from quarantined areas of Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia through short SMS and interactive voice response (IVR) surveys.

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Staff in Rome testing new software we could use to conduct SMS surveys

As physical movement of our staff became increasingly more restricted in EVD-affected areas, remote data collection began to seem like the most viable option. Overnight, the team in Rome went from analysing data from DRC and Somalia to planning with colleagues in our West Africa Office on what would be the quickest way to conduct remote food security surveys on the ground. Using crowd source data in collaboration with a private company—meaning that we call or SMS households already registered in calling databases—our teams were able to begin data collection in late September. Data on food prices, households’ coping strategies, and other relevant topics is now being collected monthly in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea. The goal of this ongoing data collection is to observe if/how the EVD is impacting food prices and households’ food security. So far, two rounds of data collection have been conducted, and we are gearing up for round three of data collection in early December. We are pleased to see the learning we’ve accumulated over the past year be put to practice for the Ebola response. For more information on our work in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, please visit the mVAM monitoring website (link is external).

MEANWHILE IN DRC AND SOMALIA…

Despite the ongoing emergency in West Africa, our teams in DRC and Somalia are continuing with their monthly data collection and striving to improve the ways in which we implement the project.  Two of our Rome colleagues will be heading to Goma, DRC next week to work with the team on a review of SMS versus face-to-face surveys and provide technical support. So stay tuned for more from their trip soon!

In addition, this week, the Rome team had a conference call with staff in Galkayo, Somalia, to discuss project progress. During the call, team members brainstormed how to address declines in response rates. Since the inception of the project, response rates in Somalia for each round have slowly been decreasing. The staff expressed that this could be due to the fact that respondents’ cell phones are often switched off to save power; may be indicative of decreased interest on the part of respondents; or could be due to other variables. As such, the team is hoping to conduct focus group discussions to learn more. Based on the responses, possible solutions to boost response rates could include launching a campaign to remind people to respond, arranging for respondents to charge their phones for free with a local vendor; or perhaps providing a one-time airtime credit for respondents who respond often. Natural declines in response rates are normal over time; however, we are confident that with the implementation of some creative solutions Somalia’s call rates will be increased soon and will keep you posted on how it goes.

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