South Sudan: communicating both ways

South Sudan1

WFP/Hagar Ibrahim

We are back in South Sudan, where, in June, we identified two main areas of opportunity for employing a mobile Vulnerability Analysis and Mapping (mVAM) approach: using it to monitor urban food security and applying it to improve early warning systems.

This time, we are pleased to announce that the project is moving forward, we are collecting more and more numbers and are getting closer to piloting an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system, which will both boost the capacity of our in-house call center and enable beneficiaries to access information and get answers to their questions.

South Sudan2

WFP/Hagar Ibrahim

The food security situation in urban areas in South Sudan has been deteriorating. According to WFP’s latest urban food security assessment in Bor town, 85% of households are food insecure (of which 44% are severely food insecure, and 41% moderately food insecure). As the urban food security situation needs to be monitored frequently and there is better mobile phone coverage in urban than in rural areas, mVAM is stepping in to collect the data.

Through face-to-face assessments and via our partner agencies on the ground, we have collected over 400 phone numbers and used some of them to conduct food security live call interviews with households in urban centers mostly across Greater Equatoria.

South Sudan map

WFP/Map 1: Number of surveyed households by county, September 2017

However, the context for conducting phone surveys in South Sudan continues to be challenging due to the low mobile phone penetration rates and connectivity problems. We had already reported last time that the main mobile network operators downsized their businesses due to recurrent conflicts. In our most recent round of phone surveys, we found that nearly 40% of the numbers were not reachable. Nevertheless, we were able to talk to over 240 households and ask them about their food consumption, negative coping behaviours, and the food security situation in their communities.

The goal of our latest mission was to provide technical support and assist with capacity building at our in-house call centre. We have configured an interactive voice response (IVR) system, a technology which allows users to access relevant information using the phone keypad and speech recognition. Through the pre-recorded voice response option, the system will be used to answer beneficiaries’ questions relating to, for example, the registration process, food distribution dates, and technical issues, such as lost or damaged vouchers. Users will also be able to record their questions, upon which WFP gets back to them. The IVR system can also initiate calls automatically and direct them to an operator only when a respondent picks up the phone, thereby saving the operators time. This will help address a challenge that mVAM operators in South Sudan have had to grapple with all this time.

The next steps for mVAM in South Sudan will involve deploying and improving the IVR system and expanding our contact information database of potential survey respondents with the help of WFP units and our cooperating partners in the field. Until the next time!

 

Designing a new communication channel – the Food Bot

Kenya blog 2

WFP/Lucia Casarin

After missions to several field locations (including Nigeria, Haiti, and Kenya) aimed at assessing the feasibility of deploying chatbots in WFP’s operational contexts, the mVAM team concluded that they offer great potential for both the sharing and receiving of useful information on food security.  It is now time to take a step forward and actually build a chatbot for WFP – the Food Bot!

In case you haven’t been tracking our work on chatbots (about which you can learn more here and here), here’s a quick refresher. A chatbot is a computer program designed to simulate conversation with human users over the Internet; imagine an invisible robot living inside the Internet asking you questions.

Tailoring the chatbot to its users

The first step needed in designing a new tool is to garner a strong understanding of its users – who will be using the chatbot and for what purposes?

In our case, we are working simultaneously on two levels:

  1. Chatbot builder tool: this is an interface where WFP staff will be able to design, deploy, and manage customized chatbots. The primary users of the chatbot builder tool will be WFP staff in the field, who will use the platform to design contextually-appropriate chatbots for their location. As you can imagine, each WFP Country Office envisions using the chatbot for a specific purpose. In Kenya, for example, colleagues are eager to deploy a chatbot to share updated information about WFP food and cash distributions as well as other programmatic details. In Nigeria, on the other hand, staff want to share details on how to use nutritional supplements provided by WFP.
  2. Contents within the chatbot: this refers to the information the chatbot provides and the dialogues between the chatbot and its users. Targeted users for the chatbot are people living in marginalized and food insecure communities who can use the chatbot to receive information from WFP. They can also ask us questions about WFP’s programmes in their area and provide their feedback and complaints. WFP will develop different chatbots for different locations and target populations.
Kenya blog 3

WFP/Lucia Casarin

To get to know our users better and start defining the design of the Food Bot, WFP and our technical partner InSTEDD (who has extensive experience designing innovative mobile tools) travelled once again to the Kakuma Refugee Camp, located in Western Kenya, where we spent a few days collaborating with WFP staff and refugees to understand how to create a user-friendly chatbot to meet their needs.

We first worked with a small group of refugees to better understand how they use the chatbot technology. To do so, we employed a popular prototype technique called ‘Wizard of Oz’. Under our supervision and guidance, refugees were asked to visit a Facebook page and start a conversation with what they believed was a WFP chatbot. Instead, they were actually chatting with our colleague. Through this type of human-centered approach, we were able to quickly learn what types of information the Kakuma refugees were interested in receiving as well as how they were asking questions. During the field test, we also confirmed our hypothesis that chatbot conversations need to be as light as possible (not using many pictures, menus, or emoticons) in order to minimize data charges and make conversations possible when network coverage is weak or the user is employing Messenger Lite.

We then spent some time with our WFP colleagues in the Kakuma and Nairobi Offices brainstorming the ways in which the chatbot could complement existing activities and provide useful information for our work.

Kenya blog 1 edited

WFP/Lucia Casarin

An iterative design approach

We are now dedicating the next few months to developing the chatbot builder and refining the chatbot contents for a larger pilot project in Kenya. Building a new platform will require a lot of trial and error, and we know that we’ll not get everything right on the first try. For this reason, we have now begun an interactive, iterative design approach, meaning that we will carry out multiple field tests along the way to further refine our product. This will allow us to collect valuable feedback from users at each stage of development so that we can mitigate potential issues early on.

Stay tuned during the coming months as we share additional information on the development of our very first Food Bot!

Hearing from people in the ‘other Congo’

WFP/Jeanbaptiste Pasquier

WFP/Jean-Baptiste Pasquier

Last week, our team went to the Republic of Congo for the first time. What? How is this our first time in Congo? You’re probably thinking: “I have read loads of blog posts about mVAM in Congo”. True, but they were referring to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the country where mVAM first started 4 years ago. This time we went to its neighbour, the ‘Other Congo’. The Republic of Congo (RoC) is rarely in the headlines but WFP is actually very active in this country of only 4.2 million inhabitants. We have our head office in the capital, Brazzaville, and five offices in the field.

Map RoC PNG2 (002)

In July, the UN declared a humanitarian emergency in the Pool region of RoC. This region, south of Brazzaville, is the scene of violent confrontations between rebel forces and the army. WFP is assisting thousands of families who have escaped the fighting and are seeking refuge with host families in neighbouring regions. Due to security constraints, it is difficult for WFP to conduct traditional food security assessments in Pool and get information about the situation on the ground. How many families have remained in the region? Are there still supplies in the local markets? Are prices too high? This is where mVAM comes in. RoC has one of the highest mobile phone penetration rates in Africa – 113 cellular subscriptions per 100 people (source: World Bank) – but the WFP Country Office wanted to know if they could find reliable key informants in Pool whom they could call regularly to get fresh updates on the situation.

The answer is yes, thanks to our partners. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Humanitarian Action (MASAHS) has a dense network of local civil servants that follow the humanitarian situation on the ground very closely. MASAHS is a key partner in the crisis response and the Minister herself offered her help to leverage this network! Unfortunately, even tapping into this network did not provide us with enough respondents, as in some of the most affected districts, MASAHS workers have also had to flee to safe cities. We therefore reached out to the international NGO CARITAS who were able to fill the gaps and provide contacts in almost all the affected localities.

RoC pic 1

WFP/Jean-Baptiste Pasquier

To ensure that the questionnaire we are going use to call our key informants provides a full picture of what is going on, we travelled to Bouenza, a region bordering Pool, to meet with displaced families. Talking to them, we learnt that food is often available in Pool at reasonable prices. However, because farmers had to flee their lands and settle in urban areas they lost their source of income and are struggling to buy the basic commodities they need to feed their families. To get a clearer picture of the situation, we decided to add questions about earning sources in addition to food availability and prices in our mVAM questionnaire.

The Country Office is now piloting voice calls to adjust the questions and evaluate the reliability of the information gathered. Data will come in the next weeks and OCHA’s Humanitarian Data Exchange (HDX) – a data sharing platform with an office in Dakar – offered their help to visualize and disseminate the findings. Understanding more specifically what people’s needs are will help us to improve our response to the crisis.

A new mVAM baby in Mali, weight: 7800 respondents!

WFP/Sebastien Rieussec

WFP/Sebastien Rieussec

This week we’re reporting on our latest news from mVAM in Mali. In this landlocked country in the Sahel chronic food insecurity and malnutrition is widespread – WFP has been present in Mali since 1964. In the last few years Mali has been coping with numerous shocks – such as droughts, floods and a military coup – that led to a political and security crisis and increased food insecurity in the country: by 2016 around 3.1 million people in Mali were food insecure. Households are particularly affected during the lean season, between June and September; and this year WFP estimated 3.8 million people affected by food insecurity, of which 601,00 people in urgent need of food assistance.

To monitor the food security situation, the Government of Mali, with WFP support, does two nationwide face-to-face surveys, in February and September each year. However, in between these times and especially during the lean season that takes place during the summer in Mali there was no data collection – so mVAM was there to fill the ‘data gap.’ We’ve previously blogged about the Mali mode experiment we did comparing data collected by live calls and face-to-face data. As the results showed that there was little difference between the modes, in August the Country Office rolled out mVAM nationwide so that they could get food security information from households affected by this particularly difficult period of the year. During the previous face-to-face survey phone numbers were collected…out of the 13,400 numbers we collected we reached over 7,800 households – mVAM’s largest-ever survey!

With each survey comes different country-specific ‘problems’. There are many different reasons why people might not want to take part in a phone survey – but in Mali, we found one of the biggest was mistrust. People are not used to doing surveys via mobile phones and are sure that there is some form of trick behind them. Many reported that they know that there are lots of mobile phone scams and worry that the call from an unknown number purporting to be from WFP is just another one of these. One of the reasons why they were suspicious  was due to the fact that there was a long time gap between the number collection and the phone survey. This was actually a deliberate choice by the Country Office to ensure that the survey was not just a ‘follow up’ survey to face-to-face data collection like our mode experiment and was getting new information during this specific time period. What wasn’t foreseen was that this meant people forgot that they had given WFP their number and may have not fully understood why they did so in the first place.

Mali blog Edith 2

WFP/Nanthilde Kamara

To get around this issue, the Country Office is planning to use several tactics. As well as using SMS and national radio to advertise the survey, the next time that phone numbers are collected, there will be more time spent on explaining exactly what the purpose of the survey is. The annual September face-to-face food security survey is currently ongoing, so enumerators are now explaining that they might be called by WFP later on this year. The call centre that supports mVAM in Mali calls everyone with the same unique number, this number will be shared with community leaders just before the survey so that they can inform people that they will be rung by this specific number and that it’s an official call from WFP. Respondents will then be able to save the number in their phone so they know when they get the call exactly who it is and it won’t be just an unknown number.

The analysis is still ongoing: We’re looking forward to the results!

 

New places, new tools: what’s up next for mVAM?

KOICA pic 2

We’ve just got back from Rwanda where we were holding a workshop on using mVAM to expand real-time food security and nutrition monitoring with Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and refugee populations. The project, which is made possible by the support of the Korean International Cooperation Agency (KOICA), will be implemented in ten countries in sub-Saharan Africa where WFP works.

What’s the project?

The KOICA project has two aims. First, it aims to empower information exchange with marginalized populations, specifically IDPs and Refugees. Secondly, it supports the collection of food security and nutrition data using the latest mobile and satellite technologies. This will happen in ten countries in Sub-Saharan Africa: the Central African Republic (CAR),The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Kenya, Malawi, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Somalia, South Sudan and Uganda.

How are we going to do this?

As you know, two-way communication systems are an important part of our work. As well as getting information that we can use to inform WFP programmes, we want to ensure that the line is open so that people in the communities we serve can contact us and access information that is useful to them. We’ve already been using Interactive Voice Response and live calls to share information with affected populations, and are now expanding our toolbox to include new technologies: Free Basics and a chatbot.

Remote data collection isn’t just done by mobile phones – VAM already uses other sources, such as  satellite imagery analysis – to understand the food security situation on the ground.  Under this project, we’ll also help countries incorporate similar analysis which will complement two-way communication systems to provide a fuller picture of the food security situation.

Finally, we’re going to harness our knowledge of Call Detail Records analysis: de-identified metadata collected via cell phone towers about the number of calls or messages people are sending and which towers they are using. We have already used this technique in Haiti to track displacement after Hurricane Matthew, and we’re really excited to transfer these ideas to another context to ensure we get up-to-date information on where affected communities are so we can better target food assistance in the right locations.

What happened at the workshop?

Representatives from all 10 country offices, three regional bureaus and staff from HQ came together to discuss the three main project components. During the workshop, the different country offices had the chance to learn more from members of the mVAM team about the specific tools they can harness and ensure their collected data is high quality, standardised and communicated effectively. However, the best part about bringing everyone together was that country teams could share their experiences about how they are already using mVAM tools. We heard from the Malawi country office about their Free Basics pilot, and Niger and Nigeria explained how they’re implementing IVR so affected communities can easily contact WFP, even after work hours. Sharing their different experiences and learning about how different tools have worked in each context not only gave everyone an overview of what mVAM is doing so far, it also helped everyone understand the implementation challenges and how to overcome them.

What’s next for the KOICA project?

We’re really excited for the next stage of the project. Each country office has now planned what tools they’re going to use to increase their communications with affected communities and how they will improve their existing data collection systems. It’s going to be great to see the impact these tools will have not only on WFP’s response, but also how they will empower the communities we’re serving. 

How Can Chatbots Help Us Respond to Humanitarian Crisis?

 

WFP/Rein Skullerud

Kaukuma refugee camp in Kenya (WFP/Rein Skullerud)

At the moment, The World Food Programme (WFP) and the wider humanitarian system are #FightingFamine in four countries. In Somalia, Yemen, North-Eastern Nigeria and South Sudan 20 million people are on the brink of starvation.

Our recent study “At the Root of Exodus” found that high levels of food insecurity lead to higher levels of migration across borders; UNHCR estimates that there are 65.6 million people forcibly displaced worldwide. The stakes are high, we need all the information we can get.

Who Needs a Humanitarian Chatbot?

Based on our previous experiences and secondary sources, we knew that some displaced people could potentially access our humanitarian chatbot. But, of course, the reality on the ground is incredibly complex.

They could be refugees who have travelled to a different continent or Internally Displaced People (IDPs) who’ve moved within their own country. Some may have just arrived in a camp or settlement a few months ago, others may be adults who were born in the camp and spent their whole lives there.

Within the same camp there might be different nationalities, languages, family demographics and education levels- the list goes on. These huge disparities mean that extensive in-country, context-specific research is needed to confirm any initial design assumptions. Only then can we really design the best tool to reach our target population.

This was very clear when we spoke to IDPs in Maiduguri, but also during our visit to Kakuma Refugee camp and Kalobeyei refugee settlements in northern Kenya where we conducted some focus group discussions about the possibility of using a humanitarian chatbot.

There are currently more than 200,000 people living in the two refugee settlements we visited in Kenya, including Somali and South Sudanese refugees, so we spoke to various groups in each of the settlements to get a broad overview of what different people felt could or couldn’t work.

Our research was therefore constructed around four fronts: phone usage, Internet usage, information needs, and a product review of the chatbot.

Refugee Phone and Internet Usage in Kakuma

First, phone and Internet usage. For people fleeing their homes phones can be their lifelines. They’re the way that they communicate with friends and family, get updates on the situations at home and even receive remittances or money from WFP.

It therefore wasn’t a surprise that a lot of the households, particularly in the older and more established camps, had access to a phone, and many also to the Internet. Kakuma refugee camp was established in 1992 so many of the young people we spoke to had lived their whole lives in the camp.

Here people told us that nine out of ten households had a phone (either basic or Internet-enabled) and they had good network coverage- encouraging news if we want to contact them with this channel! They confirmed our assumption that young people were most likely to have access to the Internet, either owning their own smartphone or by borrowing one from friends and used social messaging apps. But of course this wasn’t the only story.

The enormous increase in refugees means there are actually four different ‘Kakuma’ camps all of which are now full. To cope with ever-increasing numbers the Kalobeyei settlement was set up a few kilometres away to host new arrivals in an integrated settlement with the host community. The differences in people’s responses were stark.

Here people reported that only one or two out of ten households had handsets and it was very difficult and expensive to charge them. The young people also said they had Facebook profiles and knew how to use the Internet but they had no way to access it.

They pointed out that it’s now nearly impossible to get a Kenyan SIM card because as refugees they don’t have the necessary ID and aren’t eligible to legally work. Clearly whilst our assumption that a chatbot could be a good way of communicating with young refugees or IDPs was correct – there were some serious limitations.

Would Refugees Actually Use a Chatbot?

During our visit, we did not only want to check the feasibility of the chatbot and identify potential users, we also wanted to find out how to make it a) useful and b) interesting enough to hold users’ attention.

From our focus groups we learnt that refugees wanted to get more information about WFP programs. WFP already uses many different media like posters, hotlines, desks and even loudspeakers on cars to speak to people in the camps but a chatbot could act as a complement that sends outs updates immediately.

Refugees also really liked that they could have a direct feedback channel – they didn’t have to wait in line to send a message and WFP staff were happy they would have an automated way of handling these messages. Nevertheless there are limitations. Both staff and refugees reiterated that the chatbot isn’t the right communication channel to ask sensitive questions about security issues.

Two Surprising Findings

These interviews also gave us insight into some basic communication designs. Initially we thought that to reach the most people we needed to translate the bot into Kiswahili, Somali and Dinka (the most commonly spoken language by South Sudanese refugees). However, after talking to the refugees we soon realised there was no need as young people, our primary target audience, spoke English or Kiswahili.

In fact, the biggest takeaway was that the chatbot could be a springboard for other channels. By its nature a refugee camp is a very close-knit community. Even if not everyone has access to the Internet, young people said that they would still be able to share the messages they receive verbally with their friends and family.

Our trip to Kakuma therefore reiterated that context-specific research is the only way that we can produce a great communication tool for our target audience. There are challenges that we’ll explore in the next phases of our rollout, particularly as we explore using our chatbot in other countries and camps. Nevertheless, the future looks bright for the chatbot!

This blog was originally published on ICT Works 

World Humanitarian Day 2017

Photo: WFP

Photo: WFP/ Regional Bureau of Cairo

To celebrate World Humanitarian Day 2017, this week we interviewed one of the humanitarians who makes mVAM possible. Hatem works as a data scientist in the Cairo Regional Bureau so we asked him more about his work – remotely monitoring food security in conflict zones in the Middle East.

1. Duty station: Regional Bureau of Cairo (RBC)

2. Job title: Data Scientist (VAM)

3. What does your job entail? My job is mainly focused on the data analysis, aggregation and visualization of the monthly mVAM food security surveys in L3 Countries (Yemen, Syria & Iraq). The process starts with the monthly data collection done by call centres or operators. I follow up with the call centres to make sure that the data they’ve collected is in good format and has minimal or no errors. I also make sure that they are following the sampling guidelines and methodologies designed by our team in headquarters. After that, I perform some data cleaning and validation before storing the data in our database. Then, I run some statistical tests on different variables so that I can understand what significant changes there are in the data compared to previous months. According to the analysis results, trends and statistical changes compared to previous months. According to the analysis results, trends and statistical tests, as well as secondary data/news, me and my team start to gather the most important/significant data and create a brief story that summarizes the food security situation in the country. The bulletin is usually 4-5 pages containing text narratives, charts, images and sometimes maps.  There is also usually a qualitative analysis part based on the open text comments of the respondents. It is usually an interesting yet challenging process to find new ways of visualizing open-ended comments from respondents (usually around 1,000-2,000 comments).

4. How does your work help WFP’s response in conflict zones? The mVAM bulletins provide up-to-date and almost real-time data about people that live in conflict zones who you can’t reach by any other means other than mobile phones. These bulletins inform the programme teams about their needs, the most vulnerable areas and the most vulnerable population groups such as displaced people. This ensures WFP is in a better and more informed position to take any programmatic decision on who is affected by conflict, where they are and how they can assist these people most effectively.

5. What’s the most challenging part of your job? Creating a full story from raw data. As a data scientist I usually face technical difficulties – whether it’s in the data cleaning, storage, or analysis code. However, the most challenging part is usually correlating all the data from mVAM and other sources to represent them in a meaningful and complete story that briefly describes the situation in a specific country.

6. What’s the most rewarding part of your job? Working in the humanitarian sector is very rewarding, even if it is not directly with beneficiaries. Not to mention working with data related to conflict zones where there are rapid changes and up-to-date data is in high demand. The fact that I’m a part of a process that makes other people’s lives better, especially those who are in serious need is, in itself, a huge drive to make me do what I do.

mVAM is recruiting an intern!

Join the team!

Join the team!

Ever wanted to get involved with the mVAM project? We’re happy to say that we’re recruiting an intern! If you’ve just graduated or are still in education with at least 2 years of undergraduate experience and are interested in communications and food security we want to hear from you!

To see the full vacancy follow this link to the WFP careers posting and send us a message if you have any more questions to mvam.info@gmail.com.

Deadline for applications is 18th August 2017

 

Our experiment using Facebook chatbots to improve humanitarian assistance

Testing the chatbot in Nigeria

Testing the chatbot in Nigeria

It must have been above 40 degrees Celsius that afternoon in Maiduguri, Nigeria. Hundreds of people were waiting to cash the mobile money they receive from the World Food Programme (WFP), sitting under tarps that provided some protection from the sun – in other words, the perfect time to sit and chat.

“How many of you have smartphones?” we asked. We waited for the question to be asked in Hausa, and out came mobile devices of all shapes and sizes. “How many of you have Facebook accounts?” Even before the question was translated, we saw nods all around.

“Of course we’re on Facebook – it’s the way we can message friends and family”

Displaced people in Nigeria, even those facing famine and urgently need aid, are connected and rely on messaging apps.

A leap of faith: from SMS to chatbot surveys

Collecting information in communities on the humanitarian frontline is dangerous, cumbersome and expensive, particularly in conflict settings. In north-east Nigeria, our assessment teams travel by helicopter or in convoys, and some locations are simply too insecure to visit at all. This means that decisions about emergency food assistance are sometimes made with very limited information.

But increasing access to mobile phones is changing this. WFP’s mobile Vulnerability Analysis and Mapping (mVAM) project has adopted SMS, Interactive Voice Response and call centres to collect food security information from communities enduring crises like Ebola or the Syrian civil war. Nelsen, a global information and measurement company, found that using SMS we are able to run our surveys 50% cheaper and 83% faster than we would have for face-to-face surveys, while putting no enumerators in harm’s way. The system’s success means we’re now using mobile tools to collect and share information in 33 countries.

Our successes with automated surveys meant we were keen to look into using chatbots (automated assistants that are programmed into messaging apps) to collect food security data. We were especially curious about the fact that a bot could help us ‘chat’ with thousands of people simultaneously and in real-time, like others have.

chatbot interaction

A sample chatbot interaction

To reach as many people as possible, we decided to create a bot that would operate on a popular messaging app, like Facebook Messenger or Telegram, so people could take our surveys on a platform they already use.

You might think it’s unreasonable to expect people in conflict settings to be connected at all. But, as our Nigeria example shows, their connection is a lifeline to normality. We also found that in many countries operators sell ‘social bundles’ that offer unlimited Facebook, WhatsApp or other social media for a single low price.

Where ‘Facebook Lite’ is available, people can even connect for free. All this means that communicating with vulnerable communities could happen in real time and at little to no cost to the respondent or WFP.

Introducing Food Bot

Last summer, we decided to try it out. InSTEDD developed a chatbot prototype that we demoed with Sub-Saharan African migrants in Rome. The demo asked the respondent to share information about food security in their community and allowed them to look up updated food prices.

Our testers liked the fact that talking to our bot felt like having a conversation with a real person. We felt like we were on to something! Earlier this year, Nielsen helped us further develop a chatbot design that calls for multiple gateways, natural language processing capabilities, and a reporting engine.

The current version of Food Bot is programmed to ask a predefined set of questions to the user – it does not rely on artificial intelligence yet. Food Bot goes through a simple questionnaire and saves the answers so that our analysts can process them.

The chatbot format also lets users ask us questions and is a channel for us to give useful information we’ve collected back to these communities. These include messaging on WFP programmes, food prices, weather updates, nutrition and disease prevention. The version we are using for testing currently runs on Facebook Messenger, but we want to make sure it works on all the relevant messaging apps.

No walk in the park

Before we get carried away, we need to consider some of the very real challenges. A timely report by the ICRC, Block Party and the Engine Room emphasizes the new responsibilities that humanitarian agencies assume as they make use of messaging apps to communicate with affected populations. Notably, the use of chat apps to collect information from people who have fled their countries or home raises the important issue of responsible data practices. If we are ever hacked, people’s personal details could be put at risk, including names and pictures. We will certainly have to review our existing data responsibility guide and continue obtaining advice from the International Data Responsibility Group (IDRG), as well as build an understanding of data responsibility principles in the field.

We also suspect that the audience we reach through Food Bot will be younger, better off, more urban and more male than the general population. The convenience of collecting data through a bot does not dispense with the hard task of seeking out those who are not connected and who are probably the most vulnerable. We want to explore ways to make our bot as accessible as possible like translating text into local languages, using more icons in low literacy settings and working with civil society organisations that specialize in digital inclusion.

Finally, we realize that we must prepare to manage all of the unstructured information that Food Bot will collect. Colleagues in the field are already weary of collecting yet more data that won’t be analysed or used. As a result, the team is working on setting up the infrastructure that is needed to process the large volumes of free text data that we expect the bot to produce. This is where our work with automated data processing and dashboards should pay dividends.

This post was originally published on ICT Works as part of a series on humanitarian chatbots.

VAM Talks episode 12: Monitoring Nutrition Remotely

Episode 12:   3 August 2017

Logo2Alice Clough interviews Lauren Landis, director of WFP Nutrition, Kusum Hachhethu from mVAM and Todd Rosenstock from ICRAF about mVAM for Nutrition