<< C'était vraiment étonnant pour nous de voir que jusqu’au 21ème siècle, il y avait encore des personnes qui n’avaient jamais touché et parlé au téléphone >>

Mireille Hangi, mVAM Monitoring Assistante à Goma, en République Démocratique du Congo, raconte sa vie humanitaire et parle des activités mVAM dans le pays.

Mireille participe à la récolte pour une activité VCA (vivres pour création d’actifs) appuyée par le PAM à Kitshanga/Kageyo dans le Rutshuru

Mireille participe à la récolte pour une activité VCA (vivres pour création d’actifs) appuyée par le PAM à Kitshanga/Kageyo dans le Rutshuru

Après avoir travaillé avec des filles-mères pour une ONG locale, j’ai trouvé un poste avec le PAM pour gérer la base de données, et puis en 2013 j’ai intégré l’équipe de pilotage du mVAM à Goma sur le site des déplacés de Mugunga 3, où nous suivons la situation alimentaire des ménages déplacés en les contactant par téléphone portable.

Mon travail quotidien est très varié. Il consiste, par exemple, à analyser les prix des denrées collectés sur les marchés. Puis je partage avec le bureau de pays les prix et je produis des bulletins mensuels qui résument les analyses. De plus, je travaille au lancement du projet mVAM dans les zones où il y en a besoin.

Des activités de sensibilisation de la communauté, par exemple sur l’existence de la ligne verte qui permet aux bénéficiaires de contacter le PAM, font également partie de mon travail. Et en organisant des focus groupes, nous cherchons à comprendre comment les communautés utilisent la technologie mobile et comment nous pouvons les joindre.

Une photo de famille avec quelques bénéficiaires du projet mVAM après son lancement à Biringi/Camp de réfugiés Sud-Soudanais

Une photo de famille avec quelques bénéficiaires du projet mVAM après son lancement à Biringi/Camp de réfugiés Sud-Soudanais

L’aspect de mon travail que je trouve le plus gratifiant est le fait d’appliquer les nouvelles technologies de l’information et de la communication pour sauver des vies. En fait, après la collecte et l’analyse des données via téléphone, la décision d’assister les personnes qui en ont besoin est prise dans un temps record.

Par ailleurs, les discussions avec les bénéficiaires enrichissent ma vie quotidienne. C’est parfois étonnant quand je découvre que des familles consomment certaines denrées qui vous semblent immangeables ! Une fois, à Kalinga, en territoire de Masisi où le taux de possession de téléphone était de 2%, on a distribué des téléphones comme outil de collecte des données. C’était vraiment étonnant pour nous de voir que, au 21ème siècle, il y avait encore des personnes qui n’avaient jamais touché ou parlé au téléphone.

Bien qu’il y ait ces aspects vraiment gratifiants de mon travail, je dois parfois abandonner mon mari, mes enfants, et mes amis pour aller dans des zones reculées sans réseau téléphonique pour y mener des enquêtes ou des focus groupes. La vie humanitaire n’est pas toujours facile !

Au camp de déplacés de Mugunga 3, Mireille montre a une dame comment enregistrer un contact dans son téléphone

Au camp de déplacés de Mugunga 3, Mireille montre à une dame comment enregistrer un contact dans son téléphone

On a beaucoup de plans pour le mVAM à Goma. Nous voulons intensifier le projet dans tout le pays, et surtout dans les zones difficilement accessibles. De plus, nous sommes en train d’intégrer le mVAM dans d’autres activités du PAM, comme les cantines scolaires et la nutrition.

En ce qui me concerne, je souhaite renforcer ma capacité en tant qu’utilisatrice du mVAM. Je veux améliorer mes connaissances au niveau de la publication et de la conception des posters de visibilité et je souhaite également approfondir mes capacités d’analyse des données collectées.

 

No “one size fits all”

DRC Part 1: Monitoring nutrition in South Kivu

Access issues in South Kivu WFP/Kusum Hachhethu

Access issues in South Kivu
WFP/Kusum Hachhethu

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is a vast country, roughly the size of Western Europe. It’s therefore no surprise that implementing mVAM, even in one country, requires a lot of adaptation. When we want to introduce new tools or indicators or want to implement our existing tools in a new setting, we can’t just assume that what has worked before will work in the same way in a new context.

A few weeks ago, two mVAMers, Kusum and Jean-Baptiste, went to Kasai and South Kivu in DRC to scope out how feasible it is to use mobile monitoring in some of the most remote or conflict-ridden regions of the country and how our tools could be adapted to support WFP’s work in these areas.

In Part 1, we follow Kusum into the South Kivu region of DRC where we want to improve nutrition monitoring for women:

In South Kivu, a lack of real-time, regular data on the nutritional status of women and children makes monitoring and programming difficult. The WFP country office therefore wanted to explore alternative methods of data collection, which would allow them to receive updates more quickly, regularly and at a reduced cost. But before regular mobile data collection can take place, we have to go through a process of assessing the feasibility and validity of our methods by conducting a scoping mission followed by a mode experiment. In South Kivu, we visited two sites: Lusenda IDP camp and Bunyakiri town.

Focus group discussions with women in South Kivu WFP/Kusum Hachhethu

Focus group discussions with women in South Kivu
WFP/Kusum Hachhethu

Careful scoping is necessary to understand how feasible it is to contact women using mobile phones as low phone ownership rates among women and potential gender norms may prevent women from participating in phone surveys – an issue which we encountered in Kenya. In both settings we wanted as much information as possible to ensure that our feasibility study was sufficiently rigorous. We therefore conducted focus groups and interviews with women, men, and young people, and key informant interviews with camp managers, government partners, and field staff.

What we found was that while very few women in these locations own a personal mobile phone, most women have access to household phones. The findings from our feasibility nutrition study in Kenya were similar, so from our experiences there, we can assume that with prior notice to community leaders before phone calls and appropriate sensitisation activities with men, we would be able to reduce the barriers to reaching women.

However, apart from the factors we need to take into account specifically when trying to contact women, there are also some general challenges we need to address when using mobile methods to reach people in South Kivu. Many people in the Lusenda camp use Burundian SIM cards to stay in touch with relatives in Burundi and will be charged roaming costs when receiving or making phone calls from a call centre based in  DRC. Another challenge is that network coverage is highly variable even within these locations. For example, while it is excellent in the central market area of the camp, it is very poor in the new refugee settlement areas.

Lusenda IDP camp WFP/Kusum Hachhethu

Lusenda IDP camp
WFP/Kusum Hachhethu

In view of these challenges, maintaining an adequate response rate will require perseverance and some adjustments. For instance, it is important to contact women from camp households using our Burundi phone line rather than the DRC one. To increase the response rate, we will also need to send out reminders to community leaders about the upcoming survey and to make multiple phone call attempts at different times of the day and different times of the week.

The next step in South Kivu will be to conduct a mode experiment, which will allow us to understand if there is a potential bias when collecting nutrition data remotely using phone interviews. This mode experiment will also help us understand if there are any differences in the the socio-economic characteristics between among households with and without phones that would bias our results.

If all goes well, step two will be regular data collection of the nutrition indicator Minimum Dietary Diversity of Women (MDD-W) using live calls to conduct trends analysis and monitor the nutritional status of women. At the end of this long process, from scoping out the feasibility of using mVAM for nutrition monitoring to collecting data regularly, the information can be used to inform programmes and policies to improve the nutritional status of women and children in South Kivu.

Stay tuned for part 2 of our blog mini-series on DRC, in which we follow Jean-Baptiste into the Kasai region!

2017 Highlights

It’s been a busy year for us here at mVAM, but some things stood out among all the rest. Here, we take you through some of our highlights from 2017:

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Staff from several countries take part in an mVAM workshop in Kigali, August 2017

1: mVAM for everyone! Our free and open online course

After four years of testing, designing and deploying remote data collection projects, we partnered with Leiden University to develop an online course to share what we’ve learned so far. Our Remote Food Security Monitoring online course was launched in May, and aims to provide a clear understanding of what remote food security monitoring entails, when it is a useful tool, and how to implement a remote food security monitoring project. The course is free and self-paced, and open to anyone who is interested in setting up a remote data collection project.

mudasair

WFP/Jean-Martin Bauer

2: Expanding across Asia and the Pacific

During 2017, we kept growing, scaling up in the Asia/Pacific region. WFP’s Nepal and Sri Lanka country offices collaborated with their respective national government partners to launch  mobile-based food security monitoring systems. Nepal’s mNekSAP was the first to use an innovative dual-mode approach to collect data from a panel of households previously surveyed during a baseline assessment, combining remote mobile data collection with traditional face-to-face methods so as to not miss out on following up with those households without a phone. This means that the data gathered through mNEKSAP is not only representative (ensuring coverage of non-phone owners), but through re-interviewing the same individuals, it also provides us with a rare panel data set, which is optimum.      

Afghanistan, Myanmar and Papua New Guinea kept busy with ongoing mobile data collection. Afghanistan now uses mVAM to conduct several different types of surveys, from conflict rapid assessments, to market monitoring, to post-distribution monitoring. Most recently, they launched their first round of nutrition data collection for the Minimum Dietary Diversity for Women (MDD-W) indicator – stay tuned for results!

Meanwhile in PNG, their 4th nationwide survey introduced the Food Insecurity Experience Scale – an official SDG 2.1.2 indicator. Our hope is that we can use mVAM to help measure progress in this area.  Also in the region, we’ve been looking at ways to use the PRISM system to better visualize mVAM data and link it to other information sources. More on that in 2018!

WFP/Maria Muraskiewicz

WFP/Maria Muraskiewicz

3: Keeping up with remote nutrition data collection

We’re also expanding in terms of the type of data we use mVAM to collect. Following the success of last year’s remote nutrition data collection pilot in Kenya, we’ve moved on testing whether this is also feasible in Malawi and Niger, and which technologies we can use to collect the data.

From October 2016 to April 2017, we worked with GeoPoll in Malawi to develop a tool and methodology for collecting MDD-W data using SMS surveys. We conducted five rounds of surveys, during which we constantly adapted the indicator to make sure it was suitable for SMS surveys. We learned that the design of the questions was especially important – simple questions, a mix of open-ended and list-based questions, and the option to take the survey in the respondent’s preferred language proved particularly helpful.

In Niger, we tested the feasibility of using CATI to collect MDD-W data in IDP camps in the conflict-affected Diffa region. Through focus groups and in-depth interviews, it became evident that despite low phone ownership rates among women, most women do have access to phones through sharing with household members or neighbours. Men had little hesitation to women in their families being called when they were informed in advance, when female operators were used, and when the operators identified themselves as calling from WFP.. We’re now analysing the data we collected through both F2F and CATI, in order to understand potential mode effects and selection bias.

(For a full overview of our nutrition work, check out Episode 12 of VAM Talks!)

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4: Responsible data (collection, storage, sharing and distribution!)

Mobile data projects come with their own particular set of risks and challenges with regards to data privacy and protection. In a time when reports of data breaches seem to occur more and more frequently, what steps should we take to ensure that we aren’t accidentally putting the very people we are trying to assist at risk? Working with the International Data Responsibility Group (IDRG) and Leiden University’s Centre for Innovation, we developed a field book for Conducting Mobile Surveys Responsibly, which outlines the main risks of mobile data collection and provides guidelines for responsible data collection, storage, processing and distribution in complex humanitarian contexts. In December, we brought together experts on three different continents for a webinar on Responsible Mobile Data Collection, in which they discussed the challenges of remote data collection projects and shared best practices, tools, and tips for adhering to privacy and protection guidelines – from the field level to the WFP context and across the broader humanitarian and development sphere.  

Testing the chatbot in Nigeria

WFP/Seokjin Han

5: Communicating both ways: WFP speaks to …

As mobile technology continued to develop, we looked at ways to use new tools to allow the people we serve to start conversations with us about their own food security situations. In addition to getting information that we can use to improve the design of food assistance 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. In 2017, we continued the development of our two 2-way communications tools – a food security chatbot, and Free Basics, a platform which allows people to access certain sites on the internet at no data cost.

The start of the year saw us in New York where one of our partners, Nielsen, organized a hackathon to design a chatbot that could help collect information during a humanitarian response. Over the course of the year, we worked on developing use cases in different contexts – in Haiti , Nigeria and Kenya – and are now developing a chatbot builder with another partner of ours, InSTEDD. We look forward to deploying the bot in the new year.

Simultaneously, we expanded Free Basics after successfully piloting it in Malawi in November 2016; sites will soon go live in Rwanda, DRC and Niger. Back in Malawi, the original site, which started out as a free website to share weekly staple food prices, is now shifting its focus to address the needs of the more than 30,000 refugees and asylum seekers hosted in the country. The majority of the group lives in two camps where WFP provides food assistance in the form of monthly in-kind distributions and cash-based transfers. As their ability to move outside of the camps where they currently live is quite limited, having information not only about food prices in their immediate area but also food stocks is incredibly helpful.

Thank you to our partners and donors, without whose support none of this would be possible, and to you – our readers – for following along! See you in 2018!

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. 

Our 5 mVAM Highs from 2016

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1. Awards for Remote Mobile Data Collection Work

At the Humanitarian Technology 2016 conference, our paper Knowing Just in Time Knowing Just in Time’ won Best Paper for Outstanding Impact. In the paper, we assessed mVAM’s contribution to decision-making by looking at use cases for mVAM in camps, conflict settings and vulnerable geographies. Check out our blog Tech for Humanity for more on it and our other conference paper  mVAM: a New Contribution to the Information Ecology of Humanitarian Work

To close the year, we had a nice surprise from Nominet Trust, the UK’s leading tech for good funder. We made their 100 most inspiring social innovations using digital technology to drive social change around the world.  

2. New Tech

In this day and age there’s a lot of buzz around data visualization. We’ve been honing our skills with Tableau. Check out the data visualizations we did for Yemen and Haiti.

We’re also in the era of Big Data. We partnered with Flowminder, experts in analyzing call detail records, to track displacement in Haiti after Hurricane Matthew.  Find out more in ‘After the storm: using big data to track displacement in Haiti

We’re also super excited about the chatbot we started developing for messaging apps and our roll out of Free Basics in Malawi which is allowing us to share the food prices we collect in mVAM surveys with people in Malawi With mVAM, our main focus has been reaching people on their simple feature phones. But we know that smartphone ownership is only going to increase. Contacting people through internet-enabled phones opens up loads of new forms of communication and data collection. is still reaching people on their -free basics

3. Expansion!

mVAM expanded to 16 new countries facing a wide set of challenges: conflict, El Nino drought, hurricanes, extremely remote geographies. We’ve been tracking and learning about what remote mobile data collection can add to food security monitoring systems and what its limits are in different contexts. For some of the highlights, check out our blogs on Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti, Nigeria, Papua New Guinea, and  El Nino in Southern Africa,

4. Dynamic Partnerships

To have a lasting impact, we need to work with governments. We are really proud of our partnership with CAID, the Cellule d’Analyses des Indicateurs du Développement  under the Prime Minister’s Office in the Democratic Republic of Congo. We collaborated on setting up a national market monitoring system- mKengela that they are now running. We’ve had intensive technical sessions with the CAID team in Rome and Kinshasa to work on solutions that will fit their data management and analysis needs. The CAID team even traveled to Johannesburg to share their remote mobile data experience with other African countries and help other governments use this technology.

We’re also working with Leiden University. Bouncing ideas off of their team at the Centre for Innovation helps us move forward on tricky challenges. We’re also collaborating with them to develop an online course where we’re going to share our methodologies and how to use remote technology to monitor food security. Check out Welcome to Vamistan for more.

We are in the field of tech. So we can’t do our job well without partnering with the private sector. It’s definitely a dynamic area, and also one where we at mVAM are learning what works best in melding our humanitarian goals with the exciting private tech potential out there. Check out our blog From the Rift Valley to Silicon Valley and our hackathon with Data Mission for more.

5. Learning- the neverending process

In addition to trying out new technology, we’ve been trying to answer some important questions about the live calls, SMS, and IVR surveys which make up the bulk of mVAM data collection.  We’re also doing mode experiments to understand how people answer differently based on which mode we use to contact them. Check out our first Mind the Mode article with more coming in 2017. In Kenya, we are looking into whether we can ask nutrition indicators through mVAM methods. A major challenge is reaching women through phone surveys so we organized a gender webinar with partners to learn from what they are doing- check out our key gender takeaways. These are key questions and they can’t be resolved overnight. But we’re making steady progress in understanding them, and we’re excited for what more we’ll find out in 2017.

Thanks to everyone who has supported our work this year and kept up with our blog!

DRC Data Challenge: Brainstorming Solutions with CAID

image_mkengela discussion

We just spent three days with the fabulous CAID team from the DRC government.  We’ve been working with CAID, DRC’s Center for the Analysis of Development Indicators, since January to establish mKengela, a national market monitoring system using mobile technologies. We contracted a professional call center in Kinshasa to call traders twice a month to ask about food prices. For more info check out our mKengela blog entry and our first market reports:

Bulletin_Information _marchés_RDCongo_mKengela_n°2_30May_2016_JBB_2_cropped

But CAID has even bigger ambitions for data collection and analysis in DRC. So the WFP Country office and our team here in Rome decided to organize a technical visit in Rome to collaborate further on data systems. Their coordinator, Grégoire Mwepu and two technical staff, Marc and Bertrand, came to explore solutions for data management and sharing. Sib, our VAM Officer on the ground, attended from our office in Kinshasa.

The result- great brainstorming! Everyone was throwing out ideas.

API and Data Management

image_bertrand discussionCAID is very interested in setting up their own API- we’ve set up an API to share our data. But the rule for an API is get your data management straight first. Once your data is properly structured, then you can throw on an API on top- think of it as the icing on the cake. So we had a lot of discussions on what would be the best solution, not only to manage mKengela market data but all the development data that CAID is collecting across 145 territories on agriculture, health, energy, etc. While CAID works on data management, they can connect to our API for any data we have on DRC.

Automated Processing

CAID has set up an impressive data collection system in 145 territories. But that’s a lot of data. So they were also interested in how to automate as much of the cleaning and analysis process as possible. We discussed what we are doing the Stats Engine we set up to automatically run data quality checks and calculate statistical tests.

Arif (Chief Economist- WFP) and Grégoire (Coordinator- CAID) examine visualizations of DRC data

Arif (Chief Economist- WFP) and Grégoire (Coordinator- CAID) examine visualizations of DRC data

Data Visualization

Like us, CAID is interested in anything that makes it easier for people to understand, especially decision-makers. We also discussed data visualization and showed them our work with Tableau (see our blog entry on experimenting with Data Visuals and Tableau).

mKengala Revisions

After two rounds of market data collection, it was also time to review mKengela. In our previous blog post on mKengala, we were excited that CAID had diligently collected so many local measurements. But it turns out that having so many local measurements of varying sizes is hard to manage. So we’d recommend starting with a longer list and then shortening it to the most commonly used units of measurement after a couple rounds. CAID’s representatives in the 145 territories are also collecting more trader phone numbers since some numbers they had were always turned off or no longer working.

These three days of brainstorming technical solutions were very exciting for us. With mVAM, our priority is to partner with national governments and see how mobile technologies can help their humanitarian and development response.

A huge thanks to Grégoire, Marc, and Bertrand for traveling all the way to Rome. Stay tuned as CAID puts some of the ideas discussed into action and we hopefully have a follow up technical session in Kinshasa later this year.

CAID and mVAM Technical Visit Participants. Thanks CAID for coming all this way!

CAID and mVAM Technical Visit Participants. Thanks CAID for coming all this way!

How ICTs Help WFP Increase Food Security in DRC

ICTworks Blog

By Arjun Puri – ICTworks – 9 May 2016

ICTworks_Image

Upheaval, uncertainty and instability are common in conflict stricken countries like the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The World Food Programme (WFP) reports more than 60 percent of the population lives below the poverty line in DRC, with national food scarcity and chronic malnutrition running rampant in these settings. In this type of situation, the humanitarian community steps in to help fight hunger and provide access to food for vulnerable civilian populations.

Better Data Collection

WFP’s mobile Vulnerability Analysis and Mapping (mVAM) team is leveraging open source mobile and voice technologies to improve timely data collection regarding food supply and access in collaboration with the population which is facing food scarcity themselves. One of the ICT tools being deployed by the WFP mVAM team is Verboice, a low-cost, open source interactive voice response system (IVR) technology created by InSTEDD…

Read full article here.

Filling in the blanks in DRC: Introducing mKengela

Aerial view of the Mugote IDP camp View from a UN flight in DRC. WFP/Leonora Baumann

Data collection in the Democratic Republic of Congo can be daunting. We lack data for much of a country that is 2/3 the size of Western Europe. See the map below with the big grey space- that’s an area where we have no data and it’s probably about the size of France. The last census was in 1984 and a proposal for the next census has landed in the middle of a serious political controversy.

Map of DRC- the grey area has no data.

Map of DRC- the grey area has no data.

But things are moving- especially on the mobile network side. Network coverage is expanding- a private sector source told us that his company is building 1,000 cell phone towers per year. There are four major cell phone companies operating in DRC, and all territories now have at least some coverage. Mobile penetration remains low but is expanding- currently around 35% of people are estimated to have phones.  We started our first mVAM pilot in DRC- in Goma collecting data from Mugunga III IDP camp (blog, video) and market prices in Goma (blog).

CAID- A promising government collaboration

But we thought, DRC is also an exciting case for national mobile data collection. It turns out a new, young, dynamic government team under the Prime Minister’s office thinks so too.  The Cellule d’Analyses des Indicateurs du Développement (CAID), or Center for the Analysis of Development Indicators has the atmosphere of a fast-paced Congolese start up. And innovation is necessary if CAID is going to fulfill its crucial mission: addressing DRC’s vast data collection challenges and ensuring the various data that is collected is available openly on a central website.

For the CAID, the first priority is filling in that grey emptiness. They set up an impressive data collection system, recruiting agents in each of the 145 territories to collect data. And they were already using mobile technology!  As their agents went out to collect data, they often used an SMS system to send back results.

CAID-WFP brainstorming a mobile monitoring system for DRC. Top: Bertrand and Didier (CAID), Sib (WFP). Bottom: Jean-Martin (WFP) and Max (CAID)

CAID-WFP brainstorming a mobile monitoring system for DRC. Top: Bertrand and Didier (CAID), Sib (WFP). Bottom: Jean-Martin (WFP) and Max (CAID)

So for us at WFP, working with CAID was a perfect match. The WFP Country Office in DRC has made partnering with the government to enhance technical capacity a priority. So we at WFP were thrilled to meet with CAID early this year and brainstorm ideas of how remote mobile data collection could support their efforts to put in place a data collection system covering the whole country. Their agents have lots of work as they try to collect data for all the different development sectors for their territories- and territories are huge.

Designing mKengela- a national mobile monitoring system

As we brainstormed, the idea for a national mobile monitoring system, mKengela or mobile “alert” in Lingala,  started to take shape. To lighten their workload and ensure a steady flow of data, CAID liked the proposal to monitor market prices and gather household information by phone calls.  At WFP, we thought great- we can monitor 145 markets or one per territory throughout the country. But CAID sent their agents out to collect the phone numbers from 1350 traders in 435 markets! CAID is ambitious and ready to try new things, including 3 markets per territory to get a more meaningful national price monitoring system.

If you read our blog on collecting market prices in Goma, you’ll remember that units of measurement can make or break your price data collection. If you don’t ask people in local units, you won’t get good information. But you also then have the difficult task of converting various local units to the metric system. Well CAID solved this problem. Max, the statistician at CAID, looked through all the price data that CAID had. Their agents had collected prices in local units from traders and then weighed the amount in kg or liters. So Max had the list of almost all local units used and the corresponding metric conversion. When there was some variation in the metric weight for a local unit, Max took the mean weight. Voilà- about the best solution to the local units of measurement challenge that you could ask for.

mKengela will also have a household survey component. We are planning on collecting information on food security indicators- household consumption and coping- from 5,200 households in 26 provinces. For the moment, the network and cost constraints make a household survey at the territory level a little out of reach. So we plan to pilot the survey at the province level first.

Strong Partners, Strong System

This of course would not be possible if we didn’t have tech-oriented donors and an excellent call center to work with. We received funding from USAID and the Belgian Development Cooperation for scaling up mobile data collection in DRC.  In terms of a call center partner, we have struggled to find a good private sector partner in some countries. But in Kinshasa, Congo Call Center, created by two entrepreneurial women, is extremely professional and experienced. Their operators asked us thoughtful questions during the training, helping us further improve the questionnaires.

So momentum is growing around mKengela in DRC. We’re excited about this new partnership with CAID and all the opportunities that come from setting up a national monitoring system.  We’re planning to keep partnering with CAID- next priority, working together to improve data management.

Operators at Congo Call Center in Kinshasa call traders throughout the country.
Operators at Congo Call Center in Kinshasa call traders throughout the country.

Mobile Tech for Mobile IDPs in DRC

WFP food distribution in Mugunga camp

IDPs in Mugunga. Photo: WHO/Christopher Black

We’ve been writing a lot about how mobile technologies give us new opportunities to track food security. As WFP, we provide food assistance to many refugee and IDP camps. But right now, our knowledge often stops at the camp border.  What happens to refugees or IDPs when they leave the camp? And importantly for WFP, what happens to their food security situation? Mobile surveys could provide a key to this mystery.

Mobile Surveys and IDP Flows

jean baptiste_filtered

Jean-Baptiste Pasquier

Jean-Baptiste, our brilliant young colleague, did his Master’s Thesis on precisely these questions. He looked at almost two years of data, collected by mVAM since December 2013 in Mugunga III camp- 10km from Goma, DRC. Approximately 4,664 people live in Mugunga III, and since many people didn’t have phones, we distributed phones to 340 randomly selected households so they could participate in a phone survey.

Every month, our WFP operators, Mireille and Jean-Marie, have been diligently calling these same households. They’ve been asking households about their food consumption and any coping strategies that they’ve had to resort to if they were short of food. These questions let us calculate two key food security indicators- a household’s food consumption score (FCS) and reduced coping strategies index (rCSI). It’s also gotten Jean-Baptiste some pretty good data to play with. (For more on our work in DRC, see our blogs on our DRC launch, our market monitoring, and our 2-way communication system with camp residents).

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Mireille and Jean-Marie review a call script. Photo: WFP/Marie Enlund

In Mugunga III, like most IDP camps, the population is always in flux and hard to track. People come and go without officially notifying the camp administration. In IDP speak, a “returnee” is someone who has left the camp (and in theory “returned” home though in practice the person might just have gone to live somewhere else). In March 2015, we started asking people about whether they were “returnees” and if so, where they had gone.

By using our mVAM data, Jean-Baptiste was able to pick up on changes in camp population not picked up by official figures and track where people went.  Most returnees reported staying in areas nearby to camp. Few were returning home to Masisi where over half of the IDPs in Mugunga III were from but where there still was conflict.

 IDP Flows and Food Security

We don’t just want to know where returnees go; we want to know how they are doing. However, usually, once IDPs leave the camp, they fall off our radar screen and we have no more information. But with mVAM surveys, returnees continued to respond to our calls asking about their household food security situation. Jean-Baptiste decided to see whether there were any difference in the food security situation between returnees and IDPs who remained in the camp

Sure enough, there was a difference. Returnees had better food consumption on average than IDPs who were in the camp.

But you might be wondering whether returnees were doing better even before they left the camp. Jean-Baptiste found that yes- on average, returnee food consumption climbed in the months before departing. It also improved more over time than IDPs who stayed in the camp; maybe their situation was improving so much that it allowed them to leave the camp.

graph for blog

Then, Jean-Baptiste went a step further. Maybe returnee households were just plain old different than IDPs who stayed in the camp. But he found that even by controlling for differences (for stat geeks- using a fixed effects model), leaving the camp had an estimated food consumption score increase of 7.64, which would be the equivalent of a 27% increase in the average food consumption score of an IDP currently in the camp.

Needless to say, all these findings could have a lot of implications for our programmes. Our office in DRC is looking into it.

Also, if we’ve peaked your interest, read Jean-Baptiste’s excellent thesis here.

Our 5 hacks for mobile surveys for 2015

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An mVAM respondent in Mugunga III camp, DRC.

  1. Gender matters. Design and run your survey in a way that promotes women’s participation. With mobile surveys, it’s hard to get as many women to respond as men. Make sure you’re calling at the right time and that you provide incentives. We also recommend having women operators. For more of our thinking on gender in mobile surveys, check out our blog entry on gender issues in West Africa.
  1. Validate mobile data against face-to-face data. Your mobile survey results may differ significantly. In many contexts, cell phone penetration has not reached the most vulnerable groups. In DRC, we had to provide phones to Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and access to electricity- to learn more check out our video and our blog entry. But it’s not always possible to distribute phones so it’s important to check your results against other data sources. Also, people get tired of answering their phones all the time so attrition and low response rates will affect your results.
  1. Mind the mode!  Your results will differ according to whether the survey is done through SMS, IVR, or live calls by an operator. Live calls have the highest response rates, but you have to be ready to pay. For simpler data, we have found that SMS is effective and cheap. Just remember- the context matters. SMS is working well with nationwide surveys, even in countries where literacy rates are not that high- check out our recent results in Malawi. However, SMS can be a problem in communities where literacy rates are very low or familiarity with technology is low as we found in DRC IDP camps. For Interactive Voice Response (IVR) that use voice-recorded questions, the jury is still out on its usefulness as a survey tool.  IVR didn’t work as well as SMS in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea during the Ebola crisis (HPN June 2015). But IVR has potential as a communication tool to push out information to people. Check out our entry on our two-way communication system where we use IVR to send distribution and market price information to IDPs in DRC.
  1. Keep the survey user friendly and brief. Always keep your survey short and simple. Stay below 10 minutes for voice calls, or people will hang up. If you are texting people, we don’t recommend much longer than 10 questions. Go back to the drawing board if respondents have trouble with some of your questions. With mobile surveys, you don’t have the luxury of explaining everything as with in person interviews. It might take a few rounds to get it right. When we want food prices, we’ve found we need to tweak food items and units of measurement in Kenya and DRC to best capture what people buy in local markets. Again, short and sweet should be the mobile survey mantra.
  1. Upgrade your information management systems. There is nothing as frustrating as collecting a lot of great data – without being able to manage it all! Standardize, standardize, standardize! Standardize questions, answer choices, variable names, and encoding throughout questionnaires. Automate data processing wherever possible. Also, you’ll be collecting phone numbers. This is sensitive information so make sure you have the correct confidentiality measures in place. Check out our Do’s and Don’ts of Phone Number Collection and Storage and our script for anonymizing phone numbers. Finally, share your data so others can use it! We’re posting our data in an online databank.