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. 

Boosting the signal in Somalia

Amos, WFP telecommunications specialist, installs the GSM booster in Galkayo, Somalia.

Amos, WFP telecommunications specialist, installs the GSM booster in Galkayo, Somalia.

Challenges are an everyday business when working in environments such as Somalia. So we need to be more and more creative in finding tailor-made solutions for unusual problems.

In Somalia, the mKormeer (mVAM)* team doesn’t want to just collect data but also get information back to vulnerable people. So last year we set up a helpline service that beneficiaries can call to ask questions and leave feedback on WFP programs. The system also includes an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) machine to receive beneficiaries’ calls after 5pm or on the weekends. When beneficiaries call, they are directed to prerecorded voice messages and can choose to record their feedback or listen to information, by pressing the numbers on their phone’s keypad.

When we started, we faced the problem of ‘rival’ Mobile Network providers, which don’t allow for inter-carrier phone calls and SMS transmissions. To overcome this challenge we configured our IVR modem to ‘intelligently’ detect what network a number belongs to and route the call through the correct SIM card (see our blog entry here).

Last month, we ran into a new problem: just when incoming calls to the helpline service began to substantially increase (the operators receive more than 400 incoming calls a month), they noticed that a very low phone signal was preventing many calls from coming through the IVR machine.

Our IT colleagues that faced the same problem in Mogadishu, gave us an idea. When faced with a weak phone signal in their offices, they installed a GSM booster (a device that boosts cell phone reception in a given area by using a signal amplifier, an antenna and an internal rebroadcast antenna). So, they thought, why not also try this solution to boost the signal in Galkayo. They bought a GSM booster for few hundred dollars and installed it near the office. The phone signal improved (from an average of -91dBm to -60dBm) and substantially increased the quantity and quality of incoming calls.

Hopefully from now on everybody calling WFP, whether during office hours, after five, or on the weekends, will be able to communicate with us and leave their feedback!

Signal status of our IVR modem after the installation of the GSM booster.

Signal status of our IVR modem after the installation of the GSM booster.

mKormeer scale-up

WFP Somalia began using voice calls for short food security surveys in May 2014 with a modest pilot that involved calling 300 IDP households a month in central Somalia. Now, each month, the office receives around 400 incoming calls, conducts an average of 1400 mobile food security surveys, and sends out around 4000 SMS notifications to beneficiaries. The mKormeer system is helping WFP monitor food security and evaluate the effectiveness of its programs.

All this was made possible by hard-working colleagues in Nairobi and Galkayo, a great team of phone operators, and a grant from the Cisco foundation.

*mKormeer is the name of the mVAM project in Somalia. ‘Kormeer’ is Somali and means ‘Monitoring’.

Will IVR work for food security surveys in a Somalia IDP camp?

As the mVAM pilot project enters its final quarter, the team is focusing on finalizing all planned activities, while documenting learning that will allow us to scale up with a strong evidence base. This month’s highlights include some hands-on work with the team in Somalia, and the launch of a comprehensive review of our activities.

The Somalia IVR coming along
A key question we have is whether interactive voice response (IVR) surveys are user friendly enough to be used in Somalia with the vulnerable groups that WFP works with. The major issue to resolve was ensuring the IVR system Verboice in our Galkayo field office was fully operational. Although we had been able to place some IVR calls, the system required dedicated attention to be fully operational In mid-January, Marie and Lucia headed to Galkayo to meet with the team for a troubleshooting mission.
Thanks to late night remote support from Gustavo at INSTEDD, bugs were ironed out, and we were soon able to get our first complete IVR surveys using a Somali language questionnaire. The team in Galkayo was trained on how to place the calls and will be following a plan to scale up IVR calls in February. Meanwhile, we will continue collecting food security data through calls placed by our operators, a modality that has worked well to date.

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Making the IVR operational: training underway

During the visit, a key discussion took place regarding appropriate incentive rates. In both DR Congo and Somalia, respondents receive a token of appreciation from WFP in order to promote participation in surveys. The amount we provide –USD 0.50 per call – is equivalent to 5 minutes of airtime. While our respondents in DR Congo seem thrilled to receive this amount of airtime, the question of increasing the incentive has come up in Somalia, where it is perceived as too small.

There seem to be three schools of thought in the team. Some believe the incentive should increase in Somalia. Others think that increasing call attempts and better sensitizing respondents should be sufficient to ensure good response to our surveys. Others still question the principle of providing an incentive to people who might already receive food assistance from WFP.

In coming months, we will be making sure respondents are called more often and that the messages they receive tell them about the importance of their participation. We would then consider working with a larger incentive in the future should response rates not improve.

Launching the mVAM review

A critical milestone of the project is capturing and sharing learning. In order to proceed with scale-up strategically and responsibly, the review of the mVAM pilot in Somalia and DRC is now ongoing. Professor Nathan Morrow, who teaches at Tulane University’s Payson Center, is leading the review. Nathan has written extensively about technology in the humanitarian world, including a review of Ushaidi’s contribution to the 2010 earthquake response in Haiti.

In January, Nathan traveled to Goma, DRC, to meet with WFP staff, key stakeholders, and beneficiaries residing in the Mugunga 3 IDP camp to hear from them how the pilot was going, document their questions and concerns. He will also be chatting with staff in Somalia and the three-EVD affected countries to learn how they view the project.

The review will include documenting the demonstrated potential of mVAM at a larger level; noting areas of improvement that can ameliorate our technology; and explore how mVAM’s technology fits within the larger humanitarian sector’s work. Results will be available in the spring.

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).


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.

Listening in to Central Somalia: tracking food security and livelihood indicators for IDPs

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

After three survey rounds in Somalia, the time has come to take a look at results.  As in the Democratic Republic of Congo, our operators in Somalia have been conducting live interviews by phone from a call center established in a WFP field office.  In Somalia, we ask displaced people living in camps in Central Somalia about their food consumption and the coping strategies they use.

Food consumption score: degradation as the lean season progresses

The data collected suggests that the food consumption has deteriorated slightly during the period.  In May,  12.6% of respondents had a poor or borderline food consumption score (3.6% and 9% respectively), increasing to 17.4% in June (6.3% poor and 11.1%  borderline) and  standing at 17.6%  (6.8% poor in June and 10.8% moderate) . The change is statistically significant (p=0.00), and matches the expected seasonal pattern of declining food consumption as the lean season advances.

The period covered by the phone surveys cover the end of the Gu rain season (April to June), and the beginning of the Hagaa dry season (July-September). Levels of food insecurity are usually higher for the community during the lean season, when income opportunities are low and food prices are high. This is reflected by the results of our survey, which register a decrease in the food consumption score over the months of June and July.

Nonetheless, our phone rounds do show that fewer households were consuming a ‘poor’ or ‘borderline’ diet in May-June-July than at baseline in September 2013. This could be due to an increase in assistance, coupled with improved economic access to food. Indeed, the prices of imported rice and wheat flour, the preferred cereals consumed in Central Somalia, declined from 24,000 and 18,000 shillings per kilo respectively in September 2013 to 16,000 shillings per kilo in July 2014.

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Figure 1: Food Consumption Score: increase of ‘poor’ and ‘borderline’ scores in May, June and July Source: WFP phone surveys Somalia, 2014

Coping strategies: decline of emergency strategies in July

In order to understand how people’s livelihood strategies are changing, we classified the data we collected into three categories, stress, crisis and emergency. The ‘stress’ includes purchasing or borrowing food on credit, spending savings, engaging in casual labor and withdrawing children from school. ‘Crisis’ refers to selling non-productive assets such as radios or furniture. Finally, ‘emergency’ strategies captures begging and the sale of productive assets.

As shown by Figure 2, in June, compared to May, the percentage of people implementing ‘Stress’ and ‘Emergency’ strategies increased from 13% to 17% and from 53% to 58% respectively. These results reveal that people were engaging in more strategies to face the hunger period, a phenomenon that corroborates the findings of the food consumption score during the same period.

Nevertheless, the recourse to ‘Emergency’ strategies in July was high (41%) but lower than in both May and June. This could be due to the increase in the social support to the deprived people (including IDPs) in the run-up to, during and at the end of the month of Ramadhan.

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Figure 2: Percentage of people who engaged in stress, crisis and emergency strategies. Source: WFP phone surveys Somalia, 2014

To date, response rates to our calls in Somalia have stood between 63% and 57%. This level of response is okay considering we never distributed phones in Somalia – a somewhat labor-intensive exercise we have to go through for in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.  We see an erosion in response (which is a trend we have seen in other countries).  We are discussing ways to maintain it, such as recruiting new respondents or being more flexible in the way we contact our respondents and keep them engaged.

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Figure 3: Response rates, Somalia Source: WFP phone surveys Somalia, 2014

For now, our operators are successfully completing at least 250 calls a month. Interestingly, women headed households represented 90% of our sample in Somalia during the first three rounds. We hope to share more insights on gender and food security in a later post.

Subax wanaagsan Somalia!

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

After blogging about the DR Congo in recent months, we’re now pleased to provide an update on Somalia. The mVAM mobile phone survey project is underway in central Somalia. Our approach is a bit different from DR Congo. Unlike in DR Congo, where we distributed phones to those we wanted to call, we chose not to do so in Somalia where 70 percent of people have mobile phones which demonstrates a deep rooted cell phone culture.

The call center: build it or buy it?

Our Somalia team has set up a call center in the Galkayo office. When we started the project, we considered outsourcing our phone surveys to a private company based in Nairobi, Kenya. In the end, we decided against it and instead set up a call center in-house. We thought we would learn more by implementing the calls in-house than through a private service provider and in the process also build better synergies with the local service providers.

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Hello? It’s Galkayo on the line. (WFP/Abdi)

Initially, we had hoped to start calls early this year, but it took longer than expected to recruit qualified candidates willing to work in Galkayo due to security concerns. Indeed, the AMISOM-led military campaign against Al-Shabaab in South Central Somalia since early March meant reduced humanitarian access. Also another serious security incident occurred in Galkayo in April, when two UN staff were shot at the airport. In such a restrictive environment, we had to be flexible and wait for the right time to make the call center operational. In mid-April, Noor and Angie, our local and international VAM officers, started training our operators in Galkayo remotely through teleconferences and Skype calls. Ironically, a key reason we’re testing phone surveys in conflict areas is to reduce our staff exposure to risk—so it is only fitting that in the end, circumstances made us train our operators remotely as well.

How our first calls went in Somalia

The first round of calls began on 23 April with our operators placing some 50 calls a day. Thus far we’re getting responses to about half the calls. Just as in DR Congo, the first round pace is slow as operators are learning to place calls while entering data. We know that the pace will pick up as operators and the people they call get used to talking to each other.  We are optimistic but expect challenges: since more than 6 months have passed since our baseline, some of the 430 phone numbers we collected may not work anymore. When we call, we might not necessarily be reaching the same person that we had initially contacted during our face-to-face baseline. Analysis of the first interviews will tell us more about these issues.

Above all, we’re pleased that calls have started and that the team was able to successfully overcome considerable operational obstacles. We’re proud to be collecting data in Central Somalia—since we know that alternatively we would have had to put more people in harms way to get the necessary information from the displaced population in the area.

Getting to know Goma

Blog entry originally posted in November 2013 on the Humanitarian Innovation Fund website.

In this month’s entry we explore the results of the face-to-face survey in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, and provide an update on the process of getting our call centres set up.

Earlier this month, our colleagues in the Democratic Republic of Congo finished the face-to-face assessment that serves as the mVAM baseline. These face-to-face assessments allow us to understand the profiles of our respondents, and request permission to call prospective survey respondents in the future.  The assessment was carried out in a camp hosting internally displaced persons near Goma. A total of 333 households were visited. The methodology followed standard WFP guidelines for camp settings.

In addition to the core set of questions on household demographics, food consumption, and coping strategies, the respondents were asked if they would like to participate in the monthly mVAM voice surveys. Some 90% (300 households), expressed their willingness to receive phone calls from WFP.  This is the same proportion of households that agreed to participate in central Somalia, the other location where this survey method will be piloted.

According to the GSMA’s report on mobile telephony, unique mobile phone penetration is below 20% in the Democratic Republic of Congo – well below the 30% average for Sub Saharan Africa, and below Somalia.

The findings of the face-to-face survey show that only 24% of respondents in the camp near Goma own a mobile phone. Another 33% reported not having a phone, but that another member of the household owned one. These figures explain why basic mobile phones should be distributed to all who had signed up for the mVAM surveys in Goma. Note that this is different to the approach in Somalia, where high mobile phone ownership rates make phone distribution unnecessary. During the monthly data collection rounds, it will be interesting to compare response rates under these two scenarios; how much of an issue does using WFP-provided phones become (re-charging, lost/stolen phones etc.).  Further insights to the results from the face-to-face survey in the Democratic Republic of Congo follow below.

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‘Can we call you and what’s your phone number?’

Household characteristics

Households participating in the mVAM surveys have an equal number of female and male headed households, 50.3% and 49.7% respectively, with an average of 5.5 members in the household. The great majority (89%) of mVAM respondents have been displaced and in the camp since 2009, with 41% arriving in 2012 when conflict in North Kivu increased. Almost all (94%) of respondents said they had received food assistance during the past month.

Coping behaviour

As in Somalia, we are curious to know whether the statistics we will collect through voice calls reflect the situation of the population at large. One of the key indicators we will collect through our calls is the reduced coping strategies index (rCSI), a quick and simple indicator that reveals how households manage or cope with shortfalls in food consumption.

The mean rCSI for the households that volunteered to participate in mVAM was 24.57, compared to 25.42 for the general population. A difference in means test, shows that there is no statistically significant difference (p=0.49) between the two groups.  The rCSI result of the mVAM respondents is also reflective of the overall IDP population that was surveyed, thanks to the high percentage of households that agreed to participate. We realise that it will be a challenge to ensure that all of these households respond to our calls.

A mean rCSI of almost 25 is high, in keeping with high rCSI values commonly observed during previous surveys in the same area. A high CSI indicates that people are using a lot of coping strategies to deal with the lack of food or resources to purchase food. The most frequent strategies used were consuming less preferred or less expensive foods, reducing the number of meals in a day and eating smaller quantities of food.

Expenditures on food and debt

The respondents’ main income sources are daily labour (25%), petty trade (15%) and agriculture (14%). A huge amount, 83% on average, of monthly household expenditure is spent on food. The amount is even higher than with the case of our mVAM survey respondents in Somalia, who spent an average of 76% of their monthly expenditure on food. At the time of the survey, 65% of the respondent households were in debt and 85% of households had accumulated debt in the past 12 months. In three times out of four, the reason for getting into debt was to purchase food.

Household assets

Similar to the baseline in Somalia, this assessment showed that the prospective mVAM survey respondents generally owned very few assets, the most common ones being a hoe/axe/machete (42%), mobile phone (24%) and radio (14%).  Only very few respondents owned productive assets such as chicken (8%) or goats (3%). It’s acknowledged that the distribution of mobile phones in asset-poor settings raises challenges – this was discussed with the community and WFP partners at the camp and will be monitored during the project.

Updates on other developments

This month we also conducted three training sessions, training a total of 14 WFP staff in headquarters, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia. The training involves showing users how to use Verboice and set up a SIP channel to do calls. After about an hour, colleagues in Rome and in the field were able to place phone calls through a SIP channel, using Verboice. This confirms our earlier insights about the user friendliness of the software.

The recruitment of our call centre operators is still ongoing in both countries; operators should be on board by January. In the meantime over the next few weeks, we will be drafting the operator’s manual. The document will describe how to manage the process of placing live and automated calls.  We’ve also just finished buying the modems and servers that we need to set up for the Interactive Voice Response system for both countries.

Somalia and DR Congo: two very different guinea pigs

Blog entry originally posted in July 2013 on the Humanitarian Innovation Fund website.

Somalia and DR Congo: two very different guinea pigs. Initial insights on IVR software.
It’s been a busy month of July – this blog entry provides the field perspective on mVAM from Somalia and DR Congo. We’ve also moved ahead with the IVR configuration process, trying out different pieces of software and doing a lot of test calls.

Somalia and Democratic Republic of Congo
Since our last blog post, the mVAM team has conducted scoping missions with WFP offices in Somalia and Democratic Republic of Congo. The idea was to come to grips with the challenges of implementing mVAM at the country level, contact partners, assess the technical challenges and develop work plans.
As we initially suspected, implementation challenges are very different in Somalia and in DR Congo. In Somalia, the project will be able to leverage strong information technology and telecommunications capacities in neighbouring Kenya. In DR Congo, the project will take place in an environment where telecommunication services are somewhat less advanced. This is likely to remain a running theme throughout project implementation. The mVAM project will be implemented with ‘two very different guinea pigs’, in the words of Angie, VAM Officer at WFP Somalia.

In Nairobi, Amit, Marie and Angie brainstormed implementation. In Somalia, it looks like we will be implementing the mVAM surveys in the area of Gaalkayo and, perhaps, on a small sample of pastoralist households in northern Somalia. Calls would most likely be placed from Nairobi – no problem finding Somali-speaking telephone operators in Nairobi. The cell phone network in Somalia is well-developed but quirky: calling one network to another is not always possible; dealing with this challenge will likely cause a few headaches for setting up the IVR system, including implementing complex call scheduling routines and managing a series of SIM cards. In Somalia, we will not distribute phones to our survey respondents at first, considering that access to cell phones is considered very high (reportedly 60-70% own a phone, whereas nearly everyone has access to one), and that cell phone distribution introduces complications in the field. It seems that VOIP calls are out of the questions for Somalia as call quality is unreliable. Another insight from the mission was that the project is too ‘small’ to attract interest from the big telecoms companies in Nairobi — we would try an in-house IVR solution, and working with ‘smaller’ partners (e.g. start up companies) for live calls. A lot going on at the Nairobi iHub, a cluster of over 100 tech companies that could support the deployment of mVAM for Somalia. A real incubator, there’s even a restaurant serving Mexican food.

In DR Congo, Koffi and Moustapha identified the IPD camps of Goma and Katanga as potential areas to try out mVAM mobile surveys. We had initially considered the new refugee camps in Equateur as a target area, unfortunately network coverage there is just too unreliable. Interestingly, the Goma IDPs receive mobile money cash transfers from WFP; a test in Goma could show us how to integrate voice surveys with existing mobile transfer programs. Access to electricity seems to be an issue in DR Congo, the pilot would therefore be implemented in places where respondents have access to recharging services. Here again, the distribution of cell phones would take place but only to households without a device; at the national level, it’s now estimated that 47% of Congolese own a cell phone. Interestingly, in DRC, the market for telephony services is nascent; no iHub equivalent in Kinshasa. We seem to be the first people to enquire about call center or IVR services in Kinshasa. A quick test of VOIP calls worked well. We’ll be looking at that solution.
In both countries, we will be able to piggyback on existing face-to-face surveys to profile respondents prior to implementing voice calls. These surveys are scheduled in September and October.

Software for IVR configuration
‘Translating’ the standard WFP questionnaires into a series of automated voice questions is perhaps the most immediate challenge we have. It means streamlining the complex questions we have commonly used for years — the trick is to fit a clear instruction for the survey respondent into a snappy audio message. We also spent some time testing software that can run the IVR calls.

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Writing IVR code in .vxml

In July, we tested Voxeo, an industry-standard voice technology platform; Amit’s code-writing skills were an advantage. Voxeo uses the .vxml language.  Souleika, our colleague from Djibouti, recorded the questions in Somali. Marie did the same in French for DR Congo.  Try out the demo Amit put together here (in French, Skype needs to be running on your computer). Voxeo seems free for demos on up to 2 simultaneous calls.

The people at Instedd, who specialize in technology solutions for the humanitarian community, gave us  a demo of Verboice, a free and open-source IVR software. Verboice offers a sleek interface and seems to do many of the things we want to do – design call flows, manage lists of phone numbers, schedule calls and provide call logs.  The interface is very easy to use, Jean-Martin was able to set up a 20-question call flow in a morning of work.  Verboice seems to be the type of software accessible to WFP field officers. Now, the challenge will be to have one of these run calls in the field, a lot more testing lies ahead.

In the next update we’ll tell you more about our test calls and preparations for the face to face surveys.