Since our first blog post on the Humanitarian Innogation Fund's website, on July 13, 2011, the pilot accountability project, which uses SMS to gather feedback from beneficiaries,has formally started on September 1st, 2011, with the hiring of the Communications Officer.
The first phase of the pilotwill be implemented primarily through the Community-Driven Recovery and Development Project (CDRD). Partners for the SMS feedback testing were selected from CDRD projects in ElefwaynDistrict, Sanaag region, Somaliland. The decision to test the SMS feedback system on a CDRD project in Somaliland is based on the fact that these projects are implemented in relatively stable communities where members are most likely to own mobile phones which will enable the team to assess the beneficiaries’ response to the project better. Once the feedback system is up and running, it will be rolled out to all the other CDRD projects currently implemented in Somaliland Puntland, and central Somalia until December 2011. In February, 2012, a third phase of the SMS feedback will be rolled out to a select number of families in Mogadishu who are receiving cash relief.
The plan to test out the SMS using an android tablet from the start of October was delayed due to a technical error which prevented it from delivering the SMSes as expected. The android tablet will be used with a local SIM card to receive the SMSes, it will then automatically synchronize with the Ushahidi platform on the dashboard of our website: http://somcdrd.org/geo/dashboard/. After which, we will process the messages and post them on the public section of the dashboard. However, the planned trip went ahead without the tablet in place and we have used a normal mobile phone to receive the messages until the tablet was ready. The trip helped the team to get a sense of how the beneficiaries managed the projects, their decision-making process, if they would welcome the idea of SMS feedback and if mobile phone networks worked properly in the villages.
The delays caused by the technical errors in putting the android tablet to use has meant moving the original 13/11/2011 SMS roll out date to Mogadishu to February 2012. We have recruited the Management Information Systems Officer, who will start on 19thDecember. With these initial minor setbacks, we have decided to focus on SMS feedbacks only from CDRD beneficiaries based in Somaliland and Puntland until end of December.
SMS testing field trip summary
CDRD has implemented projects in 17 villages in Elafweyn District,Sanaag region, Somaliland, including Elefweyn town. Out of these, we have selected Elafweyn town and 4 villages, because they have diverse projects representing CDRD’s initiatives, located in areas with different network coverage levels and at different implementation stages. We think these are small and diverse enough group and make ideal partners to get a good idea of how the SMS feedback system will work and realistically assess any challenges that may arise.
The first SMS feedback testing took place between the 4th and 11th October, 2011. We have partnered with beneficiaries from:
1. Elafweyn town, established in 1940 with a population of 9600.
2. Godaanood village, established in 1960 with a population of 2100.
3. Kalsheikh village, established in 1959 with a population of 1800.
4. Beerweeso village, established in 1978 with a population of 1650.
5. And the most recently established village and latest CDRD partner, Gal and Ka, established in 2004 with a population of 1500.Purpose of the visit was to inform and explain to beneficiaries of the new project, consult them on most effective way to get feedbacks and to spread the word, get an idea of their level of literacy and communication skills, and find out possible network and other potential challenges that might affect the project.
To assess how the beneficiaries of different projects will respond to the project, we have selected beneficiaries from diverse projects ranging from roof water catchment (tanks), schools, public toilets, irrigation canals, revolving funds (mainly for women to run small income-generating businesses), distribution of agriculture tools, to other beneficiaries and facilitators such as the Community Development Committees and Village Development Committees.
From the first visit to the water tank beneficiaries in Elafweyn town, we learnt most of them, particularly the women, are illiterate and will not be able to participate in the project without help. Luckily, during one such visit, we have met a beneficiary with her young son doing his homework in the same room and when we asked him if he would be interested in taking part of the project to both give feedback about how having a class room, water tank, and access to public toilet, all built by CDRD-funded projects, have affected his life. He was enthusiastic and agreed to take part.
This gave us an idea to incorporate school children, teachers and headmasters into the project to partner with parent beneficiaries and act as the focal people to follow up with in case we do not hear from particular town or village. We have also noticed during meetings with the beneficiaries, the most alert and inquisitive people were children and school teachers, followed by some of the female beneficiaries.
Therefore, in each village and Elafweyn town, we have asked a school teacher, headmaster or a student to act as the contact/focal person in case there is no feedback, people can’t write, or any other technical issues arise. So far, we have received very few SMSes from the beneficiaries and after few more phone calls to the focal persons, we expect more SMSes to follow. We are also trying to find out if the few SMSes are due to financial difficulties as most of the beneficiaries are very poor.
As part of the project and to compliment the SMS feedback, we have set up social media pages to document the pilot project from the start and share our lessons with other Humanitarian agencies and stake holders. We have a blog, Facebook, Twitter and anwebsite with interactive GPS maps of where our projects are based, people can follow us here:Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/SomCDRD