Blog post originally published on https://www.innovation.internews.org
Current methods of collating and monitoring information in emergencies are time-intensive and do not allow us to track trends, gaps, or insights over time. Internews’ experience in working with local media in emergency situations is grounded in the work of the Internews Humanitarian Information Programs Unit, which has been responding to emergencies in more than 20 countries in the past 10 years.
The standard Humanitarian Information Service product, which combines different components and communication channels such as SMS, social media, radio programs, TV, and other sources of information, meets the variable and dynamic information needs of any given community. Most recently implemented in Gaza, the Internews’ integrated information systems approach relies on different technological tools specifically chosen on the bases of information needs, targeted audiences, and technology access. In Gaza, this system encompassed radio, TV, SMS, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, smart phone app Zello, and bulletins for the humanitarian community. In order to analyze feedback from affected communities, local media partners typically track multiple incoming information flows manually. Journalists must monitor, collate, and categorize information from various sources, than structure the feedback in a way that is usable for the design of information programs that can answer expressed needs. This is incredibly resource-intensive, and simply managing and maintaining this process typically precludes any systematic learning of trends, gaps, or insights that reveal themselves throughout the program life cycle.
The Humanitarian Information Service in Gaza
When I was working with the Standby Task Force we had the same problem, but we could overcome it using hundreds of volunteers to monitor different streams of data coming from different sources. This is why UNOCHA and other agencies activated the SBTF in emergencies: the number could overcome the difficulty of monitoring and aggregating data coming form so many sources.
The ability to be able to use and monitor different tools, like mobile phones, mobile apps and social media is becoming more and more important as the ability to collect information on the ground becomes more difficult due to insecurity, structural issues, geography and so on.
To respond to this, Internews is extremely proud and happy to announce the development of an innovative and integrated solution through the creation of a “Humanitarian Information Dashboard”, thanks to funding coming from Global Giving, Google and the Rubin Foundation.
The Dashboard will work like a “Tweet Deck” that monitors, tracks and reports out on information flows across all platforms and where all aid agencies, governments, local media groups can participate and benefit from. Our project in Liberia will be the testing ground for the development of the platform, and we hope that once the platform is ready this will become a standard tool that humanitarian organizations, digital volunteers, and local media will be able to use in a variety of situations. If humanitarians today are “Information DJ’s”, working on “multiple tracks of information and make the best mix they can to augment situational awareness,” to use the words of Patrick Meier, Internews is now building the DJ mixer equipment.
The “Humanitarian Information Dashboard” will simplify and automate the management of information flows from various sources within a standard Internews Humanitarian Information Service. The Dashboard will enable the viewing of information by source (i.e. not only Twitter, but Facebook, YouTube, SMS, voice messages, etc), as well as by topic (i.e. food, water, shelter, security, etc). The Dashboard is envisaged to be a “smart” system that becomes more sophisticated through user interaction with it. For example, a user could tag and associate words with existing taxonomies or categories (i.e. anything with “bread” should be categorized under “food”), enriching the system’s database of word associations along the line of systems like the Health Map gazetteer.
To create the platform Internews will start by looking at already existing platform and codes that can be used for the creation of the dashboard.
The Dashboard will be built using a modular approach to meet the needs of both local media and international responders:
- MODULE 1: SMS – the dashboard will allow for several different SMS systems to be fed into it – RapidSMS, FrontlineSMS, Clickatel, a simple modem with a SIM card. This module will be built so that the system used to send and receive SMS can be then chosen on the ground depending on the technical capacity of the organization using the platform or the technical infrastructure. This module will allow for SMS to come into the platform and being categorized, and for SMS to be sent back, either as bulk SMS or as individual one.
- MODULE 2: IVR – the dashboard will also allow for Interactive Voice Response Systems to feed information into the platform. Similarly to the SMS module, this system will allow for the several types of IVR system to be used: Verboice, Freedom Fone, Souktel, etc, with the idea that the choice of the specific tool be used can only be done once on the ground and depending on the situation. This module will allow for the administrator to listen to the voice messages recorded, tag them by topic and category and send voice messages back as a call to the sender. This system could be used for any audio clip, including radio audio clips.
- MODULE 3: Social Media – this module will be created to add information coming from social media to the dashboard. In this first instance, only two social media will be considered, Twitter and Facebook. The information coming from a specific hashtag or Twitter user, and from a specific Facebook page or hashtag will feed into the platform allowing the administrator to tag them, delete the irrelevant information and respond back if relevant. This specific module will be specifically important for the understanding of the information needs of the diaspora, which plays a very important role in the information ecosystems of the affected countries.
- MODULE 4: RSS Feeds – This module is specifically designed to aggregate information coming from specific websites that have RSS feeds capability. This module will allow for the administrators to see in real time information related to the Ebola response as they are published by relevant websites. As in all the other modules, in this too it will be possible to tag and categorize information according to topic and location.
- MODULE 5: CSV, XLS and HDX uploads – as described before, numerous organizations are already creating their own information systems, some of which already have a two way capability. With this module those organizations will be able to upload their data, and specifically the records of the questions they receive from the local population, in any format they prefer (other formats will be considered depending on the results of the first preliminary assessment highlighted the following section). Once the information is on the dashboard, the admin will again be able to categorized and tag the information according to the location and the topic.
- MODULE 6: FORMS – if organizations using and feeding into the platform do not have access to any of the previous information channels, they will simply be able to insert their data directly by using a form, very much similar to the Google Form system. Many organizations we work with, including the GSMA, are already generating this content and sending it in, and with this module we would be able to capture this information, tag, categorize, and share it.
Each of those modules can be deployed and used separately so that the dashboard can be customized and adapted every time it is deployed. It can be also used as an incremental product, starting with one module and adding others as required. The Dashboard itself will then aggregate all the data received from the different channels used and allow for several tasks to be performed with the data:
- TASK 1: AGGREGATION – as specified before the data in the platform will be aggregated according to the channel though which it is coming from and depending on the channel that administrator will be able to see the sender, the date and time in which the information was uploaded or sent in, and the location, when available.
- TASK 2: TAGGING, CATEGORIZATION and FILTERING – as the information is fed into the platform, in the administrators will be able to quickly scroll through the data and delete the irrelevant information; tag the relevant ones with the specific location (which may be the location the information is referring to or the location of the sender of the information); and categorize the information with the appropriate topic of the question (i.e. burial procedures, hand washing, means of contagion, etc.). For each tag and category, the dashboard will allow the administrator of the platform to filter the information categorized under that specific category or tagged with that specific tag. Internews will also add a component that serves as a learning algorithm that will “learn” from these human interactions and start predicting tag and categories. Over time, the algorithm will make this procedure much quicker and fast.
- TASK 3: ANALYSIS and REPORTS – All the information coming into the platform, once categorized and tagged, will then be automatically processed to produce analysis and reports. The dashboard will allow the administrator to look at trends, like the change in the topics of information needs, and also at sudden changes in needs and location of needs over time. This analysis will be then be visualized as charts and maps and downloadable as PDF or Word document. Once created those reports will be sent to local media, international organization and all relevant organizations that can use this information for the design of more targeted information system.
Internews will start the design and testing of this platform in our current project “Information Saves Lives” in Liberia. The platform will be designed and tested module by module, using user centered design workshops to design each module, and then working with a test user – most likely a radio station – as a “live user”. The development and testing phase should last around 6 months, after which we hope to use the platform in a real case before it is finalized for the release. The platform will of course be released an free and open source software that everyone will be able to download.
Are you interested ion this project? We are recruiting the Project manager to be deployed in Monrovia immediately so if you think you want to be part of this, ping me at firstname.lastname@example.org
We are also looking for partners, technology companies, NGOs, coders, that are interested in working with us on this exciting project, so let us know.