Tumblelog by Soup.io
Newer posts are loading.
You are at the newest post.
Click here to check if anything new just came in.

April 20 2012

14:00

How Ushahidi Deals With Data Hugging Disorder

At Ushahidi, we have interacted with various organizations around the world, and the key thing we remember from reaching out to some NGOs (non-governmental organizations) in Kenya is that we faced a lot of resistance when we began in 2008, with organizations not willing to share data which was often in PDFs and not in machine-readable format.

This was especially problematic as we were crowdsourcing information about the events that happened that year in Kenya. Our partners in other countries have had similar challenges in gathering relevant and useful data that is locked away in cabinets, yet was paid for by taxpayers. The progress in the Gov 2.0 and open data space around the world has greatly encouraged our team and community.

When you've had to deal with data hugging disorder of NGOs, open data is a welcome antidote and opportunity. Our role at Ushahidi is to provide software to help collect data, and visualize the near real-time information that's relevant for citizens. The following are some thoughts from our team and what I had hoped to share at OGP in Brazil.

ushahidi.jpg

Government Data is important

  • It is often comprehensive - It covers the entire country. For example, a national census covers an entire country, so it has a large sample, whereas other questionnaires have a smaller sample.
  • Verified - Government data is "clean" data; it has been verified -- for example, the number of schools in a particular region. Crowdsourcing projects done by government can be quite dependable. (Read this example of how Crowdmap was used by the Ministry of Agriculture in Afghanistan to collect commodity prices.)
  • Official - government data forms the basis of government decision making and policy. If you want to influence government policy and interventions, it needs to be based on official data.
  • Expensive - Government data because it is comprehensive and verified is expensive to collect -- this expense is covered by the taxpayer.

Platforms are important

Libraries were built before people could read. Libraries drove the demand for literacy. Therefore, it makes sense that data and data platforms exist before before citizens have become literate in data. As David Eaves wrote in the Open Knowledge Foundation blog:

It is worth remembering: We didn't build libraries for an already literate citizenry. We built libraries to help citizens become literate. Today we build open data portals not because we have a data or public policy literate citizenry, we build them so that citizens may become literate in data, visualization, coding and public policy.

Some countries like Kenya now have the data, and now open-source platforms available not just for Kenya but worldwide. What are we missing?

Platforms like Ushahidi are like fertile land, and having open data is like having good seeds. (Good data equals very good seeds.) But fertile land and seeds are not much without people and actions on that very land. We often speak about technology being 10 percent of what needs to go into a deployment project -- the rest is often partnership, hard work and, most of all, community. Ordinary citizens can be farmers of the land; we need to get ordinary citizens involved at the heart of open government for it to powerful.

Ushahidi's role

Accessible data: The ownership debate has been settled as we agree government data belongs to the citizens. However, ownership is useless without access. If you own a car that you do not have access to, that car is useless to you. In the same way, if our citizens own data they have no access to, it's useless to them. Ownership is exercised through access. Ushahidi makes data accessible -- our technology "meets you where you are." No new devices are needed to interact with the data.

Digestible data: Is Africa overpopulated? If Africa is overpopulated or risks overpopulation, what intervention should we employ? Some have suggested sterilization. However, the data shows us that the more education a woman has, the less babies she has. Isn't a better intervention increasing education opportunities for women? This intervention also has numerous additional advantages for a country -- more educated people are usually more economically productive.

Drive demand for relevant data: Governments are frustrated that the data they have released is not being used. Is this because data release is driven mainly by the supply side, not the demand side -- governments release what they want to release, not what is wanted? How do we identify data that will be useful to the grassroots? We can crowdsource demand for data. For example: The National Taxpayer Alliance in Kenya has shown that when communities demand and receive relevant data, they become more engaged and empowered. There are rural communities suing MPs for misusing constituency development funds. They knew the funds were misused because of the availability of relevant data.

Closing the feedback loop: The key to behavioral change lies in feedback loops. These are very powerful, as exemplified by the incredible success of platforms like Facebook, which are dashboards of our social lives and that of our networks. What if we had a dashboard of accountability and transparency for the government? How about a way to find out if the services funded and promised for the public were indeed delivered and the service level of said services? For example: The concept of Huduma in Kenya, showed an early prototype of what such a dashboard would look like. We are working on more ways of using the Ushahidi platform to provide for this specific use case. Partnership announcements will be made in due course about this.

All this, To what end? Efficiency and change

If we as citizens can point out what is broken, and if the governments can be responsive to the various problems there are, we can perhaps see a delta in corruption and service provision.

Our role at Ushahidi is making sure there's no lack of technology to address citizen's concerns. Citizens can also be empowered to assist each other if the data is provided in an open way.

Open Data leading to Open Government

It takes the following to bridge open data and open government:

  • Community building - Co-working spaces allow policy makers, developers and civic hackers to congregate, have conversations, and build together. Examples are places like the iHub in Kenya, Bongo Hive in Zambia, and Code For America meetups in San Fransisco, just to name a few.
  • Information gathering and sharing - Crowdsourcing plus traditional methods give not only static data but a near real-time view of what's going on on the ground.
  • Infrastructure sharing - Build capacity once, reuse many times -- e.g., Crowdmap.
  • Capacity building - If it works in Africa, it can work anywhere. Developing countries have a particularly timely opportunity of building an ecosystem that is responsive to citizens and can help to leapfrog by taking open data, adding real-time views, and most of all, acting upon that data to change the status quo.
  • Commitment from government - We can learn from Chicago (a city with a history of graft and fraud), where current CTO John Tolva and Mayor Rahm Emmanuel have been releasing high-value data sets, running hackathons, and putting up performance dashboards. The narrative of Chicago is changing to one of a startup haven! What if we could do that for cities with the goal of making smart cities truly smart from the ground up? At the very least, surfacing the real-time view of conditions on the ground, from traffic, energy, environment and other information that can be useful for urban planners and policy makers. Our city master plans need a dose of real-time information so we can build for our future and not for our past.
  • Always including local context and collaboration in the building, implementation and engagement with citizens.

Would love to hear from you about how Ushahidi can continue to partner with you, your organization or community to provide tools for processing data easily and, most importantly, collaboratively.

Daudi Were, programs director for Ushahidi, contributed to this post.

A longer version of this story can be found on Ushahidi's blog.

February 25 2011

17:00

Ushahidi Takes First Steps in Evaluating Kenya Projects

This post was written by Melissa Tully and Jennifer Chan. It is the first in a series of blog posts documenting a 9-month Ushahidi evaluation project in partnership with the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative and supported by the Knight Foundation. A version of the post below was originally published on the Ushahidi blog

During the first two weeks of January, we traveled to Nairobi, Kenya, to begin phase one of a 9-month evaluation of Ushahidi's Kenya projects. Ushahidi is a web application created to map the reported incidents of violence during the post-election crisis in Kenya.

As part of a team, Jennifer and I met with individuals and groups who have incorporated the Ushahidi software into their programming as well as other partners to better understand how organizations have implemented and used the platform to improve their programming and organizational goals.

This evaluation has multiple purposes. In addition to writing case studies of some interesting and dynamic projects that use the Ushahidi platform: Unsung Peace Heroes and Building Bridges, and Uchaguzi in both Kenya and Tanzania; we plan to document our progress through a series of blog posts and to create practical and interactive tools.

Tracking Progress

These resources can help organizations decide if Ushahidi is right for them through a self-assessment and evaluation process. Implementers can use these resources throughout the entire project period to track their progress and strengthen monitoring and evaluation.

We're in the very early stages of development, but based on discussions with people in Kenya who have used Ushahidi and members of the Ushahidi team and community, we think we're developing some very useful stuff. Currently, we're focusing on the "pre-implementation assessment" and "implementation" resources so that we can get feedback from current and future deployments on these key areas.

We're working closely with the Ushahidi team and others involved in developing the Ushahidi Community page to integrate the case studies and tools into this part of the site and to add to the already existing resources for Ushahidi users.

Another goal is to link to guides, case studies, tips, and tricks -- or anything else out there created by the vast Ushahidi community worldwide -- to better serve the entire user community. Let us know in the comments what you think about our service and how we might better improve it.

February 18 2011

21:30

UPIU Mentors, Publishes Student Journalists Around the Globe







Education content on MediaShift is sponsored by the USC Annenberg nine-month M.A. in Specialized Journalism. USC's highly customized degree programs are tailored to the experienced journalist and gifted amateur. Learn more about how USC Annenberg is immersed in tomorrow.

Suleiman Abdullahi was recently an eyewitness to the birth of the world's newest nation.

In early January, the 20-year-old Kenyan journalism student flew to Juba, Sudan, to cover the massive referendum responsible for the creation and upcoming independence of South Sudan. As Abdullahi wrote, he arrived in the prospective nation's capital city with a travel visa, a press pass, a story budget, and a 48-hour window to interview, observe, and report upon "the history that was about to be made."

By the end of his first day, he was under arrest.

Abdullahi was part of a two-man student reporting crew hired by UPIU, a student journalism project run by the United Press International news service. UPIU is an emerging player in the college media and journalism education arenas. Its website features a self-publishing platform for news stories and multimedia journalism projects posted by students around the globe.

More than a platform

The most standout aspect of UPIU: It does not just publish content by students; it provides classroom workshops, story editing, and one-on-one mentoring to help their pieces sing. The students who take advantage of its services undergo what UPIU senior mentor Krista Kapralos calls a "mini-internship experience."

It currently partners with more than 30 schools in roughly a dozen countries, leading to a cluster of student-produced stories touching on things such as Kenyans and antibiotic resistance, Moroccans and Christianity, the Chinese and homosexuality, and Egyptians and a revolution. The UPIU motto: "Mentoring Student Journalists Worldwide."

"We want to leverage UPI's solid reputation to attract aspiring journalists and improve foreign coverage," said UPIU Asia regional director Harumi Gondo. "I've not encountered another program that has such direct communication and relationships with journalism schools around the world."

No contracts are signed. UPIU does not collect any revenue from the posted stories. Students retain ownership of their work and are free to submit elsewhere. In the meantime, their content is vetted by professionals and considered for pick-up by UPI. Since its creation in late 2008, more than 2,300 stories have been published on the site. More than 100 -- roughly 4 percent of all submissions -- have been approved for placement on UPI.com.

Extra Help in the Classroom

UPIU transparent-grey-logo 225.jpgI can personally vouch for its potential. I have incorporated UPIU into multiple sections of my news reporting classes at the University of Tampa to mostly positive results. The process is five-fold: 1) an introductory video chat with each class hosted by veteran journalist Kapralos, who oversees UPIU's initiatives in Africa, Europe, and the Americas; 2) an optional video session in which students pitch story ideas; 3) a critique from a UPIU mentor on subsequent story drafts students post to the site; 4) a video chat round-up with Kapralos commenting on the quality of submissions overall; and 5) revisions by the students based on the feedback from Kapralos and, of course, their professor.

Students' involvement with UPIU ultimately helps underscore the lessons I am teaching them -- if nothing else, the importance of a news hook, timeliness, editorial collaboration, and three-source minimums.

It also has served as the platform for award-winning work. In fall 2009, Michigan State University student Jeremy Blaney earned a Religion Newswriters Association honor for his reports on local Muslim issues that were published on UPIU and, soon after, UPI. The headline of one of his pieces, which touched on the intersection of Islam and technology was, "You're a Muslim? There's an App for That."

"When you're on our site, you're not only seeing students practicing journalism," Kapralos told a news-writing class during a recent video chat. "You're also seeing a lot of really groundbreaking work. And you're seeing it through a lens that you don't always see through the New York Times or CNN."

Lunch, Without the Education

One prime example involves peeling potatoes. Unbeknownst to many Westerners, a government program in India requires public schools to provide a hot lunch for all students. Since its roll-out roughly a decade ago, scattered stories from professional news media have been mainly glowing, focused on the positives of children eating at least one decent meal a day in a country where poverty and hunger are rampant.

It took a local student journalist -- and five days of editing oversight by a UPIU mentor -- to help present the truth. Shiv Sunny, a student at New Delhi's AJK Mass Communication Research Center, built upon his personal knowledge of the required lunches and close proximity to numerous schools to uncover the program's underbelly. In some schools, the teachers are the individuals required to receive the food shipments and prepare the meals -- forcing them to spend hours each day cooking, mixing, and peeling essentials like potatoes and carrots in place of teaching.

As Kapralos explained it, "The story our student found: Yeah, the students are getting lunch, but they're not getting any education because their teachers are spending literally the entire day in the kitchen." Another problem: Hungry students often attend school just for lunch, and then skip out on the learning.

Krista225.jpgAdmittedly, some students treat UPIU similarly. They use the site to gain a web presence with panache and ignore the professional mentors' editing feedback, leaving their articles' factual inaccuracies and grammar slips in public view. The operation also still screams young and scrappy rather than streamlined, at times seemingly run solely on the hard work and sheer tenacity of Kapralos. And the site's story template is somewhat restrictive -- sporting the same look for every piece and an accompanying photo slot that is a bit tiny.

According to Kapralos, template changes, multimedia add-ons, and paid freelancing opportunities are in the works. The latest call, which is for student reports on Internet infrastructure, access, and control, offers $100 for selected stories.

Back in Juba

The first major freelance initiative was the Sudan assignment, which spun into action quickly as hopes for the referendum became reality. UPI president Nicholas Chiaia was a strong advocate of hiring students as stringers for the seminal event.

"He really sees the value in student journalists and he is not one to turn them away simply because they have minimal professional experience," said Kapralos. "He's the one to say, 'We need to utilize students, if there's a way we can do it that equates to responsible reporting and provides quality work.'"

Kapralos contacted two student journalists in Kenya whose previous work impressed her: Abdi Latif Dahir and Abdullahi. She assigned Dahir to Nairobi, where he covered the referendum voting of Sudanese refugees. She asked Abdullahi to fly to the story's geographic center, Juba.

Along with his "fixer" (a local guide), Abdullahi boldly charged into the international reporting gig. He describes competing for stories with "thousands of foreign correspondents, each one eager to thrust their cameras and microphones at every passing local." At times, Abdullahi employed his "rudimentary Arabic" to interview residents who did not speak English.

Just before midnight on the day of the big vote, he went downtown to see if anyone had begun lining up. There, he said, an "extra cautious" security force detained him and demanded a curfew.

"You are welcome to do your work here and we appreciate you, but you must be indoors by midnight," the police told him. "After midnight, we really cannot guarantee your safety and we don't want your government breathing down on our necks."

In Washington, D.C., Kapralos was holding her breath. She had been trading messages with Abdullahi non-stop. He had been turning in all his reports on time. Suddenly, he had gone quiet, and a story deadline had passed.

"As an editor, it's one thing to have a story go missing in the melee of a major breaking news situation," she recalled. "But when the breaking news story is in a region of the world where violence has been a way of life for decades, and when what you've lost isn't a story, but a reporter, stakes are high."

Fortunately, Abdullahi was released a half hour later, unharmed, and went back to work. He ultimately earned three UPI bylines, reporting on the guns, flags, billboards, long lines, traditional folk songs, and ink-stained fingers of voters that comprised the spectacle of the historic referendum.

And along the way -- like his reporting partner Dahir -- he experienced his own unforgettable journalistic coming-of-age story.

"Seeing tens of thousands of people line up under the scorching sun with such zeal is a scene that is hard to describe," Abdullahi wrote soon after flying home. "When it's all done and the seemingly inevitable decision of secession is made, we'll be able to say that we were there when they became a nation."

Dan Reimold is an assistant professor of journalism at the University of Tampa. He writes and presents frequently on the campus press and maintains the daily blog College Media Matters, affiliated with the Associated Collegiate Press. His first book on a major modern college media trend, Sex and the University: Celebrity, Controversy, and a Student Journalism Revolution, was published this past fall by Rutgers University Press.







Education content on MediaShift is sponsored by the USC Annenberg nine-month M.A. in Specialized Journalism. USC's highly customized degree programs are tailored to the experienced journalist and gifted amateur. Learn more about how USC Annenberg is immersed in tomorrow.

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

November 15 2010

13:25

Interview with a FACT Challenge Winner: Macheru Karuku from the E-Peace Building Project

We recently announced the 5 Winners for the FACT Social Justice Challenge and we are thrilled at the caliber and impact of all the Projects. As such, we want to give you a closer look at these collaborative technology Projects and the people behind them. Each Monday in the month of November, we'll be posting an interview from one of the Winning Projects using the fact interviews tag - we hope you'll follow along!

read more

November 09 2010

15:00

Overcoming the Challenges of Using Ushahidi in Low Bandwidth Areas

With the increased adoption of Ushahidi around the world, we are finding that one problem (which we anticipated in the very beginning of the initiative) is that of low bandwidth regions. In the early days of testing the platform in Kenya, we found that the map would take ages to load, and so the development team worked very hard to change this. This was of course before the installation of fiber optic links in Kenya, which make connection speeds much better after September 2009.

Our current solution for integrating SMS in areas with low bandwidth (but good wireless service coverage) is to have a FrontlineSMS hub with a compatible mobile phone attached to a computer via USB or even Bluetooth for those who prefer it.

Ushahidi plus FrontlineSMS

That has worked reasonably well, but we are always looking for ways to improve access to maps containing crowdsourced information, particularly in areas with low Internet penetration rates. Recent statistics indicate that mobile networks are now available to 90 percent of the world's population overall, and to 80 percent of the people living in rural areas. This means it's even more important for Ushahidi to be able to collect and then visualize information from mobile phones. It's worth remembering that for many people with mobile phones, their first social network is their address book.

What follows below are several updates on developments to improve the ability for people to use Ushahidi in low bandwidth areas. We welcome everyone in our greater community to try these applications out and provide us with feedback. Let's see if we can continue this process of "real-time sense making," even in rural areas. At the very least, we would like to have the tools well tested and used in various locales.

Luanda

We have an upcoming version of Ushahidi dubbed "Luanda" that will be released soon, it will have many improvements that will be of interest to deployers around the world.

There are two options for using Ushahidi in low bandwidth regions:

1. Configuring the mobile version of the site you build and put Ushahidi on. You will need the 2.0 build of the platform (caveat that it's a test build). Then add and activate the mobile plug-in from our plug-ins database.

2. The offline mapping tab available as an OS X test build - Dale Zak and Emmanuel Kala are still working on this, but we'd like to invite users to test things out. Caveat is it's a test build and for Mac OS X for now.

Please submit issues/suggestions on the Github tracking issue tracking log, as this will help us greatly.

Frontline Mapping

The upcoming Frontline Mapping plug-in allows new ways for Ushahidi incident reports to be gathered in the field:

  • SMS-to-Report -- Any incoming text message can be converted into an incident report and synced once Internet access becomes available. For example, a text message that reads "Riots in the streets, several people injured" would be received by Frontline. A person managing the application double-clicks that message and the new incident report dialog is pre-populated with that information, along with the sender's contact info if available.
  • FrontlineForms-to-Report -- The Mapping plug-in can generate a FrontlineForm with all the required Ushahidi fields, and send that Form to any contact with a Java-enabled phone. The incoming FrontlineForm response is automatically covered to an incident report, and can be synced once the Internet becomes available.
  • FrontlineSurveys-to-Report -- The Mapping plug-in can also populate the new FrontlineSurveys plug-in with Ushahidi-specific questions (such as, "What is the incident description?") You can send a survey to any contact via SMS, which initializes a series of questions, the next question sent once the previous answer is received.

Here are four demo videos showing the Mapping Plug-in in action:

http://dl.dropbox.com/u/9326/FrontlineSMS-Mapping-One.swf

http://dl.dropbox.com/u/9326/FrontlineSMS-Mapping-Two.swf

http://dl.dropbox.com/u/9326/FrontlineSMS-Mapping-Three.swf

http://dl.dropbox.com/u/9326/FrontlineSMS-Mapping-Four.swf

Note that the FrontlineForms and FrontlineSurveys options require less work for administrators because the data received is structured; however it may require multiple SMS messages to gather all the information. In times of crisis, the user may only be able to send one text message. However, community health care workers may choose to use the FrontlineForms or FrontlineSurveys options to submit structured patient information.

Do subscribe to our blog feed or follow us on Twitter to get the latest about upcoming announcements about the continuing evolution of the platform.

August 25 2010

16:29

New Media Tools Play Pivotal Role in Kenya's Constitution-Making

Kenya is moving towards greater democracy and more transparent governance thanks to the recent constitutional referendum that received 70 percent "yes" votes.

The new constitution, which is scheduled to be signed into law on Friday, replaces the one drafted during Kenya's colonial era. It includes a Bill of Rights, which states that all Kenyans should have access to clean water, decent housing, basic sanitation and quality food. The new constitution aims to decentralize political power, increase government accountability, create more robust checks and balances against corruption, and foster a move towards fairer distribution of wealth.

President Mwai Kibaki said, "The historic journey that we began over 20 years ago is now coming to a happy end." In reality, forming a new constitution is only the beginning of another long road which the country will need to travel.

However, at least Kenya is moving in the right direction. Here in Zimbabwe, our constitutional reform process is lagging behind. But I think there is a lot we can learn from the role that media played in the Kenyan process.

Lessons from Kenya

Zimbabwe's constitutional reform process should be an opportunity for meaningful public participation. Unfortunately, the process remains marred by intimidation and violence, including the alleged re-establishment of torture bases in farming communities where there are a high number of war veterans and youth militia.

I could not help but compare coverage of the Kenyan referendum to the Zimbabwean constitution-making process and reflect on what we can learn from Kenya. Although the countries' circumstances are not totally comparable, we certainly can't afford to let the Zimbabwean constitution-making process drag on for 20 years, as it did in Kenya!

The first factor that looms large is the fundamental role that a vigilant civil society plays in provoking public participation and debate, promoting state transparency and accountability, maintaining pressure and ultimately achieving change. A recent blog post on Pambazuka discusses the pivotal contributions that organizations such as the Association of Professional Societies in East Africa, Kenya Land Alliance, Kikuyus for Change and Kenyan Asian Forum made during the Kenyan constitution-making process.

The post, by Cottrell Ghai and Pal Ghai, also discusses the likelihood that civil organizations will continue to offer invaluable assistance, particularly "at a time when the capacity within the government is limited." This is further amplified because trade unions -- which uphold the constitution through their political and economic work -- are non-existent in Kenya.

The second factor is the role that a vibrant media has in driving reform. According to an opinion piece in the Washington Times, both civil society and the media have played a part in the constitution-making process in Kenya and will continue to do so.

"Kenya is blessed with free and vibrant media and a vigilant civil society that relentlessly shines light into all corners of government activity," it read. "This will heighten scrutiny in the use of public finances and resources by the executive and legislature."

Although it is unlikely that the Kenyan media are fully objective or free from political influence (which country's media is?), the Economist and the BBC have said that Kenya is more liberalized than most African countries. Various analysts have also stated that since independence the Kenyan media has been an important check on government power.

New Media Tools

New media tools were also used during the constitution-making process in Kenya. A customized version of Ushahidi, a Knight grantee, was developed for use in Kenya. Called Uchaguzi, which means decision in Kiswahili, the collaborative deployment was supported by the Constitution & Reform Education Consortium (CRECO), Social Development Network (SODNET), Uraia, HIVOS and Twaweza. During the referendum, the shortcode 3018 received over 1,400 SMS messages from around the country that reported incidents of electoral irregularities, violence and peace activities.

Similarly, The Uwiano Peace Platform was established to prevent violence during the Kenyan referendum. The system took advantage of mobile technology to get up-to-date information "on tensions, hate speech, incitement, threats and violence" from citizens nationwide. The system allowed for free SMSes from the public to be sent to the Uwiano secretariat. Analysts then verified, mapped and relayed the data on to rapid response mechanisms for quick intervention. The public knew how to report incidents because the platform was advertised in the electronic media, print media and Electoral Commission materials.

It would have been interesting if a new media tool like Freedom Fone, our project, had been added to the mix to capture citizen reports in an audio format.

A vigilant civil society, vibrant media and new media tools have played a pivotal role in Kenya's constitution-making process. We must not underestimate the value of these organizations and tools during our process in Zimbabwe as we continue to strive towards the formation of a new constitution and a more democratic nation.

16:29

New Media Tools Play Pivotal Role in Kenya's Constitution-Making

Kenya is moving towards greater democracy and more transparent governance thanks to the recent constitutional referendum that received 70 percent "yes" votes.

The new constitution, which is scheduled to be signed into law on Friday, replaces the one drafted during Kenya's colonial era. It includes a Bill of Rights, which states that all Kenyans should have access to clean water, decent housing, basic sanitation and quality food. The new constitution aims to decentralize political power, increase government accountability, create more robust checks and balances against corruption, and foster a move towards fairer distribution of wealth.

President Mwai Kibaki said, "The historic journey that we began over 20 years ago is now coming to a happy end." In reality, forming a new constitution is only the beginning of another long road which the country will need to travel.

However, at least Kenya is moving in the right direction. Here in Zimbabwe, our constitutional reform process is lagging behind. But I think there is a lot we can learn from the role that media played in the Kenyan process.

Lessons from Kenya

Zimbabwe's constitutional reform process should be an opportunity for meaningful public participation. Unfortunately, the process remains marred by intimidation and violence, including the alleged re-establishment of torture bases in farming communities where there are a high number of war veterans and youth militia.

I could not help but compare coverage of the Kenyan referendum to the Zimbabwean constitution-making process and reflect on what we can learn from Kenya. Although the countries' circumstances are not totally comparable, we certainly can't afford to let the Zimbabwean constitution-making process drag on for 20 years, as it did in Kenya!

The first factor that looms large is the fundamental role that a vigilant civil society plays in provoking public participation and debate, promoting state transparency and accountability, maintaining pressure and ultimately achieving change. A recent blog post on Pambazuka discusses the pivotal contributions that organizations such as the Association of Professional Societies in East Africa, Kenya Land Alliance, Kikuyus for Change and Kenyan Asian Forum made during the Kenyan constitution-making process.

The post, by Cottrell Ghai and Pal Ghai, also discusses the likelihood that civil organizations will continue to offer invaluable assistance, particularly "at a time when the capacity within the government is limited." This is further amplified because trade unions -- which uphold the constitution through their political and economic work -- are non-existent in Kenya.

The second factor is the role that a vibrant media has in driving reform. According to an opinion piece in the Washington Times, both civil society and the media have played a part in the constitution-making process in Kenya and will continue to do so.

"Kenya is blessed with free and vibrant media and a vigilant civil society that relentlessly shines light into all corners of government activity," it read. "This will heighten scrutiny in the use of public finances and resources by the executive and legislature."

Although it is unlikely that the Kenyan media are fully objective or free from political influence (which country's media is?), the Economist and the BBC have said that Kenya is more liberalized than most African countries. Various analysts have also stated that since independence the Kenyan media has been an important check on government power.

New Media Tools

New media tools were also used during the constitution-making process in Kenya. A customized version of Ushahidi, a Knight grantee, was developed for use in Kenya. Called Uchaguzi, which means decision in Kiswahili, the collaborative deployment was supported by the Constitution & Reform Education Consortium (CRECO), Social Development Network (SODNET), Uraia, HIVOS and Twaweza. During the referendum, the shortcode 3018 received over 1,400 SMS messages from around the country that reported incidents of electoral irregularities, violence and peace activities.

Similarly, The Uwiano Peace Platform was established to prevent violence during the Kenyan referendum. The system took advantage of mobile technology to get up-to-date information "on tensions, hate speech, incitement, threats and violence" from citizens nationwide. The system allowed for free SMSes from the public to be sent to the Uwiano secretariat. Analysts then verified, mapped and relayed the data on to rapid response mechanisms for quick intervention. The public knew how to report incidents because the platform was advertised in the electronic media, print media and Electoral Commission materials.

It would have been interesting if a new media tool like Freedom Fone, our project, had been added to the mix to capture citizen reports in an audio format.

A vigilant civil society, vibrant media and new media tools have played a pivotal role in Kenya's constitution-making process. We must not underestimate the value of these organizations and tools during our process in Zimbabwe as we continue to strive towards the formation of a new constitution and a more democratic nation.

July 12 2010

19:53

Ushahidi Racking up Downloads, Available in New Languages

The Ushahidi platform's growing use has been astounding to say the least. The platform has been download almost 4,000 times. On top of that, our mobile applications (including the Android Oil Spill reporter by Henry Addo) have been downloaded more than 3,700 times.

As an organization that is barely three years old, it is encouraging to see adoption of the platform in various countries and for diverse uses. Be it election monitoring in Burundi, Snowmaggedon in D.C., or preventing forest forest fires in Italy, it is very encouraging to the development team to see people around the world using the platform to solve local problems. That is the beauty of open source software -- it allows for greater customization and localization.

Wide Range of Deployments

One of the early adopters of the Ushahidi technology was Oscar Salazar and the team behind Cuidesmos el Voto; they translated the platform into Spanish. This was huge for Ushahidi and for Latin America. Since then we have seen many deployments by organizations like Elecciones Transparentes in Colombia, Eleitor 2010 in Brazil and the Chile Map that utilizes the Spanish language files that Salazar and his team helped translate. (Eleitor 2010 translated the platform into Portuguese).

On mobile phones, Pablo Destefanis and his team translated and customized the Ushahidi Windows Mobile app created by Dale Zak to map crime in El Salvador. This is amazing: An app created by a Canadian software developer is associated with a platform that originated in Kenya and is being used in El Salvador.

ushahidi_worldwide

Multiple Translations for Download

While all of this was happening, there was also a partial translation of the platform into Swahili. We realized that the projects in Kenya really needed a Swahili version of the platform to encourage participation and outreach whenever an organization used the platform. We reached out to the developers in Kenya who could help, and Ahmed Maawy stepped up to the plate.

The language files will be checked into Github and made available in the next version of Ushahidi. Thank you very much Ahmed for translating this -- it will be a great help to organizations deploying the platform in East Africa.

DSC_0060

Ahmed is the gentleman in the middle. Picture was taken at a recent Developer Meetup in Nairobi's ihub.

If you would like to download the Swahili language files directly, go ahead and click on this link: i18n_swa.zip. We also have the Polish, Russian and Chinese translations available for those who are interested.

Thank you to Kuba of Shipyard and Jakub Górnicki for the Polish translation, to Altynbek Ismailov of SaveKG in Kyrgyzstan and Gregory Asmolov at the Berkman Center at Harvard for the Russian version of the platform.

If you would like to help translate Ushahidi into your language, please email us at translation[at]Ushahidi dot-com. Meanwhile, watch out for the next version of Ushahidi, which will have some cool new features and the expanded plugin architecture.

June 15 2010

14:45

Teaching Ushahidi 101 in Kenya

This post is written by Melissa Tully and Rebecca Wanjiku. Melissa Tully is a PhD student at UW-Madison who is researching the use of social/new media in social justice work in Kenya. She has been volunteering with Ushahidi for the past two-and-a-half years.
Rebecca Wanjiku is a project assistant for Ushahidi in Kenya. She interfaces with many organizations and individuals who have inquiries about Ushahidi.

This month and last month saw the first ever "Ushahidi 101" events held at the iHub in Nairobi. The first Ushahidi 101 gathering took place on May 12 and attracted 16 people from different organizations in Nairobi. The session was designed to introduce Ushahidi to people who may not know how it works, discuss the sites features, highlight uses of Ushahidi by Kenyan organizations and give potential and current users a chance to network. The second 101 occurred on June 7, drew a crowd of 21 people, and featured a live stream of the event for those who could not attend.

Usahidi is an open source platform that helps people map breaking news events and disasters in real time. It has its roots in a mapping project for reports of violence in Kenya after the post-election fallout at the beginning of 2008.

In both 101 sessions, current users shared their experiences with the group. They offered insight and lessons about deploying Ushahidi, including tips on marketing and strategy, as well as more technical advice such as setting up an SMS system.

Presentation and Breakout Sessions

The 101 sessions were broken up into two main parts: A presentation (which we've uploaded to SlideShare) and breakout sessions. The presentation gives a brief history of Ushahidi, basic information about the platform, and showcases different deployments, focusing on what's been done in Kenya.

Ush 101

In the June 101, we were lucky enough to have Erica Hagen from Map Kibera and Voice of Kibera in attendance to give a presentation on their work and how they have customized the Ushahidi platform to be a space for community reporting. In the May 101, Marten Schoonman from Media Focus on Africa Foundation shared his experiences working on two Ushahidi deployments: Unsung Peace Heroes and the ongoing Building Bridges project, which are both focused on peace and peace-building in Kenya. We also heard from Su Stephanou about her initiative to map organic farmers in Kenya, as well as members of the Kenya AIDS NGOs Consortium about their experience mapping TB, HIV and AIDS services.

It was great to have users of the platform at the event. During the breakout sessions they were able to discuss their experiences and field questions from attendees. These sessions were invaluable to get the networking rolling, and many conversations continued well past the end of the event. The three breakout sessions focused on: Basic Ushahidi back-end functionality; the more advanced technical components of Ushahidi; and publicizing and marketing the platform.

Ush 101

Overall, both Ushahidi 101s were a great success and it was amazing to have folks from so many different types of organizations present, including Federation of Red Cross Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), ILO-Somalia, Association of Media Women in Kenya, and Oxfam, among others.

The 101s will now be monthly events at the iHub and the next Ushahidi 101 is scheduled for July 13. Also, on June 16, we'll have the first SwiftRiver 101 organized by Jon Gosier and the first Developers 101 on June 28. The SwiftRiver event will feature a basic overview of the platform, as well as a highly technical session for developers. The Developers 101 is for all the techies looking to get their hands dirty with some Ushahidi code. All of these events help to build the community around Ushahidi, a critical component for an open-source initiative like ours.

May 05 2010

19:24

Ushahidi-Based Voice of Kibera Aims to Map Kenyan Slum

Melissa Tully is a PhD student at UW-Madison who is researching the use of social/new media in social justice work in Kenya. She has been volunteering with Ushahidi for the past two and a half years. In this post, she highlights a workshop that she organized in Kibera.

On April 23 I, along with the Map Kibera team, organized a focus group on the Voice of Kibera (VoK) platform, which is designed to be a place for residents of Kibera, a slum in Nairobi, to post reports and information relevant to them and their community. VoK is a recent initiative of Map Kibera, which itself is a project to produce the first public digital map of this community.

map kibera.jpg

The main goal of the focus group was to get feedback from people who live in Kibera and work with various non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and community-based organizations (CBOs). We had a great group of participants who openly shared their ideas about the usefulness of the Ushahidi-based platform, especially in regards to the SMS reporting mechanism. They also offered suggestions for how to publicize the site in Kibera.

Participants were excited about using the site to post reports about their community work and suggested that it could be used to post jobs and other opportunities. VoK has a mobile short code (3002) that was provided by their partners at the Social Development Network (SODNET), and the site uses a customized Ushahidi platform featuring videos, photos, a Twitter stream and a separate SMS Reports box. SMS can be used to send information about Kibera-based organizations, opinions on local businesses and services, problems encountered in the community, and things that are happening in the community (both good and bad).

Group Suggestions

After introducing Map Kibera and the Voice of Kibera site, we broke into small groups to test the site, enter new reports, and discuss SMS reporting.

When we reconvened in the large group, we heard great suggestions from each group. Their ideas included asking cyber cafe operators to put VoK as the homepage on the computers as a way of publicizing the site and making it more readily available to Kiberans; doing a better job of harnessing the personal networks of each participant; building relationships with local media, including Kibera Journal and Pamoja FM; and starting an editorial board to make key decisions regarding how the site will run. As a result, the first editorial board meeting will be held this Friday.

If the enthusiasm from the workshop carries over to the next meeting, VoK will be off to a great start.

More information about the workshop, as well as updates on VoK, can be found on the Map Kibera Wiki.

This post originally appeared on the Ushahidi blog.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

April 19 2010

21:27

Who's New to Net2 Local?

Net2 Local mapThis spring has brought 9 new NetSquared Local groups, bringing the new official number to 67 groups worldwide! Below is a list of the groups that have started in the last few months.

read more

March 17 2010

15:53

Crowdsourcing Crime Information In Kenya

Hatari.co.ke is is a website that allows anyone in Nairobi, Kenya, to submit reports about crime and corruption in the city. ("Hatari" means "danger" in Swahili.) It will provide the growing city and its inhabitants with a repository of public information about incidents such as carjacking, corruption, police harassment and others.

This initiative builds on other crime maps such as SpotCrime and MapATL. The idea of crime mapping is not new (see EveryBlock, an Idea Lab success story), but it's unlikely that law enforcement officials and the general public in Kenya previously had a tool to visualize crime information. This is why Hatari has potential.

Using Ushahidi

Screen shot 2010-03-15 at 3.26.09 AM

This website uses the Ushahidi platform, an open source solution for crowdsourcing information. (The New York Times recently wrote about the project.) Ushahidi, which is Swahili for "testimony," was created to map reports of violence in Kenya after elections in early 2008. Since then, the United Nations OCHA/Colombia branch has used Ushahidi for coordinating humanitarian response during the Bogota earthquake simulation. Other notable deployments of the free crowdsourcing platform have seen it used for election monitoring in India, Lebanon, Mexico and Afghanistan, among other projects.

Crowdsourcing crime information is new in Kenya. As a result, some of the potential questions and issues arising from this implementation include: Is it legal for someone to take a picture of a corrupt cop? And what sort of information can the public expect from the law enforcement agencies regarding crime in their neighborhoods? The answers are not immediately apparent, and it will take some time to figure things out.

With implementations like MapATL, and hyper-local sites such as EveryBlock, the availability of public data makes this kind of work much easier to do in the United States. The same cannot be said of Kenya. On the other hand, this shows that there's an opportunity to innovate and find out whether implementations such as Hatari can encourage the government to provide more data to the public, and push closer to something like Data.gov.

Creating a Sustainable Platform

Some of the major challenges for Hatari include inspiring participation among the public, and figuring out how to close the feedback loop. In essence, it's about answering the question, "Why should I report what I see?"

To this end, Hatari includes the option to subscribe to SMS/email alerts so that people can be notified when someone reports an incident near an area they are interested in. This is the first step in providing value to the users of the site. It also leads to another challenge, which Ushahidi is working on: Making the SMS alerts system sustainable. Currently, there is a cost issue, and if the project gains more traction, the costs will rise as more people sign up for alerts. Hatari is currently reaching out to mobile service providers to see if they're willing to donate a short code.

Ushahidi implementations always work best with extensive partnerships with organizations on the ground. Ushahidi has reached out to several organizations and it is in the process of formalizing these partnerships. An announcement will be forthcoming in the near future. For now, though, Hatari looks like it could be the project that best showcases how crowdsourcing data can have a direct impact in the daily lives of Nairobians.

For anyone who's curious, here is how people can submit reports to Hatari:

  1. By sending a text message to +254719457500
  2. By sending an email to tips@hatari.co.ke
  3. By sending a tweet with the hashtag/s #hatari #nairobi
  4. By filling out a form at the website
Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

March 15 2010

10:15

NYTimes.com: How Ushahidi is ‘transforming the notion of bearing witness’

How Ushahidi, the mapping technology developed to help bloggers and citizen journalists share information about political violence in Kenya, is being used by news organisations and governments:

With every new application, Ushahidi is quietly transforming the notion of bearing witness in tragedy. For a very long time, this was done first by journalists in real time, next by victim/writers like Anne Frank and, finally, by historians. But in this instantaneous age, this kind of testimony confronts a more immediate kind: one of aggregate, average, good-enough truths.

Full story at this link…

Similar Posts:



December 21 2009

17:30

Glenda Cooper: When lines between NGO and news organization blur

[Not too long ago, it was clear who was a producer of news — and who were the sources who fed them. Not so in a world where the production of media has been democratized, and the rules that governed that production are up in the air. In this essay, journalist Glenda Cooper examines several cases where those lines have been blurred. This is the sixth part of our series on NGOs and the news. —Josh]

“Dear Sir. My name is Mohammed Sokor…from Dagahaley refugee camp in Dadaab. There is an alarming issue here. People are given too few kilograms of food. You must help.”1 Was this a note — as The Economist asked — delivered to a handily passing rock star-turned-philanthropist? An emotional plea caught on a BBC camera?

No, Mr. Sokor from Kenya is a much more modern communicator than that. In 2007, he texted this appeal to the mobile phones of two United Nations officials in London and Nairobi. He had found the numbers by surfing the Internet in a café at the north Kenyan camp.

The humanitarian world is changing. New information and communication technology is altering how we report, where we report from, and most of all, who is doing the reporting. These developments coincide with mainstream media coming under increasing financial pressure and withdrawing from foreign bureaux. This is a trend that extends beyond the United States. In early 2009, the think tank POLIS together with Oxfam published a report warning that international coverage is likely to decrease under the new public service broadcasting regime being worked out in the U.K. And in 2008, the U.K. tabloid the Daily Mirror said as part of the latest round of job cuts they were abolishing the post of foreign editor altogether. Meanwhile, citizen journalists and NGOs have been rushing to fill the gap. The mainstream media, getting free filmed reports and words, often sees this as a win-win situation. This raises three key issues:

— Do these new entrants to humanitarian reporting mean that we are seeing more diverse stories being told and more diverse voices being heard? Does the fundamental logic of reporting change?

— Are viewers/readers aware of the potential blurring of the lines between aid agencies and the media when NGOs act as reporters?

— How are aid agencies being affected by citizen journalists acting increasingly as watchdogs?

Media and aid agencies: a symbiotic relationship

The relationship between the media and aid agencies used to be well-defined and almost symbiotic in nature. This section will capture the essence of this relationship by taking a critical stance. The subsequent sections will then look at how this relationship is changing as well as the role citizen journalists play in this context.

The former UN emergency relief coordinator, Jan Egeland, has talked about the way the world’s disaster victims are caught up in a “kind of humanitarian sweepstakes…and every night 99 percent of them lose, and one percent win.” The one-percent winners usually owe their good fortune to media coverage.

To illustrate the argument, the table below shows the death toll in the December 2004 tsunami as judged by the UN Special Envoy, and the number of stories written in British newspapers (Dec. 19, 2004 to Jan. 16, 2005) as recorded by Lexis Nexis.2

Indonesia: 167,000 dead or missing; 343 stories
Sri Lanka: 35,000 dead or missing; 729 stories
Thailand: 8,200 dead or missing; 771 stories

The death toll in Indonesia dwarfs that of Sri Lanka and Thailand — it is roughly 20 times that of Thailand — yet Indonesia received barely half the media coverage as Thailand. Not only was it quicker, easier and cheaper for the media to get to Sri Lanka and Thailand than to Indonesia, but there were many more tourists blogging, sending in photographs, and filming from the first two areas, contributing those vital shots of the wave as it happened.

This media coverage translated into increased aid. So many aid workers poured into Sri Lanka that they were dubbed a “second tsunami.” In the year after the tsunami, a Disasters Emergency Committee evaluation noted that Indonesia had suffered 60 percent of the damage but received only 31 percent of the funding.3

But the tsunami was such an extraordinary event — perhaps it was a one-off? Not at all. Another example is provided by the difference in media coverage after the acute natural disasters in Burma and China in spring 2008. In Burma, the military junta tried to keep the international media out during Cyclone Nargis, while the Chinese authorities allowed the media in to follow the Sichuan earthquake. Figures reported in the Times on May 22, 2008 — 20 days after Nargis and 10 days after the quake — showed that despite Burma having almost twice as many people dead or missing, China was attracting far more aid.

These examples show that the more media-friendly the disaster, the more money it attracts. In the past, at its most extreme, disaster coverage has been a kind of moral bellwether for the nation.4 Aid agencies follow these waves of coverage and in turn provide access and footage to the media. Yet when covering famines, earthquakes, or tsunamis, the media have not always prioritized establishing objectivity, and aid agencies have not always sought to correct the lack of balance.

New ways of reporting disasters

In the past the relationship between aid agencies and journalism, as described above, prospered because only a few people had access to places where important events happened — or information about significant events occurring. Now, new technologies — including SMS, mobile video and the Internet — increasingly offer ordinary people the ability to reach audiences they could never have reached before. Dan Gillmor has described the December 2004 tsunami as a “turning point” that set in place this new dynamic. While not the first event to use user-generated content (UCG), it was perhaps the first disaster where the dominant images we remember come not from journalists but from ordinary people. As Tom Glocer, head of Reuters, noted, none of Reuters’ 2,300 journalists or 1,000 stringers were on the beaches when the waves struck.

Since then the speed, volume, and intensity of citizen journalism have all increased rapidly. In early 2005, the BBC received, on average, 300 emails a day. By mid-2008, this had risen to between 12,000 and 15,000, and the corporation employed 13 people around the clock solely to deal with UCG. With photographs and video the increase has been even more extreme. Two years ago, the BBC received approximately 100 photos or videos per week. Now they receive 1,000 on average and 11,000 in unusual circumstances. “It used to be exceptional events such as the tsunami or 7/7,” says Vicky Taylor, former head of interactivity, BBC, referring to the July 2005 London Tube bombings. “Now people are seeking out news stories and sharing information.”5

People are adapting different forms of media to make their words and pictures available to a wider audience. The microblogging site Twitter broke the news of the Chinese earthquakes, and Burmese bloggers used the social networking site Facebook to raise awareness of the 2007 protests. Also in Burma, many of those who sought to get out information about Cyclone Nargis opted to use email through Gmail and, in particular, its messaging service Google Talk, because the junta found Gmail more difficult to monitor.6

As new actors enter the formerly privileged information-sharing sphere dominated by the mainstream media and aid agencies, there are increased possibilities of more diverse stories being told, and more diverse voices being heard. In the past, those affected by humanitarian crises have traditionally been spoken for by aid agencies or mainstream reporters. For example, Michael Buerk’s seminal BBC report in 1984 which alerted the world to the famine in Ethiopia featured only two voices — his own and that of a (white) MSF doctor.7

Yet this is changing. As Sanjana Hattotuwa, of the Sri Lankan NGO Centre for Policy Alternatives, wrote: “citizen journalists [in Sri Lanka] are increasingly playing a major role in reporting deaths, the humanitarian fallout and hidden social costs of violent conflict.”8

In January 2008, Ushahidi (which means testimony in Swahili) was set up by four bloggers and technological experts. As Lokman Tsui explains in his essay in this series, the mashup used Google Earth technology to map incidents of crime and violence with ordinary people reporting incidents via SMS, phone or email. Ushahidi has been so successful that it was awarded a $200,000 grant from Humanity United to develop a platform that can be used around the world, and the website received an honourable mention in the 2008 Knight-Batten awards.

As Ory Okolloh, one of Ushahidi’s founders, says, “There were not many ’scoops’ per se but in some cases we had personal stories, e.g. about the victims, pictures that were not being shown in the media, and reports that were available to us before they hit the press. We were able to raise awareness (and for that matter learn of) a lot of the local peace initiatives that the mainstream media really wasn’t reporting.”9

Another Knight-Batten award winner is Global Voices, a nonprofit citizen media project set up at Harvard in 2004 which now has around 400,000 visits a month and utilizes 100 regular authors. It mainly links to blogs but is increasingly using Facebook, Twitter, Livejournal, and Flickr as well.

However, it is important to critically assess the significance and the impact of this trend. Verification of citizen journalism is difficult, hoaxing is an ever-present possibility, and the outpouring of material does not always elucidate. As Sarah Boseley of the Guardian reflected on her paper’s three-year commitment to report on the Ugandan village of Katine, when the paper gave out disposable cameras to the villagers in the hope of getting a new perspective, “most of them,” she said, “just took pictures of their cows.”

And such voices are most commonly framed in accordance with traditional news standards rather than challenging them. Citizen journalism may also unwittingly skew the definition of what is important towards the unexpected or the spectacular and the dramatic, focusing, for example, on a natural catastrophe such as an earthquake rather the long-term famine. As Thomas Sutcliffe of the Independent commented: “The problem with citizen journalists — just like all of us — is that they are incorrigible sensationalists.”10

Different narrators — more diverse voices?

But if every citizen with a cellphone or Internet access can become a reporter, where does this leave the traditional gatekeepers (journalists) and the gatekeepers to disaster zones (aid workers)?

As pointed out above, in the past, journalists turned to aid agencies to get access to disasters and “real” people. The agencies received a name-check in return for facilitating access. The result was a symbiotic relationship in which it was to the advantage of both sides that the humanitarian “story” was as strong as possible. With the growth of UGC, this control of the story has disappeared. As John Naughton, professor of public understanding of technology at the Open University, agrees: “UGC is now blowing that [relationship] apart.”11

As a result, three trends have developed. First, aid agencies have turned themselves into reporters for the mainstream media, providing cash-strapped foreign desks with free footage and words. Second, they have also tried to take on citizen journalists by utilizing the blogosphere. Third, the agencies are simultaneously facing challenges from citizen journalists who are acting as watchdogs and critics and who can transmit their criticisms to a global audience.

The origins of the first trend stretch back as far as the 1990s and the emergence of the 24-hour news cycle combined with, as Nik Gowing points out, aid agencies having to salvage their reputation after accusations of misinformation during the Rwandan genocide.12 The two agencies who led this charge in the U.K. were Oxfam and Christian Aid. They both hired former journalists to run their press operations as pseudo-newsrooms. Both agencies pushed the idea of press officers as “fireman” reporters — on the ground as soon as possible after a disaster occurred to gather and film information themselves. Oxfam protocol written for their UK press office in 2007, for example, demanded that a press officer sent to a disaster should use an international cellphone, a local cellphone, a satellite phone, a laptop (capable of transmitting stills and short video clips), and a digital camera.13

Perhaps the clearest example of this development occurred during Cyclone Nargis, when a package filmed by Jonathan Pearce, a press office at the aid agency Merlin, led the BBC Ten O’Clock News on May 18, 2008. (Pearce also wrote a three-part series on the subject for the Guardian.) In the two and a half minute report — which was revoiced by BBC correspondent Andrew Harding — all but 32 seconds had been filmed by Merlin. In many cases, such collaborations have worked out well; news organizations receive content at little or no cost, while aid agencies are able to further their mission and reach larger audiences. But there has also been a potentially dangerous blurring of lines.

Fiona Callister, of the Catholic charity CAFOD, said her press office sometimes provided features that went in UK national newspapers unchanged – just re-bylined with the name of a staff feature writer.14 And in a piece from the Observer entitled “In Starvation’s Grip,” with three bylines — Tim Judah, Dominic Nutt, and Peter Beaumont15 — it is not made clear that two of the authors were Observer journalists and one a Christian Aid press officer.

For some, this is a necessary evil; they would say that NGOs are the only entities seriously funding foreign reporting. The distinguished photographer Marcus Bleasdale said recently, “[o]ver the last ten years I would say 80-85 per cent [of my work] has been financed by humanitarian agencies. To give one example, in 2003 I made calls to 20 magazines and newspapers saying I wanted to go to Darfur. Yet I made one call to Human Rights Watch, sorted a day rate, expenses and five days later I was in the field.”16

Bleasdale has had a long and distinguished career, especially in Darfur. But there are concerns about what might happen in less experienced hands than his. Dan Gillmor has called humanitarians acting as reports “almost-journalism.” Some observers argue that as aid agencies become reporters and conform to dominant media logic, they lose opportunities for advocacy and also any credibility they formerly possessed. Yet the real problem appears to be as Gillmor warns: “They’re falling short today in several areas, notably the one that comes hardest to advocates: fairness.”

Certainly broadcasters now appear to be less laissez faire about using NGOs as their unpaid reporters than in the past. The Merlin package used by the BBC was so keen to mention its debt that Merlin was given numerous name-checks. This — in the U.K. at least — may be linked to a heightened sense of responsibility after a succession of scandals in 2007 that revealed “faked” footage in documentaries, and which resulted in both the BBC and the major commercial channel ITV being censured. These scandals themselves did not have anything to do with NGOs but added to a climate of caution in news as well as documentaries. Certainly by acknowledging the provenance, it absolved the news organizations of responsibility if the footage should later prove controversial — especially given that recent crises have included Burma and Gaza.

Second, aid agencies are also adapting by seeking to become citizen journalists themselves. The Disasters Emergency Committee, in its 2007 Sudan appeal, persuaded the three UK party leaders to each record a message that could be put up on YouTube. Save the Children has launched its own “fly on the wall” documentary from Kroo Bay in Sierra Leone. Rachel Palmer of Save the Children said that while numbers remained relatively small, those who clicked onto the site spent on average 4.5 minutes there. But the main success was not explaining development but to “bear witness…to show people the similarity between their own children and an eight-year-old in Sierra Leone.”17.

And in 2008, the British Red Cross even ventured into the world of alternate reality games to build the game Traces of Hope written by the scriptwriter of Bebo’s KateModern. Aimed at 15- to 18-year-olds in the U.K., it attempted to engage players and introduce them to the consequences of the trauma of war, and how the Red Cross helps victims of conflict.

While NGOs are educating themselves in new media, however, they are facing a challenge: citizen journalists are increasingly becoming watchdogs for NGOs, thus consolidating a third trend.

In her 2006 report for the UN Special Envoy, Imogen Wall points out that in Aceh there were two to three mobile phones per refugee camp. When I visited Banda Aceh in 2007, aid agencies had found to their cost that instead of being grateful beneficiaries there was an articulate and determined population using new media (such as texting, and digital photographs) effectively when they felt the reconstruction process was not going quickly enough. They would use such methods often in collaboration with traditional media such as the local newspaper Serambi Indonesia or the local TV news programme Aceh Dalamberita.

“The community is smart in playing the media game,” says Christelle Chapoy of Oxfam in Banda Aceh. “We have had the geuchiks (village chiefs) saying quite openly to us — if you don’t respond to our demands we will call in the media.”18

This may mean unwelcome criticism, or, at its most severe, it can put people in danger. Those aid agencies who find themselves attacked online in one area may find more serious consequences in other parts of the world. As Vincent Lusser of ICRC said: “In a globalised media environment, people even in remote conflict areas are connected to the Internet. Therefore our colleagues in Kabul have to think that what happens in Afghanistan can affect our colleagues elsewhere in the world.”

Conclusion

Citizen journalism can mean that more diverse voices — for example, earthquake survivors in Pakistan, tsunami survivors in Banda Aceh or bloggers in Burma — are being heard. This new wealth of angles can act as a corrective to the previous patriarchal approach where reporters and aid agencies acted as mouthpieces. Neither aid agencies nor the traditional media can return to the control they had in the past. The old certainties about the gatekeeping role that aid agencies had — and journalists utilized — have gone, and both sides are grappling with this new world.

It is important not to be too idealistic about citizen journalism. Without checks and balances, UGC can spread misinformation and even be used as a dangerous weapon — witness the ethnic hatred spread by SMS messages in the aftermath of the December 2007 Kenyan elections.

New media has also seen a potential blurring of boundaries between journalists eager for material but strapped for cash, and aid agencies fighting in a competitive marketplace and using more creative means to get stories placed. If journalists use aid workers’ words and footage they must clearly label it as such. If they are accepting a trip from an aid agency — so-called “beneficent embedding”19 — then they should be honest about it.

If aid agencies act as reporters they must consider whether they are acting as journalists or as advocates. While journalists — if sometimes imperfectly — work on the principle of impartiality, the aid agency is usually there to get a message across: to raise money, to raise awareness, to change a situation. When they act as journalists this often becomes blurred. The danger, as Gillmor points out, is a growth in “almost journalism,” a confusion both for aid agencies as to what they are trying to do, and for the viewer/reader about what they are being presented with.

For those agencies who are turning from traditional media to using their own websites, the key point is that to be successful, such footage and websites need to be of as good quality as those produced by traditional media for sophisticated consumers. The associated cost privileges the efforts of larger and well-funded NGOs.

Meanwhile agencies must realize that they are not the only ones grappling with new media. Citizen journalists have the potential to act as NGOs’ watchdogs, as the mainstream media retreat from foreign reporting. As the experience in Aceh and elsewhere shows, local people are not just grateful beneficiaries; instead, they can be articulate and angry critics.

And finally new information and communication technologies that enable these developments cannot be ignored. The Economist reports that following Mr. Sokor’s appeal, the WFP did boost rations in the Dagahaley refugee camp. Is that blunt text message a harbinger of things to come?

Glenda Cooper is a journalist and academic. She is an associate member of Nuffield College, Oxford. She was a visiting fellow at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism 2007-08 and the 2006-07 Guardian Research Fellow at Nuffield. She is a consulting editor at the Daily Telegraph.

References

Bleasdale, M. Speaking at “The News Carers: Are Aid Groups Doing too much Real Newsgathering? A Debate at the Frontline Club.” New York, February 28, 2008.

Cooper, G. “Anyone Here Survived a Wave, Speak English and Got a Mobile? Aid Agencies, the Media and Reporting Disasters since the Tsunami.” The 14th Guardian Lecture. Nuffield College, Oxford, November 5, 2007.

Cottle, S. and Nolan, D. “Global Humanitarianism and The Changing Aid-Media Field.” Journalism Studies 8, No. 6 (2007), pp. 862-878.

Gowing, N. “New Challenges and Problems for Information Management in Complex Emergencies: Ominous Lessons from the Great Lakes and Eastern Zaire in Late 1996 and early 1997.” Conference paper given at Dispatches from Disaster Zones conference, May 1998.

Hattotuwa, S. “Who’s Afraid of Citizen Journalists?” In TVEP/UNDP, Communicating Disasters. An Asia-Pacific Resource Book, 2007.

Judah, T., Nutt, D. and Beaumont, P. “In Starvation’s Grip.” The Observer, June 9, 2002.

Moeller, S. Compassion Fatigue: How the Media Sell Famine, Disease, War and Death. New York: Routledge, 1999.

Oxfam. “Guide to Media Work in Emergencies.” Internal document, Oxfam GB, Oxford, 2007.

Sutcliffe, T. “Ethics Aside, Citizen Journalists Get Scoops.” The Independent, January 2, 2007.

Notes
  1. The Economist 2007
  2. Cooper 2007
  3. Vaux 2005
  4. Moeller 1999
  5. Interview with Vicky Taylor, May 7 2008
  6. Interview with Samanthi Dissanayake, BBC producer, 7 May 2008
  7. Buerk 1984
  8. Hattotuwa 2007
  9. Email from Ory Okolloh, September 5, 2008
  10. Sutcliffe 2007
  11. Interview with John Naughton, November 27, 2006
  12. Gowing 1998
  13. Oxfam 2007
  14. Telephone interview with Fiona Callister, August 29, 2007
  15. Judah, Nutt, and Beaumont, 2002
  16. Bleasdale 2008
  17. Phone interview Jan 20, 2009
  18. Interview, Banda Aceh, 30 Apr 2007
  19. Cottle and Nolan 2007

December 05 2009

18:11

Democratizing the Geography of Information

As little as a year ago Google Maps had no geographic information about San Javier La Loma, a small working class neighborhood on the outskirts of Medellín where the ConVerGentes group of the HiperBarrio citizen journalism project is based. Some progress has been made, but as you can see from the satellite imagery, most of the streets are still not mapped, much less the parks, buildings and footpaths.

Screen shot 2009-12-05 at 5.21.PM 1.jpg

Now, compare that to the map of San Javier La Loma created by HiperBarrio and freely available with nearly unrestricted use on Open Street Maps:

Screen shot 2009-12-05 at 5.24.PM.jpg

There is clearly an aspect of amateurism to the cartography, but anyone who has been to La Loma will tell you that the second map is a much more useful representation of the community. All of the roads are represented, as are the church, school, and the labyrinthine network of steep footpaths which carry constant pedestrian traffic.

la loma

A resident of La Loma carrying a washing machine down the road.

In fact, much of the world is still a blank void on Google Maps, especially slums and lower income communities. The majority of Rio de Janeiro is remarkably well-mapped, and even includes public transit information. But if you live in a favela like Santa Marta (where Michael Jackson shot the video to "They Don't Care About Us") there is no street information at all:

Screen shot 2009-12-05 at 5.40.PM.jpg

Access to geographic information is crucial to the development of any community. As Mikel Maron, an evangelist of Open Street Maps, puts it: "Without basic knowledge of the geography and resources of [a community] it is impossible to have an informed discussion on how to improve the lives of residents."

Last Saturday Fredy Rivera, a leading mapper of Open Street Maps based in Bogotá, organized a workshop at the small public library in La Loma to teach its young residents how to make a map of their own community.

46159027.jpg

Gabriel Vanegas, the librarian in La Loma whose dedication is responsible for much of HiperBarrio's success, explained the background that led to the workshop:

In March of this year, thanks to the free software community, I had the opportunity to meet Fredy Rivera, a master of Linux and cartography, who will be with us to help us better understand the collective creation of maps. It will be an excellent opportunity to continue recognizing the community from the public library and through exercises of citizen journalism, free culture, participative history, and citizenship.

The workshop was later covered and summarized on the website of Medellin's Network of Libraries, a recipient of the Gates Foundation's 2009 Access to Learning award. Fredy Rivera posted a very useful summary of the contents of the workshops (in Spanish) on his blog.

break

Mark Graham has mapped the total number of of geotagged Wikipedia articles per language, location, and population. He found a "highly uneven geography of information." An article in The Guardian notes:

Almost the entire continent of Africa is geographically poorly represented in Wikipedia. Remarkably, there are more Wikipedia articles written about Antarctica than all but one of the 53 countries in Africa (or perhaps more amazingly, there are more Wikipedia articles written about the fictional places of Middle Earth and Discworld than about many countries in Africa, Asia, and the Americas).

all countries.jpg

The article goes on to optimistically wonder if this imbalance of information presents a new opportunity for Wikipedia's declining number of active editors: to democratize not just access to information, but what kind of information is made freely available. At one point iCommons was involved in organizing Wikipedia Academies to encourage local experts to fill in Wikipedia's sizable information gaps. (Unfortunately iCommons now seems more interested in publishing research reviews.)

Like Wikipedia, Open Street Maps, has seen an almost unbelievable explosion of activity in the past few years. But unlike Wikipedia, contributions don't seem to be declining. There is a strong commitment from within the community to produce valuable information not just about North America and Western Europe, but all communities regardless of class or location. In fact, last month a group of Open Street Map activists headed to Kibera, Kenya, one of the world's largest slums, to produce a better map of the area. Already their information has been integrated into Ushahidi to provide a real-time interface to local news events:

Screen shot 2009-12-05 at 6.48.PM.jpg

A similar project in Rio de Janeiro led by Viva Favela is also trying to integrate local citizen media with community-produced maps of favelas (including Santa Marta).

It is too early to know whether this flurry of cartographic activism will lead to any sort of sustained social change, but Robert Neuwirth's Shadow Cities offers a clear example of how access to information can serve as a catalyst for improved livelihoods:

A few years ago, the Water and Sanitation Program, a nonprofit affiliated with the United Nations and the World Bank, became interested in the water supply question in Kibera. The group issued a report on Kibera's water kiosks. By reading the fine print, you can determine how much Kibera people -- and by extension, residents of all the mud hut communities of Nairobi -- are being ripped off by the kiosk system. At 3 shillings per jerry can, Kibera residents pay 10 times more for water than the average person in a wealthy neighborhood with municipally supplied, metered water service. And that's when water is plentiful. When there's a shortage, metered rates don't go up, but the prices in Kibera do. So at those times people in Kibera pay 30 or 40 times the official price of water.

The group published a brochure about the study. They presented it to local and national politicians. There was only one bunch of people who never saw the study: the residents of Kibera.

Japeth Mbuvi, Operations Analyst for the program, explained why. "Our audience for this was not the people of Kibera, but the political structure," he told me. Then he added, "Anyway, maybe it's better not to publicize this: there could be riots."

I applaud Mbuvi for his frankness. He is one of the few people I have met at any of the large nonprofit agencies who was willing to be candid about his agency's shortcomings as well as its achievements.

Still, there's something sad about his concern.

Perhaps it's true that people in Kibera could riot over water. After all, Kibera has been the scenes of riots in the past -- most of them involving landlord tenant issue -- and scores of people have been murdered in the melees. Still, Kibera's people deserve to know the facts about their lives. What's the point of studying the water kiosks of Kibera if, when the study is done, the information is not shared with the people who are most at stake?
Older posts are this way If this message doesn't go away, click anywhere on the page to continue loading posts.
Could not load more posts
Maybe Soup is currently being updated? I'll try again automatically in a few seconds...
Just a second, loading more posts...
You've reached the end.

Don't be the product, buy the product!

Schweinderl