(The Humanitarian Social Network)
So, by way of background.
Anyone who's read any account of the post-earthquake aid effort in Haiti will have seen reports of sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) in the delivery of assistance... People being made to pay for access to programmes, women and girls being coerced into exchanging sex for assistance etc.
The areas of service delivery that should be strengthened in order to prevent or respond to these practices are many, but in this forum I wanted to talk about just one: getting accurate information out to the widest possible audience about how programmes are meant to work (information that a programme is being considered and who will have input at planning stage (and how), criteria for inclusion, processes for assessments, rights and obligations of beneficiaries, rights and obligations of service providers, how to complain or provide other feedback etc)
There seems to be a heavy reliance on "community leaders" and/or "community mobilisers" to get information out, particularly where we feel literacy might be low among target groups or where outsiders might not easily gain adequate access to provide information directly. Working with key community members can certainly help navigate these obstacles, but in many instances I'm not sure how well we monitor their effectiveness in getting the information to the more marginalised people who are often those we want to ensure we reach.
Knowledge is power and the gatekeepers to information on how to access assistance wield enormous power. In Haiti we've seen that power abused repeatedly.
The idea of having trusted individuals providing a link into their communities still has its benefits, but I think there are dangers inherent in relying solely on this approach.
One of the measures being proposed by one organisation here in the establishment of a complaints mechanism is a telephone hotline (and as complaints mechanisms go, I'm aware of many of the pluses and negatives of this as a tool... I'd like to focus for the moment on what's coming next).
I'm wondering whether (and how easily) the infrastructure for this hotline might be extended to information provision as well?
It would surely be prohibitively expensive to have staff at the end of the phone fielding every inquiry about programmes, but what I thought might be useful was the ability to call (toll-free) and either listen online to recorded information covering all the kinds of topics I'd mentioned at the start of this post, depending on what stage of the programme cycle you were at) or possibly the ability to dial a number and have an MP3 download to your phone so you could sit down at your leisure and skip from topic to topic.
It would have its limitations... Although I've seen hordes of young Haitian men and women on taptaps listening to music via their phones, I realise their parents may not be familiar with how to download an MP3.
However, if we're talking about preventing/responding to SEA, young women are a key constituency and this might be a good way to reach them. They can access the information without drawing attention to the fact and once it's on their phone, they can share it further, with the accuracy of the message assured, because there is no personal interpretation involved in the dissemination.
We'd still want to involve community mobilisers - their role is more than just the dissemination of information, after all. But this could also be a useful tool for them, increasing the consistency of the message.
The same MP3 could be played over a loudspeaker at key public locations and most certainly in the waiting areas of any facility attached to programme delivery. The waiting rooms in clinics. The queues at distributions... (I would also love to see basic public health/human rights messages disseminated at these kinds of locations - this has always struck me as a missed opportunity).
As I mentioned early on, I'm not suggesting for a second that a recorded message is the solution to all our problems in communicating with beneficiaries. Please don't get me wrong. But I'm wondering whether it might be one useful tool - not dependent on literacy, accessible to virtually all (everyone at least knows someone with a phone), ensures anonymity (virtually invisibility, in fact) and puts the same basic information in each user's hands, so that information is not monopolised by a chosen few...
So, I've strayed a little from my initial question on telephony. Sorry. The basic questions are:
1) is whether the MP3 download system is difficult to implement?
2) does anyone have any examples of this having been used and, if so, how did it go?
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You're triggering a number of thoughts, here, but to get right to your questions:
I'm not aware of anyone having done this (other members in this group might be more up-to-date, though. ICTs is not my thing). But what you're describing seems like the logical next step in decades-long string of innovations in using localized mass communication to deliver information and advocacy messaging.
Offhand, and not being a technical expert, I'd think that it should be possible to create short messages for download in much the same way that users download ring tones or music. You'd want to know more about how those Haitians in tap-taps are getting the music onto their phones? Are they downloading it wirelessly? Are they syncing with a computer somewhere? This would make quite a difference in how you'd deliver messages via cell-phone.
You also raise a number of interesting questions around the application of humanitarian accountability standards - would love to see you cross/or partially re-post in the "Accountability & Transparency" working group!
I can see great things growing out of AidSource. Seriously. This is an amazingly good idea and one that we certainly have the technology for, granted the other "means" (money and will) exist.
I'm still deeply inspired every time I read something about farmers in the middle of Africa having mobile phones and receiving prices on their produce through SMS, etc.. I would've (naively) thought that to be too complicated to work. But it did. And if THAT did, I'm sure this could too. (But I've never actually worked in aid, so my opinion doesn't count for much. I'll give you moral support every step of the way, though =P).
I totally think it's possible and would be great. Some examples to look at and some tools you could consider below. I think you're right on target (I'm currently really looking at aid transparency and governance and the integration of ICTs there so this is a great question/actual use case scenario). As you are suggesting, I would look at a variety of channels, not just the mobile, not just the community leaders, etc. Community radio is combined with SMS and voice is a nice combo. Buzz terms you'll want to google "interactive voice response" (IVR).
Check out Freedom Fone http://www.freedomfone.org/ and
FrontlineSMS Radio (which is soon to be well-integrated with freedom fone) http://radio.frontlinesms.com/
Also check out http://www.equalaccess.org/approach-impact/how-work/ for a overall view of their work, and this case study: http://www.equalaccess.org.np/about/news-and-events/291-ssmk-and-un... and also more on IVR http://mobileactive.org/equal-access
I don't know Haiti well enough to now if it's common to download mp3s, etc..
Ahhhh. I knew you'd be a good one to ask, Linda! Thanks!!
Will check out and share with colleagues the resources you've pointed to.
Get in touch with the Red Cross in Haiti. Sharon Reader should still be there. (email@example.com)...tell her I put you guys in touch. They do a version of this already through mobile phones under their beneficiary communications and accountability programme. One link to their work is here. And a better one is here where they mention also working on gender based violence issues which is related to what you want to do with it. Don't start from square one! I am pretty sure what they are doing can be adapted effectively for what you want...they used sms for large scale messaging on cholera using digicel towers that they have mapped. They also run a call in radio programme (something they started in Indonesia with the Irish Red Cross in the tsunami). They have other things going on as well...they did a radio programme in the Pak floods too...video here (and I am in it!).
I also know that Oxfam was using a hotline and I think AmX might have tried it also with their cash programmes...worth getting in touch with Oxfam food security/livelihood people around that...not sure who is doing that anymore over there...
And finally, message fellow AidSource Timo Luege...he was doing straight comms in Haiti but will know about this other stuff for sure.
Let us know how it goes.
spectacular! Thanks so much.
Will definitely link up with each of those contacts. At this stage it's just an idea at my end, rather than a concrete plan, but getting feedback from those who've used similar approaches in the same context will be invaluable when the time comes to convince management that it can work and should be tried.
Very grateful for your input.