Technology is changing how Oxfam works especially in crises. Here, Abdullah Ampilan, a member of Oxfam’s emergency Response and Resilience Team explains the difference that using two applications has made when it comes to conducting surveys and registering beneficiaries in the field.
Using new technology can enable us to act quickly and minimise logistical requirements, so that we can achieve more. In humanitarian response where time means lives, using data tools to support our survey and beneficiary registration processes is enabling us to be more effective, efficient and accountable.
In the Philippines during the Typhoon Haiyan Response we used Mobenzi, a survey tool and android mobile phone app, which saved a lot of time in data collection and data processing.
The survey questions were uploaded to the Mobenzi platform and then synced to the apps on each phone used by our data collectors in the field. When interviewing beneficiaries all they had to do was click through the questions and select the relevant response; when they returned to the office and connected to the internet the results of their day’s work were automatically uploaded, providing us with an immediate overview of all our data. This meant that I was able to see real time trends of the survey activities, and there was the potential to adapt the survey or the programme even half way through.
When I project managed a baseline paper-based survey in Liberia in 2013, it took 59 individuals, serving as supervisors, data collectors, data entry operators, a coordinator and a driver, six weeks to complete. But, when I facilitated a similar survey in the Philippines using Mobenzi, two supervisors, ten data collectors and a driver completed the data collection and produced a report in just two weeks. The office based data entry element of the survey, and the discrepancies that could creep in at this stage, were cut out entirely.
In the Typhoon Haiyan response we also used Last Mile Mobile Solutions (LMMS) developed by World Vision International to register beneficiary data. Oxfam started using this tool in 2013 and was influential in inputting to the design. The system was used to keep track of who had received and who was eligible for distributions of food and non-food items, and cash. Each beneficiary received an identity card with a unique bar code which sped up the distribution process and reduced queues as each person’s record could be found with a quick scan.
An advantage of the LMMS system, like Mobenzi, is that the app is designed to be fully functional in the field when there is no access to the internet.
The benefits of using tools like Mobenzi and LMMS are clear, but introducing them into our work has not been plain sailing. It has involved investing in training and capacity building to enable our teams to use the tools, overcoming fears and convincing staff of the benefits of the new techniques. Everyone uses phones, machines, cameras, etc. to a certain degree but using these tools in our programme work is new for many of us. Initially I too had doubts and I wasn’t confident in my ability to use the tools. But I have proven that sceptics can become the biggest fans!
Another key issue to address is data management. Never before have we had the ability to transmit, duplicate, access and sort data so easily. Sensitive information has to be protected and the level of access should be restricted according to the sensitivity. This is especially important when it comes to protecting information about sensitive issues such as Ebola, HIV/AIDS, security, and gender-based violence. We’ve developed a Responsible data policy to help us as we address these issues.
I hope to see Oxfam leading the way in the use of ICTs in its humanitarian and even development work. We still have some way to go to embed the use of ICTs in our programmes and to build staff capacity, but the potential for improved effectiveness and efficiency, enabling us to save more lives, is clear.
Photo credit: Oxfam