Thursday, July 22, 2010

RapidSuivi, Tostan’s Future Real-Time Monitoring System

Tostan’s collaboration with UNICEF provides a unique opportunity for Tostan to improve the monitoring and evaluation capabilities of its Community Empowerment Program (CEP). By adopting UNICEF’s RapidSMS technology, Tostan aims to design a platform for real-time monitoring in combination with geographical analysis that will facilitate strategic decision-making regarding how to employ resources, work with communities, and track impact.

The purpose of RapidSuivi is to address certain issues that can hinder adequate monitoring and evaluation of Tostan’s CEP. The CEP lasts for 30 months, consisting of in-the-field learning, community organization, and outreach and grassroots advocacy, and contributes to the overall development of participants as they engage with their community in designing, carrying out, and sustaining community-led activities.

"How It Works" - Tostan 2010

Challenges that Tostan faces in monitoring activities include inadequate follow-up and capitalization on the success of field operations. The lag in receiving data in Tostan’s main offices hampers timely data analysis and digestion.  Simply put, community-led activities can be spontaneous and Tostan representatives cannot be present at every event or report on all of them. The implementation of RapidSuivi would address this issue by providing up-to-the-minute data to be reviewed and analyzed by Tostan’s Monitoring, Evaluation, Research & Learning (MERL) Department. Naturally, it is in Tostan’s best interest to identify where programs are achieving results and to continue to allocate support to those villages. RapidSuivi will provide the MERL department with the most recent data, helping Tostan to identify areas where results have been achieved and where progress is still needed.

Another issue the real-time platform will address is the demand for increased CEP supervision by Tostan. The real-time monitoring system will provide Tostan with the unique ability to view current data and information sent from the villages where it has programs. This provision of real-time data will further help Tostan in analyzing the effectiveness of its programs as well as identifying areas where a program may be lagging, and thus requiring more assistance or oversight from Tostan headquarters.

While achieving better efficiency in analyzing and organizing data will help increase Tostan’s supervisorial abilities, another main benefit of the real-time system will be the establishment of a database of up-to-the-minute information that will allow Tostan to create a more effective system of support for its village programs. As stated, there are many benefits to having instant access to the most recent data. The creation of the real-time database will assist in the objectives of monitoring and evaluating Tostan projects. It will also help to identify areas where Tostan’s programs have been successful and thus require further assistance in continuing program activities or where the programs have been ineffective and more oversight may be required.

Benjamin Bryan, 
Project Assistant MERL Dpt

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Talking RapidSMS in Vélingara

Last week I traveled to Vélingara, a department in Southern Senegal, to talk to community members about their experience with the Jokko module and with the RapidSMS-based Community Forum. Once there, I met up with Malick Niang (Proj. Coordinator for Senegal), Finté Boiro (Assistant Coordinator, Kolda), Alimatou Diao and Almamy Yoro Badji (Supervisors, Kolda), and we headed out into the villages.

For those of you who are new to the Jokko Initiative, a brief recap : In April 2009, Tostan collaborated with UNICEF to launch the RapidSMS-based « Community Forum » in 15 villages in the department of Vélingara where the Jokko module was being taught.

Vélingara department, Senegal. Villages where the Jokko module was taught marked with a pink dot. 

In a nutshell, the Community Forum is a practical, SMS-based application that allows a community member to disseminate information to a virtual network of his or her peers by sending a single text message to Tostan’s server. In the villages where we piloted the Community Forum, participants in the Jokko module not only learned how to use a mobile phone and send text messages, but received training in RapidSMS technology. Our goal : to provide community members with tools to bolster their local development initiatives- especially those that involve mobilizing people around common causes to effect positive social change.  

One year later, it was high time for a field visit to talk RapidSMS with community members. We split our time between two primarily Pulaar villages, Sare Dialo and Barkatou, in which we had identified many "power users": people who frequently send messages to the Community Forum on themes related to development and social mobilization.

With this tool, the Jokko team is able to visualize all text messages sent in the Community Forum.

The feedback we received confirmed many of our initial hopes. Overwhelmingly, community members find the Community Forum to be extremely beneficial to their communities and would like to see the system expanded to other villages and regions of the country. We also found that many of those using RapidSMS were not participants in the Jokko module, and some don’t even live in the villages- news and know-how traveled fast!

Alimatou and I jump into a group shot of the women and children of Barkatou.

So what did RapidSMS users have to say? Those interviewed confirmed much of what we already knew as members of the Community Forum ourselves : community members use RapidSMS to disseminate information and to organize meetings and events on an array of themes including vaccination campaigns, bed net distribution for malaria prevention, village clean-ups and school enrollment for children.

For me, two anecdotes were particularly illustrative of the beneficial potentialities of RapidSMS technology, and of SMS technology in general.

In Sare Dialo, we spoke with two RapidSMS users, Khadiatou M’Ballo and Dieynabou Baldé, who are physically disabled. Both are also extremely active in local development issues and described how they used the Community Forum for these purposes. Of greater interest to me, however, was the story of social empowerment that emerged from their testimonial. Dieynabou learned how to read, write, and send a text message in Tostan's education program. Now she uses the Community Forum to arrange transportation to community events that shy might not otherwise be able to attend.

Khadiatou M’Ballo and Dieynabou Baldé, local activists and RapidSMS users in Sare Dialo.

A second anecdote, related to me by multiple users, is emblematic of the potential of RapidSMS technology to accelerate the diffusion of and to help reinforce positive social change : A man wanted to have his young daughter cut, despite the fact that his village had collectively decided to abandon the harmful traditional practice of female genital cutting. Other villagers sent messages to the Community Forum to warn community members of the man’s intentions. The news spread rapidly, and in the face of overwhelming social pressure, the man renounced his intention to have his daughter cut.  As many community members we spoke with pointed out, mobile technology can be harnessed to accelerate the grassroots movement in Senegal for the nationwide abandonment of FGC and early/forced marriage. 

Back in Dakar, the Jokko team is finalizing a new and improved Jokko module- the fruit of our Capitalization Seminar back in May- and preparing for the early Fall launch of the Jokko community telecenters, in collaboration with Rural Energy Foundation.

Lindsay Powell

Blog adapted by Salim Drame