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Event mapping in Congo

Resources

  • Data (both codes and text messages) received via SMS during the  Voix des Kivus pilot project’s period of operation (2009-2011);
  • Working paper discussing data quality from the Voix des Kivus system and using the data for 1) a downstream experiment to assess the conflict effects of international aid, and 2) an examination of conflict diffusion in Eastern Congo;
  • Summary information about Voix des Kivus;
  • Implementation Guide and all the tools necessary to implement a project like Voix des Kivus (computer code to create figures and bulletins, codebook and other useful documents, etc);
  • Reflections on the implementation and ethical considerations of this project.

Coverage by Media and Policy Reports

The Concept

Voix des Kivus provides a technology to populations in South Kivu that lets them post accounts of events that affect their daily lives, from disease outbreaks and crop failures to population movements and conflict incidents. For participating communities it provides a system for creating histories, archiving testimonies, and communicating with the rest of the world. The information that is gathered can form an important resource to researchers and practitioners working in the region, providing a tool to learn more about the situation on-the-ground in difficult-to-access areas.

The Pilot

Voix des Kivus is running as a pilot project led by Columbia University with support from USAID in order to assess the feasibility of using a decentralized cell phone based SMS platform for collating events information.  A key objective is to learn whether such a decentralized system is technically feasible in the region and seen to be of value to participating communities and potential users. The pilot was launched in four villages in 2009 and has been monitored closely in order to assess and address any concerns raised by participants. It is presently (end 2010) operating in 15 villages.

The People

The key participants in the Voix des Kivus project are the cell phone holders. In each participating village there are three holders, one representing the traditional leadership, one representing women’s groups, and one elected by the communities. Holders are provided with phones and monthly credit, they participate publicly and any village member can seek to post messages through them. Consent of the village is required for participation and continued engagement by holders requires that they post at least one message a week, although that message may be empty. All content is posted on a purely voluntary basis by holders and is done in a revenue neutral way

The Technology

The technology for Voix des Kivus is cheap to set up and simple to use. Built on the FrontlineSMS software, the system allows holders to use any cell phone to send numeric or full text posts. On the receiving end there is a standard cell phone linked to a laptop linked to the internet. Messages received are automatically filtered according to origin, coded for content, cleaned to remove duplicates, and merged into a database. Graphs and tables are automatically generated which can then be automatically mounted into bulletins spanning any period of interest and with different levels of sensitivity. Translations of non-coded text messages are undertaken manually.

The Data

Data from public reporting using the Voix des Kivus system is gathered and collated without editing (except to remove duplicate entries). During the pilot there is informal verification but there is no systematic auditing of reports made. Reports should be viewed and interpreted as statements made by village representatives and not as independent assessments of conditions on the ground.  All data collected and compiled is returned to the villages, coarsened data (without village identifiers) is made available online and finer data (with village but no individual identifiers) is made available in consultation with villages to organizations that are in a position to respond to village appeals.

The Potential

Results so far from the pilot suggest that the system is easy to establish and is valued by participating villages. It is being used to record events but also to voice concerns and requests by otherwise isolated populations. Villagers focus as much or more on developmental concerns as they do on the conflict situation. There appears to be great potential for growth in these directions. A promising extension would be to allow users to place automated requests for information, which could have important governance and development applications. For example if an organization maintained information on small grants, then users from a particular village would be able to send an SMS to request information on the status or size of their grant and receive an immediate automated response with the information. In the same way the system could be used to provide information on commodity prices, events announcements, medical and technical data, and so on.

For a five minute presentation of Voix des Kivus – given at the 2009 International Conference on Conflict Mapping in Cleveland – please click here.

Bulletins

Each Monday a Bulletin is produced and disseminated that presents events that took place in the preceding week. Because of the sensitive nature of some of the information there are two different types of Bulletins: a nonsensitive issue that can be distributed widely, and a sensitive issue that is shared with organizations that have received clearance from Voix des Kivus. The latter includes several development organizations in Bukavu, DR Congo. Please find here the most recent nonsensitive Bulletins: