mobile Vulnerability Analysis and Mapping

Place: Not Applicable, _NO_MAIN_REGION
Food consumption patterns: diet, environment, society, economy and health Food consumption patterns: diet, environment, society, economy and health
Total Budget: € 1.260.000,00 | Period: From June 2013 To


The mobile Vulnerability Analysis and Mapping (mVAM) project provides for the use of remote mobile voice technology for the collection of household food security data in some of the world’s most vulnerable communities. mVAM is using voice calls and testing interactive voice response (IVR) technology, for short periodic surveys in IDPs settings in Somalia and DR Congo. Data collected through voice calls feed into established information systems, such as WFP’s regular Food Security Monitoring Systems that track trends over time. Remote data collection is expected to increase cost-effectiveness and timeliness of data collection, and will support critical decision making in the field of food security. 


United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) - Italy

Lead applicant

The World Food Programme is the world's largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger worldwide. In emergencies, WFP gets food to where it is needed, saving the lives of victims of war, civil conflict and natural disasters. After the cause of an emergency has passed, WFP uses food to help communities rebuild their shattered lives. WFP is part of the United Nations system and is voluntarily funded.

Innovative Support to Emergencies, Diseases and Disasters - Argentina

Initiative partner

InSTEDD designs and uses open source technology tools to help partners enhance collaboration and improve information flow to better deliver critical services to vulnerable populations.

Payson Center for International Development of Tulane University - United States

Initiative partner

The mission of the Payson Center is to catalyze sustainable human development among vulnerable populations in less economically developed countries through innovative and interdisciplinary education, research and service programs.

USAID - United States

Initiative partner

USAID is the lead U.S. Government agency that works to end extreme global poverty and enable resilient, democratic societies to realize their potential. The mVAM project has received financial support from USAID for the scale up of the project in 2014-2015.

Humanitarian Innovation Fund - United Kingdom

Initiative partner

The Humanitarian Innovation Fund supports organisations and individuals to identify, nurture and share innovative and scalable solutions to the challenges facing effective humanitarian assistance. The mVAM project received a grant from the HIF in 2013 for the piloting of phone surveys in Somalia and DRC. The HIF hosts on their website the mVAM blog, supports in disseminating project findings and other project visibility.


The mVAM has been the first project to rigorously test data collection through phone surveys for food security monitoring. The major advantages of voice surveys are its cost and time effectiveness compared to traditional surveys, and its flexibility. Our proof-of-concept in eastern DRC has shown that a short questionnaire can be collected remotely at a cost of US$3-5/questionnaire by SMS, and US$7-9 by voice, much lower than the usual US$ 20-40 range for face-to-face questionnaires in that area of DRC. Remote surveys/voice surveys also allow data collection from difficult access or conflict areas without exposing enumerators to risk. 

../file-system/small/pdf ../file-system/small/pdf Introducing mVAM Why are we piloting remote mobile surveys and what we have learned up to now.

mVAM supports food security monitoring systems in difficult environments by providing timely and high-frequency data, collected remotely through phone surveys. Information provided by mVAM is already being used by WFP local offices to improve food assistance programmes. mVAM is conducting two pilot projects, one in Mugunga 3 internally displaced persons (IDP) camp, near Goma, DRC, and one in Central Somalia. Here mVAM works with vulnerable, low-literacy communities that have extremely high poverty rates and food insecurity levels. In these settings assistance programmes are often not enough reactive to the changing needs of the population; changes in eligibility and rations tend not to be evidence based. Indeed, costs of primary data collection from households for humanitarian needs assessments are high and access, particularly in Somalia, is also an issue. As a result, the cost of providing assistance is high, while assistance is not effective as it should be. 

Mugunga 3 Mugunga 3 is an internally displaced people camp near Goma, DRC. Here mVAM is collecting household food security data through voice calls and testing interactive voice response (IVR) technology.
WFP Calling: What Did You Eat Today? Agnes, a widow whose husband was killed in fighting in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, lives in a camp near Goma with her six children. Once a month, she gets a call from a WFP operator who asks questions about what she and her children have been eating, and how they have been coping when short of food. Funded by the Humanitarian Innovation Fund, the mVAM project is piloting food security data collection through live and automated phone surveys.

The mVAM project has shown that using remote mobile technology for data collection is possible in vulnerable, low-literacy communities and that this practice is cost and time efficient. So far mVAM has reached about 600 IDPs in Congo and Somalia for several months, asking them questions related to their food consumption patterns and access to food. Thanks to mVAM, for the very first time WFP offices in eastern DRC and Central Somalia are receiving real time, reliable information on the food security conditions of IDPs in the camps. This information is already been used to increase the effectiveness of food assistance programmes (their targeting, eligibility and ratios) and monitor their impact. The project is also directly empowering beneficiaries. Indeed, a by-product of the programme is that it is increasing people access to phones; beneficiaries use the US$0.5 airtime credit, which is provided at the completion of each survey, to reach family and friends outside the camp.  

mVAM program recipients live in vulnerable, low-literacy communities. 100% of the total number of people mVAM reach are from chronically underserved populations. They have been displaced from their homes and have frequently suffered looting and in some cases gender-based violence. mVAM targeted population is composed by a majority of women (e.g. 50% of women are survey respondents in DRC and 90% in Somalia). One of these women is Agnes, a widow whose husband was killed in fighting in their home province of Masisi. She was herself severely injured and now she has to walk with a limp. She fled to Mugunga 3 camp, eastern DRC, with six children five years ago. Once a month, Agnes gets a call from a WFP operator who asks about what she and her children have been eating, and how they have been coping when short of food. Agnes feels empowered by owning a phone and some air credit. She can call her relatives in Masisi or someone for help if one of the children falls sick at night.

Agnes Agnes, one of our beneficiaries, is a widow whose husband was killed in fighting in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. She lives in Mugunga 3 with her six children.
Agnes at the market Every month, Agnes and other vulnerable people in the camp get a ration of maize and other commodities. To supplement this, Agnes does labouring jobs in nearby farms. With the money she earns, she can buy food in a local market.
Women in Mugunga 3 Women and children in Mugunga 3. Women represent the 50% of our respondents in Mugunga 3.

The project is run by the team in Rome (under WFP’s Food Security Monitoring and Analysis & Nutrition Service Unit) and by VAM teams in Goma (eastern DRC), and Nairobi and Galkayo (for Central Somalia). The team in Rome is composed by two food security analysts, a statistician and a project assistant. Its role is to manage the overall project, report to donors and support the Country Offices in the implementation. The VAM officers in Goma and Galkayo manage and supervision mVAM day-to-day activities in the field. The calls are placed by four call centre operators (two in Galkayo and two in Goma). The VAM teams are supported by IT technicians when necessary. Ultimately, WFP programme officers are those who use the information produced to improve food assistance. All colleagues involved in the mVAM project in Rome, Goma, Galkayo, and Nairobi work together towards the same goal and are bounded together by long hours of conference calls and endless email exchanges. 

Hamud, Central Somalia Hamud is our IT Assistant for Central Somalia. He takes care of the IVR machine.
Hello? It’s Galkayo on the line. Our Somalia team has set up a call center in the Galkayo office. When we started the project, we considered outsourcing our phone surveys to a private company based in Nairobi, Kenya. In the end, we decided against it and instead set up a call center in-house. We thought we would learn more by implementing the calls in-house than through a private service provider and in the process also build better synergies with the local service providers.
Hello? It’s Goma on the line. Call center operators have being trained in Goma (DRC) in January 2014. Calls started in February.
Rome team The team in Rome is composed by two food security analysts (Jean-Martin and Marie), a statistician (Silvia) and a project assistant (Lucia). The role of the team is to manage the overall project, report progress to donors and support the Country Offices in the implementation.
Team work In January 2014, the Goma office (DRC) activated and distributed 300 basic mobile phones to IDPs in Mugunga 3 camp. Mobile phone distribution was a labour-intensive process. Each of the phones had to be charged, and its SIM card manually activated. WFP’s number was entered as a contact on phone’s memory, so that now respondents can recognise an incoming call from WFP.
mVAM team in Goma In January 2014, Marie, from the Rome team, traveled to Goma to meet the mVAM staff working there. In January, the mVAM project reached an important milestone: after 6 months of preparations, mVAM launched live phone surveys. Internally displaced persons (IDPs) began to respond to WFP food security surveys by mobile phone.
../file-system/small/pdf ../file-system/small/pdf mVAM Goma staff chart This chart of the mVAM Goma staff shows how the activities of the mVAM project are organized. The same scheme applies to staff working in Central Somalia.

The mVAM project has been a protracted, time-intensive experiment; implementing mVAM has involved long hours of conference calls, and trial and error both in the preparatory and implementation phases. Problem-solving is engrained in the DNA of our headquarters and particularly of our field teams, who have found practical solutions to the implementation challenges that have emerged. For instance, when response rates to our first calls in DR Congo were below benchmarks, our team in Goma was able to zero in on the problem – access to electricity in the camp – and implement a durable solution – provision of a solar charging station – in a matter of days. In addition to setting up the charging station, a 7 members committee was elected among the phone survey respondents. The purpose of the group is to manage matters related to the phones, such as charging issues, and when needed, bring them to the attention of the camp management or the mVAM team. 

The mVAM project provides critical information to improve food assistance programmes. This leads to more efficiently targeted food assistance interventions, which in turn translate in less waste of resources together with improved outcomes in terms of food security and nutrition. Moreover, in the long term, the mVAM project will decrease the need for enumerators and officers to repeatedly travel long distances to communicate with populations in remote locations thus reducing the use of transports.  Moreover, mVAM will contribute to decrease the amount of paperwork in the offices, as the whole processes is run through phones and computers. Finally, the mVAM is concerned about its environmental impact on a day-to-day basis. mVAM solar phone charging station in Mugunga 3 is a good example of how the application of renewable energy technology can solve several of the problems that many Africans face every day in a sustainable manner.

Solar phone charging station at Mugunga 3 camp When test calls started, we realized that there were problems getting through to some people. Our team visited the camp and found out that access to electricity was the main problem. Many people kept their phones switched off to preserve battery life. Many camp residents are too poor to pay to charging their phones. It was agreed that setting up a small solar charging station was the most convenient and sustainable option.

The mVAM approach is is flexible and adaptable to all settings with a certain level of mobile phones diffusion and coverage. It is sustainable because its implementation costs are lower compared to other practices, and it needs little hardware. Currently, mVAM remote mobile data collection approach is being adapted to support WFP’s Ebola emergency operation in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. In this context, the remote mobile data collection has the obvious advantage of not putting enumerators at risk, as well as of providing real time data, critical in an emergency response. Our strategy holds that over the next 2-3 years, 20 or so countries where WFP currently facilitates or supports food security monitoring systems could be targeted. At scale, WFP will be able to offer this service to millions of food insecure people. Moreover, as WFP shares its knowledge with other humanitarian organizations and with host country governments, the overall scope for transferability is very large.

Results achieved by the mVAM projects are periodically shared with the rest of the humanitarian community through two main channels: the mVAM page on the WFP website and the mVAM project blog on the Humanitarian Innovation Fund (HIF) website. While the webpage provides updates on the results of the project (technical bulletins on the food situation of the surveyed IDPs camps), the blog provides a step-by step story of the mVAM experience, describing successes and challenges. The blog is greatly followed by other organizations’ specialists as well as donors. In addition to the webpage and the blog, the mVAM project has been documented through articles in academic journals (Africa Policy Journal), articles hosted by other organizations’ blogs (Daily Development, CDAC Network, and Humanitarian Practice Network) and publicized by newspapers such as The Guardian. 

../file-system/small/pdf ../file-system/small/pdf List of links and web references List of links and web references
../file-system/small/pdf ../file-system/small/pdf mVAM Info Sheet, August 2014 mVAM one pager summarizing the activities of the project.