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) - ItalyLead 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 - ArgentinaInitiative 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 StatesInitiative 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 StatesInitiative 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 KingdomInitiative 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.
PILOTING MOBILE VOICE TECHNOLOGY FOR REMOTE HOUSEHOLD FOOD SECURITY DATA COLLECTION
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.