Years ago I was involved with ALNAP in studying innovation for the humanitarian sector. Kim Scriven was a researcher working on studying innovation and the challenges to innovation. Below is a reposting from Kim’s HIF blog where he reflects on LMMS and the long road to innovation.
Published: Jul-10-2014 on the Humanitarian Innovations Fund website.
Last month I attended a workshop session in sunny Geneva, bringing together the people who’ve been involved in the development and testing of Last Mile Mobile Solutions (LMMS). LMMS is an information technology solution that supports ‘last mile’ management functions, by digitizing recipient lists, and recording exactly what has been distributed to who, when and where. By doing this, it can strengthen the effectiveness and accountability of service delivery such as food or cash distributions. An overview of the system can be found here. By digitising the final interaction between the aid system and the user, it has the potential to collect powerful data, improve the experience of the affected population, and bring aid agencies in line with the basic practices of private sector distribution and logistics firms.
This was an interesting session for me:
The Cash Learning Partnership May Bulletin edition gives details on a recent study on beneficiary accountability using IT systems. The study was conducted in Tacloban, Philippines and in Maradi, Niger. A copy of the bulletin is listed here.
In May 2014, World Vision with funding from the Canadian Government conducted a study on beneficiary accountability and the use of Last Mile Mobile Solutions (LMMS is a mobile IT platform for humanitarian service delivery).The study covered World Vision and partner agencies using LMMS in shelter, food and cash distributions in the Philippines and Niger. Using a structured interview format, which included questions relating to the Principles set out in the document: Protecting Beneficiary Privacy (CaLP, 2014), meetings were held with beneficiaries and agency staff with experience of LMMS.
That term needs to enter the vernacular of every aid worker. On Friday 23rd May, at 6:42 PM here in Kuala Lumpur, I logged on and witnessed a live distribution of items run by World Vision in a small corner of Kenya (Thavu in the division of Kathonzweni in Makueni).
This innocent sounding activity is the culmination of … well, I can’t tell you how much work.
Over the last year, we have been slogging away to create an alternative architecture for how LMMS can be taken to the next level … infrastructure, architecture, security, more web services, and deployment methodologies to quickly scale systems for World Vision using Amazon Web Services. This is cutting edge stuff!
Essentially, if a World Vision country office or a field operation team is assured of Internet connectivity, we knew that we could help empower them to access one single LMMS server to perform all their operational needs. Just needed some time and some money to do it. Now if your eyes have glazed over. Unglaze ‘em! Seriously this is a BIG deal. It can mean fewer expenses on hardware costs (maintenance, replacements etc), it can a mean a small centralized tech team to do the backend set up for you, it can simplify your field staff lives, it can mean one step consolidation of data for you. It could also mean sharing that data with other stakeholders if that’s deemed cool.
Can I tell you how much I ♥ sprint reviews? A lot. Working with fields practitioners always takes me to a happy place. Sprint reviews are those special sessions where we host real-life users of the system (from all over the world – this session had people from Niger, Canada, Lebanon, Kenya, Malaysia, Philippines and the UK, representing Oxfam, CRS, WorldVision, and Medair) to showcase actual working software. No PowerPoints (hallelujah!), no screen shots – just actual, delicious, ooey-gooey working code! We picked up a number of volunteers from the Manila event (see here) and last Thursday we went through the latest additions to the code base. I’d like to take this opportunity to recap what we presented and to inform the broader community of LMME’ers (and those who are just generally interested) on Sprint 3′s features.
Since there was quite a bit of information presented, grab a cuppa, get comfy and read on. In tonight’s posting, I’d like to start by introducing you to the export capability of household data from our systems.
So I hear you saying “export shhmecport Jay – why would anyone want to export data?”
At the end of March we had an awesome time with field users from Oxfam, World Vision and Medair. Downtown Manila never experienced a Buy-a-Software-Feature session, quite like it! There were a few stragglers from UN OCHA and Save with us (most there just to make sure that we behaved ourselves … and to tell us all about cash programming. This said, I did notice a little bit of envy emanating from these non-LMMS’ers. FYI to those laggards – I know a guy who’ll sell the software to ya for peanuts – call me).
What was the scoop for this session? Read more
A year has passed since an alliance of insurgents known as the Seleka stormed the capital of the Central African Republic (CAR) and seized power in an armed struggle. The period since has witnessed horrendous violent atrocities including extreme inter-communal violence made even worse following the withdrawal of the Seleka from the capital in January of this year. Mob mentality, often tied to religious affiliations, has resulted in rapes, murder, torture, the abduction and recruitment of children by armed groups, pillage and the destruction of property (including razing entire villages).
The scale of the emergency is immense:
- Humanitarian agencies are estimating over 2.5 million people have been affected and are in need of humanitarian assistance.
- OCHA estimates that 20% of the population (almost 1 million people) have been displaced, with over 585,000 displaced internally within the CAR and another 356,000 as refugees in neighboring countries (as of May 02 2014).
- UNICEF has reported that the number of children being treated for severe acute malnutrition at the Bangui Pediatric Hospital has tripled since the beginning of this year. Many more are expected to become malnourished in the coming months.
In this context, aid workers struggle to bring humanitarian intervention to the vulnerable communities. Read more
2013 ended with a flurry of activities: A major product release to the software, emergency deployments to the Philippines, support for our partners like Medair in Lebanon. Quite a bit to write about! But alas its Valentines day and I’m late for my dinner-date with my wife. So I’m going to cop out and give you re-posting of Reuters publication of IT being used in the Philippines which includes the journalist’s review of LMMS.
The only additional snippet I’ll add is that I have just returned from Cebu in the Philippines where my colleague Richard and myself had the privilege to observe how Oxfam was doing with their deployments of the LMMS system. I was over the moon with the speed at which Oxfam staff Read more
“Makes our work more efficient, operations more transparent, will empower field staff, will help us do more & faster – just amazing! Also it is actually quite intuitive & user-friendly!” Participant comment from a shortened LMMS workshop in the UK with Oxfam & Medair.
LMMS has been designed for aid workers who perform their job activities in remote, often off-the-grid field locations. The operational needs of these staff have been analyzed to look at ways in which we can help them to become more efficient in organizing and performing humanitarian work. The result of that analytical work is software that has been designed for better registering of beneficiaries and improved delivery of humanitarian services associated with aid distributions to people affected by disasters. Individuals who are active users of LMMS are typically field staff (hence the “Last Mile” in LMMS). This said, our efforts to work with agencies that are newer to LMMS, will often bring in people whose work isn’t necessarily field-based. Many of these individuals will work at an NGO’s headquarters and may be somewhat removed from how this IT system can be applied to field operations. That makes things tricky as we come together to work on the goals of doing better humanitarian work through technology.
World Vision’s Last Mile Mobile Solutions development team is pleased to announce our partnering agreement with an industry leading Agile software development organization called ThoughtWorks.
ThoughtWorks describes itself as a software company and a community of passionate, purpose-led individuals. Our early indications are that “ThoughtWorkers” certainly live up to their reputation as “disruptive thinkers delivering technology solutions against the toughest challenges, while … creating positive social change”.
This past Tuesday we hosted a fantastic sprint review session for users! The Humanitarian and Emergency Affairs division of World Vision was there, along with people from Zimbabwe and Kenya. Niger’s representative unfortunately had connection problems (perhaps this posting will make up for them not being able to make it).
This review showcased a number of features that we have been working on for the upcoming major release of the both the Server and Mobile Client applications. I’ll be posting updates on each of the sprint reviews that we do on this site as a way to share with readers of this blog, the working code that we demoed during these sessions.