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Saying Goodbye is Bitter Sweet

Eight years ago, I wrote the original concept note for what would become LMMS. At that time, the solution envisaged was one of using “robust” mobile devices. These were pre-smartphone clunkers (what we affectionately termed a ‘brick’). The thinking was to design a software system on these bricks that would help emergency responders deal with the complexities from rapid onset emergencies to slower, protracted crises.

As it turned out, the first few years of our work was completely preoccupied with the nuances of slow onset disasters. With the support of WV’s Food Programming teams, we carved a space to work on an innovative solution that soon proved itself useful for field practitioners within World Vision and beyond. Over the last number of years, we have since grown that software to new heights: a brand new client-base comprised of multiple humanitarian agencies; a diverse user group including rapid emergency staff who handle human displacements, earthquakes, typhoons and other such responses; the capability to implement cash and electronic credit transfers in addition to managing the dispersal of traditional relief aid items; the capability to leverage modern technological advancements from cheaper smartphone devices to Cloud-based infrastructure for deploying centralized versions of the system, …

Today, LMMS is being used in urban and rural contexts, in refugee camps and in more settled communities. The system is being used under a variety of architectures ranging from multiple remote server deployments to consolidated servers being used by multiple agencies and local governments working together – a reality that at times, is hard to believe. In the coming weeks, one major international NGO, outside of World Vision, will be formally announcing their global adoption of LMMS across their various country operations. I’ll be monitoring the news feeds for the official word, but by the time the formal announcements are made, I will have moved on to new projects outside of World Vision and LMMS.

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Reposting of Eyes Wide Shut

BELGRADE, 26 August 2015 (IRIN) – Biometrics, for those of you who haven’t spent the last 10 years swearing at the automated passport gates at Heathrow, is the use of human measurements for identification. The most familiar biometrics are fingerprints, but the computer-powered scanning of eyes and faces is being implemented in a growing range of contexts. The origins of modern biometrics lies in the identification of criminals, but it wasthe war on terror that turned biometrics into the $13.8 billion industry it is today.

As a result the technology has leapt ahead in recent years – and leapt into some surprising places. You might use your fingerprint to access your smartphone, but everybody gets fingerprinted now, including schoolchildren.Facebook can recognise you even if it can’t see your face, but even music festival organisers have decided that facial recognition technology is a good bet. Despite longstanding concerns about privacy, biometrics clearly have their uses, and a growing range of sectors have been implementing them – including the humanitarian industry.

Biometrics in the humanitarian context are ostensibly focused on preventing identity fraud, but the basic dynamic was captured in this 2006 report from the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, in Malaysia:

“Nang Piang, a refugee from Myanmar, placed his finger tentatively on the biometrics scanner… ‘I don’t know what it is for, but I do what UNHCR wants me to do,’ he said… ‘This is an important step for UNHCR Malaysia as we strengthen the security of our registration system to prevent fraud,’ said Volker Türk, head of UNHCR in Malaysia, ‘Such a security measure will certainly enhance the credibility of UNHCR’s registration system in the eyes of the Malaysian government…’”

This statement makes clear that biometric registration is driven by the interests of national governments, technology companies and aid agencies – in that order.

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UNICEF’s cash transfers in Iraq

Take a peek at UNICEF’s commentary using LMMS in cash transfers here.


Nepal Earthquake

On April 25th a massive 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Nepal, followed by a second 7.3 magnitude shock on May 12th. When I started writing this entry, the morning newspaper was reporting that the death toll stood at over 8,700. Had the quake struck at night the causality numbers would have been far more. This said, there is so much damage to homes, schools, businesses and infrastructure.

When I arrived in the office later in that same morning, a colleague handed me a drawing done by a young boy that World Vision staff were working with in their Child Friendly Spaces. In the picture the young boy writes:

“In Nepal in 2015 [a] 7.6 [reciter] of earthquake is arrived. All the people are [living] in hen farm and tent. They have no money to get food.”

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Plugging into the Net

In this posting I would like to give you a wee update on our efforts to make available single country servers for each agency that uses the system.

Recall that the gist is to get access to a centralized server. If you followed a previous posting you know that we’ve had successful trials in getting access to such a just such a cloud server working.

For a subsequent trial we went into a part of Kenya that has horrific cellular coverage. Perfect for testing whether the field teams are comfortable configuring and using slightly more involved technologies.

The test Cloud server for Kenya has been running since we established it a few months ago. It’s purring like a kitten. We just need to empower field staff to be able to connect to the purring kitten.

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Data Sharing GuideLines

On the request of a few readers who have emailed me after the Mama Told Me Sharing’s Good posting, please find attached to this the specific suggestions for better data protection guidelines in one document. Also included are some templates and reading from the Cash Learning Partnership that can help when formulating agreements with third parties who wish to tap into your data sets.

Data Sharing Checklist




Version Upgrade – Wot’s In It?

LMMS’ers – listen up! Upgrades to the server and mobile applications are being packaged as we speak. Get ready for production deployments. The Product Dev team have the applications neatly organized and we’ve been communicating to a number of the tech support field guys on what’s required to complete the upgrades. Let me also note a few new things beyond the software. You will also be receiving a new acknowledgement form that needs to be completed after the upgrades have been applied. This will list the upgrades performed against servers and acknowledge the operating versions in the field.

You will also find a massive, completely rewritten user manual – fully annotated with screen shots and walk through on using the application.  Remember as well that you also practice using the applications using the online demo server that has been set up for y’all (LINK to demo server). The demo server always has the latest release running and in many cases, even some of the newer features that we are working on but that are not in official releases.

With the upgrade release a number of suggested operating practices are being provided with respect to good practices associated with sharing personal beneficiary data. Please, please, please take a read of the suggested guidelines that I posted last night here (LINK to Data Sharing).

The version release brings together all the work we show cased under Sprint 3 earlier (see this LINK to sprint 3). It also includes the work we completed under Sprints 4 and 5. We showcased Sprints 4 and 5’s functionality to the community just over a week ago. There was a bit of feedback from those sessions that we wanted to incorporate in this release. This posting recaps information we presented in the last set of reviews. Also included in this posting are the User Acceptance Test results that you may find interesting.

Enjoy the reading and happy LMMS’ing when you get the upgrades. Remember to connect with the Product Development team and let us know how the applications are running and any observations about how to make things better (code, user manuals, our fashion sense)!

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Mama Told Sharing’s Good … Isn’t It?

Data protection, good governance, data ethics – all these terms revolve around the issue of data privacy. The challenge with privacy is that it often means different things to different people. My perception of privacy will likely be very different to yours.  For example, I give my mobile phone full rights to geo-tag my approximate locations to a whack of apps and I barely bat an eye. But what if I were someone attending a drug rehab clinic? Would I be more concerned about geo-tagged data on my whereabouts falling into the hands of insurance companies or potential employers?

Our digital world makes access to data, much easier. As people working in the humanitarian sector, we need to understand the risks that come with this and to take on precautions. We need to have a greater sense of responsibility when we start collecting information (much of it very sensitive) from vulnerable populations. How we collect digital data, how we report on it and, for the purposes of this blog entry, how we share data, needs to be approached cautiously, with clear thinking and with plenty of good preparation on policies and practices.

The point of tonight’s entry is to simply reinforce the message that as end-users of software systems like LMMS and as mangers of staff using those systems, you have a duty to use such systems responsibly. Shirking responsibility is not good. Doing your share to protect the privacy rights of individuals we interact with – that’s great.

While there is much to be said on what we actually collect and why (see this LINK for just one example we’re grappling with), this entry is predominately focused on the issue of sharing data. Before you leave, I’ll also give you a checklist of things to consider as you move to share data.
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Kim Scriven’s Long Road to Innovation

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:
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Beneficiaries’ Perspective on Digital Registration

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.

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