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Hayian Response

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

Agency Training On ‘Roids

“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.

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World Vision and ThoughtWorks

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”.

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Sprint Review – A Recap From Tuesday Night!

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.

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Data Privacy, Biometrics and the Humanitarian Imperative

Yesterday I received an email from a colleague, Keith Chibafa  who after talking about LMMS to representatives from a large humanitarian organization, found himself being challenged by the need to include more biometric data in our IT systems. Keith’s suggestions following his meetings, is that collecting and using biometrics is really something that we should be doing more of.

I think Keith’s request and that of some of the people he has been talking to, are interesting. I also think we should be very careful before making a hasty decisions about collecting, storing and using private personal information. There are dramatically sensitive issues associated with biometric information, especially biometric data that is intrinsically private (fingerprints, your iris, your DNA). I just landed in Malaysia again and had to digitally submit my finger prints at immigration again. Its an intrusive process. I can’t help but wonder if those beneficiaries we serve have the same feelings. But beyond the emotional reaction, the extraction of biometric data is intricately tied to privacy and the associated issues of harm that can come from breach of such privacy – fraud, identity theft, denial of services, denial of freedom, risk of persecution to name a few.  As others have mentioned, we really need more public discussion and policy formation before rushing into this headfirst on the assumption that collecting tons of biometric data is warranted for our work (see Smith, Macauslan, Butters & Tromme, 2011: New Technologies in Cash Transfer Programming and Humanitarian Assistance).

This posting (and subsequent dialogue I hope) is intended to help us understand the issues more and make an informed decision for better humanitarian programming. Who knows, perhaps instead of spending scare financial resources and time to replicate the undignified process of fingerprinting people as we did with ink, we may instead discover that the assertions and assumptions that such biometric data are in fact needed in the first place are spurious and weak? At a minimum, can we identify the best form of biometric data that limits potential harm and second, limits the collection of such data to populations where the humanitarian intervention absolutely requires it?

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LMMS Scrum Development in 30 Seconds-ish

I was recently bestowed the grand title of being a Certified Scrum Master – that’s certified, not certifiable :-) Impressive n’est ce pas, but what does that mean you say?

A Scrum Master is not a Jedi Master .. although I am handy with a light-saber. Instead s/he is just one member of a team of individuals that use a generic framework known as “scrum” for product development (and that’s any type or product, not just software). Scrum is a favorite under Agile Software Development practices. One of the key components of Agile is the philosophy that development teams should strive toward working software (in Agile this is termed as a preference for working software over of comprehensive documentation. Check out the Agile Manifesto for more details. Under scrum, working software comes in increments known as Potentially Shippable Product Increments). This practice of working software is what we have tried to be focused on from day one in our development efforts as this project has often come with very uncertain and unclear requirements. So what’s changed now?

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Digital Impressions – The Philippines Deployment

Staff from Oxfam in the Philippines recently received training and support on the use of the LMMS system in their operations, in part thanks to CIDA (see this link). New people on the LMMS team, like Paul Milwa (actually Paul’s been involved with LMMS for a while) and Romi Ryos del Sol (recently trained in KL), were there on the behalf of WVI/LMMS to lead the trainings and to support our Oxfam colleagues, and while the software development team on this occasion did not have an opportunity to witness the preparations leading up to Oxfam’s deployment of LMMS, we did however receive a digital production of the event that you can find below!

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DFATD (CIDA) & Partner Agencies: Encouraging Learning and Innovation

The Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada (formerly CIDA) took a major step toward supporting institutional capacity development and disseminating successful innovation by supporting World Vision Canada’s efforts to extend LMMS to partner agencies.

The last posting I put up, presented some metrics on the overwhelming support for LMMS expressed by  individuals from a broad cross-section of humanitarian organizations. As a result of that enthusiasm, World Vision submitted a funding request to CIDA late in the year aimed at encouraging agency trials of the existing LMMS system to help these organizations develop the critical knowledge and staff capacity to make effective use of this award winning innovation. It is my delight to announce that the proposal was successful and we have begun work in earnest with a number of agencies to meet three broad objectives. Namely:

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Why should the humanitarian aid worker care about mobile technology?

Last year my colleague Benny Law and I hosted a session in London for 12 large International NGOs, the ICRC, the IFRC and some UN agencies. Our goal was to help transfer knowledge to our counterparts on the capabilities of mobile technologies using our in-house developed humanitarian software applications.

At the conclusion of the session, we asked all participants from these 12 agencies, a few simple questions to ascertain the perceived value of the systems we had developed.

Q1: Did they see value for the humanitarian sector in the mobile technology software that we had developed?

Consolidated Responses:Is there Value1

Q2: Would they see immediate application of the software system we developed within their own operations (i.e. had we modeled the software in a way that had application for different humanitarian actors)?

Consolidated Responses:

Agency Use

Q3: Should we stop developing and growing the system or do we forge ahead with new features and functionality that are within the scope of what LMMS is designed for?

Consolidated Responses:

Stop-Go

The last question was particularly interesting, because it also led so many of the trainees  (even the few that weren’t coming with a technical background) to ask about deploying the systems on consumer-grade devices over our existing commercial grade hardware devices (as you’ll see later, this did not have to be an either-or scenario). Moreover, those that had technical backgrounds were vocal in identifying the Android smartphones as the preferred platform of choice.

In our diverse group of aid workers, here was living proof that technology matters. Many of the trainees may not have been able to articulate why Android over other systems or to fully explain the pros and cons of consumer versus commercial grade devices. Yet all of them knew that mobile was important and could be applied inside the humanitarian domain. So why would (or should) humanitarian aid workers care about mobile technology?

Why Care?

I think the answer, lies in the fact that these people had correctly put their fingers on the pulse of the new world reality for humanitarianism. Namely a world in which the mobile technologies are presenting a paradigm shift in how we work, a world that is becoming increasingly networked, and a world in which the potential to access lots of data offers tantalizing opportunities (as well as a zillion risks – but that’s another blog entry in itself).

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Join LMMS at NOMAD’s Workshop (May 15-17, Paris)

Our colleagues at NOMAD (HumanitariaN Operations Mobile Acquisition of Data) link charities and aid agencies to mobile data collection solutions. (Sometimes those solution providers are aid agencies themselves – like World Vision and our LMMS tool!).

If you are in Paris May 15 – 17th, why not join many others who will be heading to NOMAD’s workshop aimed at linking solution providers with humanitarian organizations?

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