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?
Occasionally this question comes up, although it has never been presented by the application’s end-user community. Most users really wouldn’t worry about what languages are used. It would be akin to questioning why truck drivers picked petrol from a Shell gas station over Exon. At the end of the day – the driver wants to get from point A to B and which gas station he or she picks is irrelevant. Similarly the end-users we work with, just want working software. Details on what the programming languages that are used under the hood would be irrelevant to them.
This said, let me take a more detailed stab at answering the question.
A couple of weeks ago, we had the privilege to work with 11 different humanitarian agencies, from the UN, NGO and the Red Cross/Red Crescent Society. This was a an educational session for our fellow practitioners on LMMS and the possibility of using the system in their own operations. In my next posting, I’ll detail more results and feedback from that session for all of us. In the interim, the Active Learning Network for Accountability and Performance in Humanitarian Action (ALNAP), had asked me a series of questions before I left London, that they then posted to their blog space as a combined response. You can find that entry here: http://www.alnap.org/blog/71.aspx
Click LMMS Quick Fact Sheet for the latest one pager on LMMS. The Resources pages have a number of other files and resources for users of the system. If you need access, please contact us via the comment links.
We recently had a colleague from a European office, traveling through Uganda where he had an opportunity to witness a small distribution that was using LMMS. It was interesting to get his observations about how the system optimizes the workflow processes associated with various business practices (his observations were centered on the commodity distribution processes and the processes for how people are verified when picking up aid rations). He did have a question on why LMMS uses commercial grade devices over iPhones and other smart phone type devices (i.e. consumer grade devices). Read more
Paula works in Canada, helping out in myriad of ways … most recently getting a bunch of equipment out the door and into Niger lickidy split. It happens to be her birthday today .. so on behalf of the whole team … “Happy Birthday Ms. Quinlan! May you not be grumpy for the whole day.”
Below is an excerpt from FT that profiled innovation in the humanitarian industry. Arhmmmm … I’m biased, but nice to see LMMS included:
Disaster relief: Technology can help get aid where it is needed
By Sarah Murray
International agencies delivering emergency supplies to remote parts of the world hit by war, famine or disease, turn to anything from 1960s-era cargo planes to donkeys and camels.
Low-tech transport is often essential to delivering aid.
But innovations in communications technology are helping enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of delivery.
Given declining food aid resources, growing populations and the increasing number of emergencies, improving efficiencies in emergency food delivery is becoming more critical.
I’ve been meaning to get this post down for months now … I’ve been remiss BUT having after an interview yesterday with Gabrielle Smith; who’s doing an assessment for CaLP on new technologies in the humanitarian sector, I feel inspired to take a few minutes and get some thoughts onto the virtual whiteboard .. hopeful with some debate and better learning for all of us!
Ahhaa … So you’ve found the new location of last mile on the web before I was ready for you!
I’m in the process of setting this site up. Stay tuned – won’t be long once I get all of the material together for this site.
But its not like there isn’t enough info on LMMS. You can start with all the old posts which can be found at www.jaynarhan.com/LMMS
All the best,