Ground Truth, a project of Keystone Accountability, has been systematically collecting feedback from communities and frontline staff working on Ebola since last November. In his blog Kai Hopkins, senior consultant at Keystone, gives his perspective on how this data is being used by agencies in Sierra Leone.
Three months ago, my colleague Nick van Praag wrote about Ground Truth’s plans to provide real-time feedback from both frontline workers and the general public in Sierra Leone. The aim was simple: to provide decision makers working on the Ebola response with an ongoing stream of information on how the response was going, from the perspective of the people that really matter. Three months on, the project has helped and guided the response, but it has not been not without its challenges.
Let’s not fool ourselves - the Ebola response is a difficult and complicated effort, spanning many diverse agencies. There is a mass of different data in circulation, some useful, some not, and as a result, busy and stretched organizations have short attention spans. Data needs to be pushed, and elbow its way to the forefront of the collective consciousness. In order to do this, we have not only shared the data far and wide, but also met with many of the agencies as well as the National Ebola Response Centre to explain our approach and to ensure the data collected reflects their information needs. That said, data also means different things to different people, and in such a complicated context with different actors looking for slightly different data, packaging things so everyone can find value in them is a time-consuming job. One approach to combat this, has been to triangulate our data with some of the epidemiological data, such as infection rates, which seem to be a common denominator recognised and valued by all.
Despite these challenges, there appears to be real value in the data Ground Truth has been collecting. At the one end of the utility spectrum, humanitarian staff on the ground have been using the data to help understand the background and context of the response, using citizen and frontline worker perceptions to help inform their own understanding and impressions of the reality on the ground. At the other end of the spectrum, some have been relying on the data to guide their programming and activities. One agency used the data to push for extra funding in order to start delivering more supplies to those affected and quarantined by Ebola. Another used the feedback on high reported levels of stigma to invest more in their social mobilization and education programmes.
One key example of a data ‘win’ relates to one of the fundamental activities in the response: quarantine. After receiving consistently negative feedback on quarantine from our survey of the general public, we conducted a series of in-depth surveys with those in, and those recently out, of quarantine. The insight gained has been valuable to agencies working right across the response, prompting both discussion and action on what people in quarantine need and receive. It has spurred further work on combating stigma and addressing the many psycho-social impacts of the disease. The data has also improved understanding of why people do – or do not – observe the quarantine restrictions that are key to ‘getting to zero’ new cases.
Where do we go from here? As the response changes, so must the data we provide. A number of our indicators are still relevant (on progress in fighting the disease, ability to earn a living and access to healthcare for non-Ebola illnesses), but by regularly consulting and engaging with those consuming the data on the ground, a number of new issues are appearing on the horizon which we can help with: What will happen when schools open in a month’s time? Is the response becoming complacent? Is the country better prepared for future crises? We have just started collecting data about perceptions related to these dimensions of the response.
As ever, the hope is to provide actionable, real-time data for humanitarian and health agencies from those at the forefront of the continuing fight against Ebola. The project is currently due to end at the end of March, although given the demand for this kind of data, and given the ongoing long-term impact of the crisis, we hope to extend till later in the year.
Up to date reports on all data collected by Ground Truth is available here: http://www.groundtruthsolutions.org/sierra-leone.html