Building a disaster reporting app with communities in the Philippines

Source: Thu, 20 Dec 2018 02:31 PM
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Q&A with Anna Zofia Leal, Executive Director, Ilocos Center for Research, Empowerment and Development (ICRED)

ICRED one of 40 selected innovators supported by TUKLAS to strengthen disaster risk reduction and management in the Philippines in partnership with affected communities. TUKLAS is part of the Disasters and Emergencies Preparedness Programme Innovation Labs co-managed by Start Network and CDAC Network and funded by UK Aid.

What motivated your organisation to apply to TUKLAS innovation lab?

When we heard about TUKLAS' call for proposals and ideas, we wanted to present our innovation project. It’s the first time we’ve taken up an innovation project. We wanted to take our practice of reporting disasters to the next level. We already have an organisation working with communities on disaster risk reduction management. We provide Damage, Needs and Capacities Assessment (DNCA) forms to communities during emergencies. We wanted to find out how we can make the process quicker, how we can help communities so they can report faster and how we can we get the data faster. So we came up with the idea for an app for people to report the damage caused by disasters and assistance needs in a particular area. We’re an established organisation working in the area of community-based disaster management since 2009. We asked TUKLAS for help to develop our app. This is the first time we’ve ever done anything like this. 

How did you come up with the idea of an app?

The idea came up after Typhoon Haiyan in 2016. One of the communities we work with was isolated and a week had passed before we were able to go to them. The river going to the community overflowed. We couldn’t get to them and we couldn’t get any information from them. To get assistance, we had to collect data about the damage and community needs and then request relief from partner organisations. One week is a very long time to get this type of essential data and for the community to be cut off. We realised we needed to bridge the communication gap between relief providers and responders and the communities in remote and rural places.

Based on our experience during Typhoon Haiyan and the recent Typhoon Mangkhut, there is still mobile network though it can be intermittent during the onslaught of a typhoon. The longest that we did not have mobile signal was one day. We were also advised by one of the mentors from TUKLAS to reach out to telecommunications companies and ask them about whitelisting – identifying entities that will provide a particular service or access to a service.

How did you design and test the app?

The partner community we worked with was involved in designing and developing the app from the beginning. We had to make it clear we were not just giving the app but we were also providing training to this community at risk of disaster. The alpha and beta testing was done with the community. There were two components to our innovation: the Community-Based Disaster Management (CBDM) training and the other part, the app. We supported people to learn to report disaster-related damage and use the app. We conducted training and gave the community information about what data they need to gather to report damage and get the assistance they need.

The community we are working with set up a communications committee that will lead on using the app and will report damage in their area. This communication committee was created during our process. We asked the community if they wanted to create their own disaster preparedness organisation and they said they did, so this is what we support them to do.

With regards to the app – it was initially in English and we needed to communicate to people in their local language. The form we were using needed to be more precise to report disaster related damage. We needed to make the app user-friendly for the community. This is a community where most of the people are indigenous and farmers. Thankfully, people reported a positive experience with the training and found the app useful and useable.

What did you do to adapt to work with a rural community to develop the app?

Our NGO has been working with the most vulnerable groups; we have been working with them for a long time. This is the first time though we have introduced innovation and technology… Since we are really focused on empowering the most vulnerable we are open to different ideas. We are not afraid to do what we have learnt and to be passionate about what we do. We are not afraid to take feedback into our whole process. For us the biggest challenge is how app development works. Our background is not in that field. We had to think through and test ideas to create the app, what it should look like according to what the community told us was needed. There were many typhoons during this period. We had some delays during the project because the participants couldn’t travel because of the typhoons. Because we are in constant communication with members of the community we could adjust our activities and make a schedule to suit them.

We really had to show up and go to people’s communities and explain to them what was happening with the project. We really had to be consistent. We had to listen to what people were saying to us. We would then adjust to their needs. We would do the training when they were ready and when they needed it. We worked with the community. Every month we would spend a week in the community so they could get to know us and learn to trust us. We could only understand how people lived by going there and spending time with them. The most effective way to involve people in the app design was to communicate face-to-face. In terms of technology, if you are working hand-in-hand with communities, they will be able to understand it if you are learning with them and working with the technology. We learned that we should not be afraid to integrate new components like an app- something that was new to the community, and us. 

How has been your experience been working with TUKLAS?

At the beginning of the process of working with TUKLAS, we weren’t sure about innovation. But now, we have just finished our sustainability training – thinking about the future of app and the reach and impact of this project. We can innovate now in longstanding programmes; we can have new ideas about how to improve our programmes. During the first phase of the project, there was a lot of input about product design and technology, what innovation is and it was made clear early on how we can improve our project. TUKLAS is helpful in working with us to develop the app. We have learned how to listen to and act on feedback more effectively and how to make our project better. TUKLAS is now preparing us for what comes after the end of the programme and how we continue to grow, how to look long term, how to scale and how to plan ahead, how we can partner and expand our idea. We believe we are answering a need in disaster communication and we can expand it to the whole of the Philippines.

What does the future hold?

Since we are part of a disaster network, we are planning to share our learning with other regional NGOs. We are now looking for possible donors and funders to help us reach other communities, reaching out to more communities so we can implement more projects in disaster communications. In our region there are many communities that are rural and remote that we hope to reach. 

Ilocos Center for Research, Empowerment and Development

Established in 2009, Ilocos Center for Research, Empowerment and Development (ICRED) is a non-governmental organization that works directly with communities regarding disaster risk reduction management and food security.


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