Harnessing the power of ICTs to help amplify voices in the Philippines

Disasters, Humanitarian

A recent case study on the issue of relocation in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan utilised mobile data capture tools as part of the research process. What responsibilities come with using such tools and what benefits do they offer?

‘It’s humbling and powerful to hear your own voice so quickly.’
– Community feedback, the Philippines, February 2014

When an emergency strikes there is a fundamental need for information: who is doing what; where; and what are the biggest needs. As an agency collecting data from communities who are possibly going through some of the worst experiences of their lives, there is an inherent power imbalance in our relationship. Oxfam has both ethical and legal responsibilities to ensure that we are engaging with people in a responsible way. We only collect the information that we need, in a suitable way, ensuring that we have informed consent and that the communities involved see real and tangible

Oxfam has been carrying out protection surveys since 2001 in locations as varied as DRC, Cote d’Ivoire, Mali and Liberia. Such surveys seek to gather information to both design appropriate field activities and to provide information for credible and compelling advocacy on protection issues. We have had a number of successes in this area, most noticeably in DRC, but we are also aware of some shortcomings in the approach and methodology used. The use of
mobile phones formed part of a cyclical research process.

Over the last two years, we have identified a number of areas where we want to be truly excellent in both methodology and tools: building on increasing experimentation with mobile data collection, the corresponding push in the sector for responsible data standards, and the development of legal norms for data management to meet the highest ethical standards.

As part of the work developing this methodology I travelled to the Philippines early last year to support a piece of research into the issue of relocation in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan. This sought to better understand the needs of coastal communities whom the government planned to relocate to safer locations inland, but far away from many of their livelihoods activities. The research had to be rapid so as not to miss advocacy and
influencing opportunities, but also needed to be of a high standard in order to be credible and enable affected communities to participate as much as possible.

Given the high level of mobile usage and familiarity, along with good internet connectivity in the Philippines, we decided to utilise mobile data collection tools for quantitative data capture, building on our experience of an earlier protection pilot in Jordan. The use of mobile phones formed part of a cyclical research process.

Research was carried out in four locations with quantitative survey findings triangulated through focus group discussions, key informant interviews, and community feedback sessions. Throughout the whole process, great care was taken to put in place appropriate safeguards to capture, store and manage the data collected. 

Integrating mobile data capture tools into the process had a number of benefits. Not only did enumerators find it faster to input data during interviews, but by uploading responses every evening back in the office, and cutting out the typical data entry stage associated with paper processes, we were able to start analysing the information in near real time. This compared very favourably with previous experiences where the gap between interviews being conducted and data being available to review could take up to six weeks.

…we were able to monitor developing trends that we couldn’t necessarily have predicted.Perhaps the most powerful benefit was how the speed of access to this information meant that we were able to monitor developing trends that we couldn’t necessarily have predicted. This allowed us to be much more responsive in tailoring the content of our subsequent focus group discussions.

Community feedback was also carried out within 24-72 hours of being collected, helping give a sense of ownership over the information they provided and verify the trends starting to appear. The communities said this helped them feel reassured that their peers shared their concerns and that NGOs were not only listening to their concerns, but responding to them.

A report ‘The Right Move? Ensuring durable relocation after typhoon Haiyan‘ was published in April 2014 and Oxfam began immediate lobbying. A number of tangible changes in the policy and practice of the authorities overseeing relocation, verified through informal lobby channels and technical discussions on resettlement guidelines, subsequently took place. These included increased levels of assistance to communities living in ‘No Build
Zones’, increased consultation of these communities by authorities, a combined government and civil society effort to outline clear guidance on relocation and a change in the Government’s policy to completely ban rebuilding in the No Build Zones.

Since this project, the use of mobile phones for quantitative data collection has been rolled out more widely to many of Oxfam’s programmes in the Philippines. We are committed to further testing out this methodology and are actively exploring responsible approaches to data collection in protection activities. This includes an upcoming collaboration with Internews to improve ethical data collection and management in humanitarian crises by showcasing good practice and promoting a culture of responsible data.

For more information on our planned Responsible Data Showcase please get in touch with Laura Eldon or Rachel Hastie

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1. A government sign highlighting the newly designated ‘No Build Zone’ along the coast in Candahue. Credit: Laura Eldon/Oxfam

2. Mobile survey training with enumerators in Tacloban. Credit: Laura Eldon/Oxfam

Author: Laura Eldon
Archive blog. Originally posted on Oxfam Policy & Practice.