how to:How to Collect and Visualize Information and Data Using Ushahidi
WHAT IS USHAHIDI?
WHAT IS USHAHIDI USED FOR?
The Ushahidi platform is used for everything from social activism, citizen journalism, crisis reporting, public accountability campaigns, and many other possible uses. Local observers can report incidents via e-mail, web, or text message; their reports are then uploaded to a website and the incident location is plotted on a map (usually using Google Maps) in almost-real time. This collection of information serves as a repository for concerned citizens to view and the aggregated data also acts as an archive of events.
WHAT HAS USHAHIDI ALREADY BEEN USED FOR?
Since 2008, Ushahidi has been deployed in a variety of contexts and situations around the world, including:
Monitoring the humanitarian crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo
Monitoring events in Gaza
Mapping blocked roads and other information during winter storms in Washington, D.C.
For more, check out the Ushahidi team's handy map of all Ushahidi implementations.
First, ask yourself, "Should I use Ushahidi?" Think about what value you would gain from using Ushahidi. Do you have a need to monitor events and collect data? Do people on the ground have access to mobile phones or the web in order to submit reports? Do you or members of your organization speak the local language, or will you need translators to understand reports? Who do you want to use the data?
It's also important to think about timing and manpower. You or someone within your organization will need some programming skills to install and manage Ushahidi. You will also need funding for a domain name/website, an SMS short code for people to send free SMS, and the resources and manpower to generate awareness about your campaign. If you and your group do not have the available funding, think about different ways to seek out funding from external sources. Ushahidi provides a guide to funding your project that contains helpful links to learning best practices about writing grants and approaching organizations for funding.
These free, open-source software programs enable you to send and receive SMSs from large groups of people. Alternatively, you could approach a telecom company in your country to set up a short code. Remember: You will have to pay for this service. A service like qwert has text-only cellular plans.
Is your audience right for Ushahidi? Do people on the ground have access to mobile phones or the internet? Is there a language barrier between you and the people on the ground?
Plan out your project. Deciding that you will use the tool is only the first step. As Patrick Meier writes, "New users often don’t realize that they themselves need to think through which methodology they should use to collect information." Write out who you will be collecting information from and what will you be using it for. Will you be using the tool for crowdsourcing, to collect data on an ongoing election, to map resources, or for another purpose? Is it necessary for your information sources to come from a representative sample, and if so how will you ensure that this happens? How many civil society groups are there in your target community, and would partnering with them allow you to collect a more representative sample? For more on this, see our case studies on different examples of Ushahidi implementation.
You will need a domain name or website to host the platform and an SMS short code. If you already have a domain name or website, skip to Step 3. Otherwise, you will need to register a domain name and decide how you want to host the site—either on your own web server or a hosting service, which hosts your site for a monthly fee. You can compare different website hosts here. Paying a company to host your site usually costs between U.S. $3 and $8 a month.
Always choose a hosting provider with good customer support! We have had good experiences with Buy HTTP.
Once you are sure that Ushahidi will be of value, request a download of the source code on Ushahidi's website. So far, Ushahidi’s code has also been translated into Chinese and Spanish and there are now Ushahidi apps for Android, Java Phones, and Windows Mobile. You will need to provide basic information, including your name and e-mail address. You will receive the Ushahidi software as a zipped file.
Before you install the platform, make sure you have the proper system requirements for running Ushahidi. You need a server with:
You also need the following PHP extensions installed (check your current version of PHP to see if these extensions are already installed):
You may already have these extensions installed, as most, if not all, are already part of the newer versions of PHP—follow these instructions to find out if you do. No idea what any of this means? E-mail or call your hosting provider and read the list to someone from customer support. They should be able to help. Also consult the Glossary on the left side of this page.
You will need to give your server authority to write to certain files and folders in order to install Ushahidi. Make sure the files and folders are writable by your server. To make these files writable you have to change their permission settings. Ways to do this vary across operating systems and instructions for doing it should be included in the help sections of each system. If you are using Windows, consult this guide to learn how to change permissions. If you are using the Unix operating systems, consult this guide. And if you are using a Mac, consult this guide.
Changing permission settings is not very challenging; just make sure to follow the steps provided in the help guides.
It's now time to install Ushahidi. You can install it manually or via a web installer.
It is much easier to use the web installer. Upload the unzipped/unpacked Ushahidi files to your server. The two most important folders are "application" and "media." Point your browser to http://your-ushahidi-url/installer and follow the step-by-step instructions.
If you are more skilled and want to manually install Ushahidi, visit the wiki with steps here.
Marc Maxson of GlobalGiving has provided steps to set up Ushahidi on an affordable, user-friendly hosting service called Bluehost (note: Bluehost costs about $10 a month). Read his tips here.
Once you have set up Ushahidi and are logged in, you will be brought to the Dashboard. The Dashboard summarizes all of the reports coming in, as well as messages you receive. This is where you as the administrator access the following sections: Settings, Manage, and Users. First, configure your settings by clicking on the Settings tab on the right-hand side of the mapping. With the Settings tab, you can add or change features of your site such as title, country, type of map. This is where you will need to add information particular to your specific project.
Which mapping tool should you use? Different map providers have different levels of detail. Look at how each mapping tool presents a map of your area before selecting the one you think works best for you. Usually, the more detailed the map, the better.
To change and add categories, click on the Manage tab. You will see options for changing and adding categories and their associated colors. Categories should be specific to the type of information you are collecting. For example, the Ethiopia Vote Monitor included categories such as: Registration Problems, Harassment, Logistical Problems, Illegal Campaigning, and Violence.
Under the Pages tab, use the "About Us" template to post a description about your organization and/or campaign.
You are probably not doing this alone, and will have a team of people working with you to implement Ushahidi. You will need to add each individual as a user so they can log in to the platform as well. To add Super Admins, Admins, and Moderators, click on the Users tab. Super Admins can change the site's settings and add admins. Admins can add new users, modify reports, and change categories. Moderators can only approve and verify reports.
You probably do not want to assign too many people as a Super Admin. It is best to limit the number of Super Admins to two or three in order to avoid too many people changing the platform's settings.
To approve, verify, and/or delete reports, click on the Reports tab. On the left-hand side, click on the check box to select reports to approve, then click the Approve button. Incidents you have approved will now be visible on the site. If you would like to delete a report, click on the box to select reports to delete, then click the Delete button.
Making sure reports are accurate can be tough. It takes time and manpower to check and cross-check reports. Look at Ushahidi's Guide to Verification to learn tips about verifying reports.
Do you want your system to be used by many or few? Will you allow anyone to send reports to Ushahidi, or will you close the system to only particular individuals who are working as reporters or monitors? For example, when it comes to election monitoring, you can have trained, independent local observers, local citizens, or both submit vote reports. Before you roll out the platform, make sure you have decided who you want to use it and whether the information gathered will be public or private.
Think about the type of information you are collecting. If it is sensitive in nature, such as recording sexual harassment or violent assaults, you may want to consider keeping the information private to protect individuals involved.
Publicize! It's time to engage the crowd and reach out to gather participants and a wide audience. How are you going to promote your campaign? Think about how you can integrate your campaign using Ushahidi into existing initiatives or efforts. To spread the word, employ multiple tactics, including a presence on various social media platforms (Twitter, Facebook, MySpace), blog postings, print articles, flyers, an SMS alert, e-mail blast to your contact list, radio and television appearances, and word-of-mouth.
Seek out partners who share a commitment to your cause and can help you publicize your campaign.
Write a press release that describes the goal of your campaign, why you are using Ushahidi, and what impact the campaign will have on your community. Send the press release to media contacts and influential bloggers.
To create reports from incident reports received through SMS, click on the Messages tab. Select a message, then click on the create reports link. A pane will appear with a map and incident reporting fields. You must have set up Frontline SMS to enable this option.
If you have installed FrontlineSMS and want to sync it up with Ushahidi, click on the Settings tab. Then select the SMS tab. Enter the phone number(s) you have connected to FrontlineSMS, then copy the "FrontlineSMS HTTP Post LINK" provided.
Have your team test out sending text message reports to the short code many times before you go "live" and give the number out to people. You need to make sure everything from the short code to Frontline SMS to Ushahidi are running properly. This will also help you practice creating reports from SMS on Ushahidi.
Ushahidi recently released a new voice reporting feature so people can call in their incident reports. The Call-to-Report plugin uses Cloudvox, which provides a software that can turn a computer into a voice communications server. This plugin will be included in the second version of the Ushahidi platform that will be released soon.
David Kobia describes how the Call-to-Report feature works on the Ushahidi blog:
- People can call a predefined phone number, which then prompts them for two things: a location and the report.
- The voice prompts can be edited/created within your Ushahidi admin. These "text" prompts are what the caller hears when they call via text-to-speech.
- If the robotic text-to-speech prompts don’t sound good, you have the option to upload prerecorded voice prompts.
- The recorded location and report sound files are saved separately within your Ushahidi deployment and available for an administrator to listen to when they click on the messages tab.
- These calls can then be used to create new reports, which include the sound files for playback.
Cloudvox charges about 3 cents (US) per minute and include 100 minutes free on sign up. Billing is done on pay-as-you-go. To rent a phone number, it costs $3/month for U.S./Canadian phone numbers and $10/month for phone numbers in other countries.
Data collection and analysis. How do you make sense of the individual reports coming in? How do you measure success? Jason Nickerson writes on the Ushahidi blog about knowing when to react. He brings up questions that you will likely confront when deploying Ushahidi, including:
- How representative are these reports of the population in a given area?
- How many reports are related to a similar event in the same geographical area?
- Is action being taken to address the concerns and issues identified by the reports uploaded on Ushahidi?
Think through your campaign's goals and how you can best demonstrate that the goals were or were not reached.
After the initial campaign, analyze what went well and what could be improved upon: Are you satisfied with the number and quality of submissions? Were there issues when it came to deploying the platform? Were you able to get the word out to locals in enough time? Did you face any budgetary issues? Did you have enough manpower to manage the deployment?
Patrick Meier writes that when it comes to measuring success, don't necessarily "focus exclusively on metrics like number of reports and criticize organizations when their Ushahidi deployments do not garner some (completely) arbitrary number. Yes, the number of reports may be an output produced from a given activity to meet a certain objective, but that number need not necessarily be in the hundreds or thousands to achieve a stated objective. It all depends on what the objectives are!"