New Smart Phone App Helps Response Team Members Collect Beneficiary Data

‘The most important people to us are the families we help.’

Serbia July 2014. ShelterBox response team member Sam Hewett using the new phone app to gather information from a recipient of ShelterBox aid. (Rachel Simpkins/ShelterBox).

Serbia July 2014. ShelterBox response team member Sam Hewett using the new phone app to gather information from a recipient of ShelterBox aid. (Rachel Simpkins/ShelterBox).

ShelterBox has always listened to those who receive our aid. Now we have designed innovative new technology to capture their vital stories and opinions from the front line. A ShelterBox response team operating in Serbia is currently field-testing a new phone application (or ‘app’) designed to improve the gathering of beneficiary data in disaster zones. This all-important first field-testing will provide feedback from those testing the app in the demanding conditions of a disaster zone. 

ShelterBox has always strived to find new ways to deliver the highest standard of aid while providing accurate feedback to our supporters. The most important people to us are the families we help. We firmly believe that our work in any disaster zone is open-ended. We are committed to measuring and evaluating the impact our aid has by listening to the needs of those who receive it. This commitment reflects our organisational values of respect, honesty, integrity, accountability and resourcefulness.

Severe flooding in Serbia in May 2014 forced tens of thousands of people from their homes in what many have called the worst flooding in the Balkans in decades. Since then ShelterBox has been working in the region to help deliver aid to families affected by the flooding. A response team is currently in the country revisiting communities, which had received ShelterBox aid earlier in the year, to evaluate the effectiveness of the response and gather data. This information will then be fed into future planning for other responses to ensure that ShelterBox is continually reviewing its practices and improving the service it delivers to those in need. Rachel Simpkins (UK) is one of the response team members currently testing the app.

‘It really is all about accountability to our donors. We need to show that the aid has reached the areas it was supposed to reach. It ensures that aid has been properly distributed.’

UK July 2014. The new ShelterBox data gathering app being tested by ShelterBox monitoring and evaluation staff (John Jones/ShelterBox).

UK July 2014. The new ShelterBox data gathering app being tested by ShelterBox monitoring and evaluation staff (John Jones/ShelterBox).

The development of the app was the result of collaboration between various departments within ShelterBox as well as consultation with our response team members following previous deployments. We spoke to Olly Spooner, from ShelterBox’s IT team, on the history of the app.

What is the purpose of the app? 

‘The intention of the app is to allow people in the field (staff, ShelterBox response team members or selected third parties) to gather more consistent and higher quality data. Previously data was not getting captured in a consistent way, leading to a lot of manual processing or, in the worst cases, unusable data. The delays of getting data from paper forms back to the office and the unwieldy nature of filling in spreadsheets on laptops also took a lot of time, limiting the amount of data that could be captured.’

What were some of the design considerations when developing the app? 

‘As we are a small organisation, we were keen to have a system that would not create a lot of ongoing work. For this reason we have looked into products aimed more at commercial sectors rather than some of the open source solutions used by larger charities. Another important aim of this project is that Operations Coordinators and other staff with a requirement to acquire data can have input into the apps. The interface is simple enough that after a couple of hours’ training a user can start to produce his or her own basic apps to be used in the field. Advanced features can also be used to improve workflows and make complex forms easier for the end user.’

How is this innovative to ShelterBox? 

‘Use of this solution represents a much more consistent approach to data gathering than has previously been used at ShelterBox. Instead of several people designing a paper form for their own needs, we will have a single place where the mobile user can access all the required forms for the tasks they have to do. Data captured from the system will be transmitted securely to a database back at our offices in the UK where it can then be cross referenced with other data sources to service any reporting requirement for the whole organisation, not just for the Operations team. This requires no manual processing by Operations staff, so it saves them time and also yields information that can be sent back without delay, in near real-time.’

What is the next stage in this project? 

‘After the field trial in Serbia we will gather feedback on how the system has performed. Most importantly this will be used to confirm that the product suits actual deployment situations. We will also look at the quality of our own form design and this can be fed back to those who own the forms in question for future improvements. Overall I personally hope that this trial will feed into the enthusiasm for the idea and help further adoption and that better monitoring will allow us to better tailor our aid offerings to suit the beneficiary’s needs.’

You can read about more examples of our commitment to developing our aid offering, working with partners and our monitoring and evaluation in on our innovation page.

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