Mobile Beneficiary Feedback Tools

As more open aid data becomes available, the opportunity exists to combine this data with project feedback to help improve transparency, accountability, and communication from donor through to the stakeholders and vice versa.

In this post we briefly survey how organizations are starting to explore the use of mobile phone beneficiary feedback mechanisms to monitor and evaluate development projects. This data, eventually combined with other open aid project data, can be an effective record of what’s working and what needs improvement from the voices most affected by the project design and implementation.

Below is a sampling of projects, tools and initiatives engaged in mobile feedback mechanisms:

  • The Humanitarian Innovation Fund has an interesting approach that according to its website is “using technology to increase the effectiveness of accountability to affected communities by creating an interactive communication platform using innovative SMS and Interactive Voice Response (IVR) technology in a humanitarian setting.”  Essentially they use SMS to communicate with stakeholders to provide advanced information on potential disasters and to learn and communicate with their stakeholders.  See:

  • Better Place Labresearch digital communication for the social sector and develop tools for you to use”. They have done excellent research into this space and have begun to trial the use of mobile technologies for beneficiary feedback.   They feel that in developing countries beneficiary feedback is best collected via mobile phones.  They are a strong proponent of stakeholder feedback.  According to their website “stakeholder feedback leads to”:
    • better identification of problems through the alternate feedback;
    • participation of beneficiaries in finding solutions;
    • more targeted allocation of resources;
    • launch of innovative impact measurement systems;
    • quicker detection of mismanagement and fraud;
    • real-time communication with beneficiaries directly impacted by the aid projects;
    • authentic additional information for sponsors; and
    • better insights into the impact of individual aid projects.


    • AidData, UNICEF Uganda, Ushahidi, and the World Bank Institute are developing a methodology and platform to solicit, gather, and collate beneficiary feedback on development projects and localized needs.” according to the Aid Data website.   The project will enhance the existing project data collected using UNICEF’s uReport and DevTrac systems as well as Ushahidi’s “experience and tools for triaging large amounts of unstructured data” to create an Enhanced Project View and to become a vehicle for public feedback via text message. See video on UNICEF’s uReport Ref:

          • AKVO flow – “is a software tool that collects, manages, analyses and displays geographically referenced monitoring and evaluation data using mobile phones.”  according to its website.  The tool is designed for the Android platform and can operate even when no mobile connection exists.  Once the user is back in an area where a mobile connection is found, it will upload the data.  According to Peter van de Linde AKVO partnered with who have extensive experience in this field”  AKVO is tying together (Akvo Openaid), project reporting (Akvo RSR) – and survey tools (Akvo FLOW) together towards end-to-end transparency.  See:

        • Plan Thailand, Pan, Laos, Plan India  uses POI Mapper for their monitoring and evaluation programs to do such things as track tuberculosis in communities.  It’s useful for field work, conducting survey and GIS tracking among other features.

      • Data Dyne created EPISurveyor. According to its website Episurveyor users include: World Bank, Abt Associates, John Snow Inc, the World Health Organization, MSH,  the Pan American Health Organization, Camfed International, TulaSalud, Children’s National Medical Center, the Smithsonian Institution, and the International Federation of the Red Cross.

    • Open Data Kit is a “is a free and open-source set of tools which help organizations author, field, and manage mobile data collection solutions.” Kiva is using the Open Data Kit in Kenya

  • Frontline SMS.  According to its website Frontline SMS “enables instantaneous two-way communication on a large scale. It’s easy to implement, simple to operate, and best of all, the software is free; you just pay for the messages you send in the normal way.”

This is a sampling of some of the projects now underway to improve accountability and increase the effectiveness of aid.   Mobile Active is also a good resource for activities and creative uses of mobile technology for development  – see their listing of mobile tools here :  Notes: Thanks to Dan Mihalia and Development Gateway Foundation for some of the pointers to tools found in this article.

Is open public data a service or a right?

Source: Open Halton.

Is access to open public data a service, like education, or a right, like free speech?

Services are optional

Governments collect taxes and use the money to provide services to their citizens. Because tax revenue is finite, no government can provide all possible services to all people all of the time, so a government has to prioritize and plan carefully — when the next $50M is available, should the government spend it on education, healthcare, sanitation, or policing? Where is the greatest need? Where is the greatest return for the investment? What regions or constituencies have been under-served? How can the service be implemented on time and on budget?

Rights are mandatory

Rights, on the other hand, simply exist. The way people exercise their right to free speech can enhance society as a whole (e.g. Dr. Martin Luther King) or drag it down (e.g. Westboro Baptist Church), but the government’s and courts’ job is simply to protect and nurture the right, regardless of whether it’s used wisely or foolishly.

People, not their government, decide what rights to exercise, how, and when. There’s no cost-benefit analysis, no communications plan, no implementation schedule — just get out of the way and give us what’s ours.

Which one is open data?

Our challenge with open public data is to make it less like a service (government-led), and more like a right (people-led).  But how?

Access to information — another key component of transparency — works like a right. Government is forced to follow not its own priorities, but the priorities of the people demanding information. Open public data, on the other hand, feels like a service: once again, with limited time and money available, the government (or other public organization) is the one setting the priorities: Where is the greatest need?  Where is the greatest return for investment?  What regions or constituencies have been under-served? How can the service be implemented on time and on budget?

Two years ago, Charles Arthur wrote in an article in The Guardian that “data has gone from being jealously guarded and treated like gold reserves to be hoarded, to being a public asset for free use.”

Yet that asset continues to be available — when it is available at all — only at the pleasure of the government. Governments, however well intentioned, consider open data to be a service that they’re providing, rather than a right that they’re supporting. We all know what happens to services when money is tight — they get cut — so how can we ensure that open public data survives the next banking crisis or budget cuts?

Be careful what we ask for

There’s no obvious solution, but perhaps we can at least encourage governments to think of open public data a bit less like a service by asking less for the service-like bits often attached to it.

Open data is a big CSV or XML file, or an API. All the other things we think of together with “open data” — registries, fancy visualizations, reporting tools, web sites for interactive search and browsing, sponsored hackathons, etc. — aren’t open data, but just services offered around open data. It’s wonderful that governments sometimes offer those services, but if they think of them as an inseparable part of the open data they publish, and don’t publish until/unless they have all this in place, then open data will remain optional, thoroughly mired in the service world rather than the rights world.

All of these peripheral support services could be offered by a third party; the one thing that governments have, and everyone else doesn’t, is the data itself. We — citizens and stakeholders — need to avoid being distracted by these shiny extras, and simply demand our raw data as our right.

IATI Tools for the NGO community

In the United Kingdom, as in other countries, large Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO’s), such as Oxfam UK, may have some capacities to publish open aid data. But what about the smaller NGO’s and grantees who are now required by the UK Department for International Development (DFID) to share information about their project/activities in the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) standard?

By July 2012, recipients of grants from the DFID Civil Society Challenge Fund and Global Poverty Action Fund (GPAF) will need to begin reporting in the IATI standard. That’s about 100 grantees by July 2012 according to Bill Anderson of Development Initiatives. By next year, recipients of larger grants from the DFID Partnership Program Arrangements (PPAs) will also be required to report in the standard.

At the moment there are three relatively new tools for NGO’s to share project/activity information and publish it into the IATI standard. They are:,, and
● the Really Simply Reporting (RSR) tool.

The table below gives a snapshot of IATI compliance and features of each of the platforms:

IATI Tool Uses the complete IATI field set for entry Publishes IATI XML data files Free to use Registers files with the IATI registry Current features Planned features
AidStream yes yes yes yes organizational administrative features public project/activity listings and visualization of data
AKVO RSR  uses the AKVO project/activity field set planned for the second or third quarter of 2012 fees vary depending on the number of projects planned for the second or third quarter of 2012 public project/activity listings and online donation feature visualization of data
Open Aid Register yes yes yes yes cartoDB for geolocation data public project/activity listings

Lets take a look at each one in detail.


AidStream was designed by Young Innovations (YIPL) in Kathmandu, Nepal with the support of aidinfo. It was designed specifically for smaller NGO’s to make it easier for them to share small sets of project/activity records. Once NGO’s add their records, they can publish them and register them with the IATI registry.

Project entry form

The organizational administrators can choose which IATI fields are available for all project/activity records, and which fields can be excluded. Once the administrators have defined the parameters, organizational team members can enter their individual project/activity records into the AidStream tool.  Currently there is an internal project/activity listing for organizations and the AidStream team plans to add a public-facing project/activity listing capability in the near future as well as some data visualization tools.

Select fields to include/exclude

This tool is free to use and is fully compliant with the IATI standard.  According to Bibhusan Bista of YIPL, the AidStream code will be released as open source software within the next six months once the codebase is more stable and the documentation is more complete.  The tool is now public and is currently being piloted in Nepal where they plan to work with four NGO’s to improve its functions and user interface.   A spreadsheet import is also planned for the future.

Disclosure: the author of this article, Michael Roberts, has worked closely with both YIPL and aidinfo on other projects, but was not involved in creation of the AidStream tool.

AKVO’s web site states that its Really Simple Reporting (RSR)  “makes it easy to put development projects online”.   As a paid subscriber to their service, you can have a customized page of your project/activities by filling out a PDF form for each project/activity record.  Once AKVO receives the PDF files by email they will then add those records into your public organizational space.


The forms follow AKVO’s own project/activity format, however AKVO has mapped their RSR project/activity fields to the IATI standard.  AKVO is testing a feature to export AKVO RSR project/activity information into the IATI standard, and plans to include that feature in a release towards the second to third quarter of 2012 as well as a tool for registering those records into the IATI registry.  You can find examples of IATI export files on their test server.   The AKVO RSR tool is open source, and you can find their code base in their github directory under the GNU AFFERO GENERAL PUBLIC LICENSE.

Example projects page

For NGO’s who have managed to already publish their data into the IATI standard, AKVO also offers a tool to allow their IATI-compliant project/activity records to be more easily visualized and searchable on the web.  The Dutch government is using the AKVO tool to visualize their IATI compliant project/activity data at

Open Aid Register

The Open Aid Register is a project managed by Ruth del Campo — a research scholar at the New York Law School — and funded by the Fulbright Commission and the Government of Spain.  Like AidStream, the Open Aid Register has been designed as an easy-to-use tool for NGO’s who don’t want to spend their time and resources publishing IATI data on their own

OpenAidregistry entry form

websites and interacting with the IATI registry.  The Open Aid Register is IATI compliant, covering the fields in the IATI Standard. The Open Aid Register also uses CartoDB to make it easy

Geolocation of project

to integrate geolocation information into project/activity records. In the near future, they will be launching a project/activity listing service.

At the moment this tool is free to use.  The tool is also open source and a link to their code base and its license is planned in the near future.

 – In a future blog post, we will explore mobile beneficiary feedback tools that are being planned and developed around the world –

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Why Public Domain?

Acclar hereby releases the content of this blog into the Public Domain.  You are free to do anything you want with these writings, for any purpose, without our permission.  We offer these writings to the public with NO WARRANTY of any kind.

Since Acclar is an open aid data organization, it would be hypocritical not to make our blog (and other, future resources on our site) available as open content.  But you might notice that we’re doing things a bit differently — most open-content web sites use an open-content license, such as the Gnu Free Documentation License or the Creative Commons Attribution License.  We believe that these licenses represent a huge step forward in making information available for an open and transparent society, but they represent only a step, not the final destination.

An “open” license, whether for open-source software, open data, or open content, still attempts to do two things:

  1. enforce a copyright on a resource; and
  2. limit what users can do with the resource.

With an open license, the limitations are generally fairly benign — users are required to give attribution, and sometimes to share their changes on to others — but they still reflect an urge for control, and a mild discomfort around the act of sharing.

Public domain, on the other hand, isn’t a license at all — it’s a complete surrender of all legal rights over a work.  When we release our blog into the public domain, it has no copyright and no legal owner.  Of course, we hold onto ethical rights (shame on you if you plagiarize us and pretend you wrote these postings, and it’s nice to give us credit when you reprint or quote us), but we give up any claim to enforce those in a court of law.

We believe that going all the way to public domain has two significant benefits:

  • people don’t have to waste time worrying about whether they’re complying with the terms of a license, so they will use our content more quickly and more often; and
  • a license is a threat to sue if someone violates its terms, and we don’t think threats are nice (Canadians worry a lot about being nice).

One of Acclar’s founders, David Megginson, has had two positive experiences with public-domain sharing in the past, with the Simple API for XML (SAX) and the open-data aviation web site.  In both cases, the public-domain information caught on quickly and found a large number of users and (re)implementers, and — despite the fact that there was no license requiring it — people in blogs, magazine articles, books, apps, etc. have been very gracious about attribution.

The International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) Licensing Standard strikes a good balance, by allowing a participant to use an open-data license or release aid data directly into the public domain.  At Acclar, we believe that any sharing of open aid data, licensed or public domain, is a good thing for aid transparency and effectiveness.