By Kristin Cotter
Meet Elva, a mobile phone platform that facilitates collaboration between organizations, decision makers, and communities in order to chart local needs through data-driven reporting. The platform was created in 2011 by a Georgian NGO, Caucasus Research Resource Centers, a British NGO, Saferworld, and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Meaning “lightning” in Georgian, it is all about providing rapid access to information. The goal of the platform is to encourage community-wide reporting of information as well as to assist decision makers in identifying the needs of local citizens along with viable and unique means of addressing those needs. Elva receives reports via SMS and the Web that are published online and are automatically displayed in a simple and visually-compelling manner by means of maps, graphs, and tables. Questionnaires can be filled out by users, providing baseline data for analysis. The primary topics of concern for users have been elections, human rights violations, environmental degradation, and disaster risk, each of which is monitored by on-the-ground incident reporters (aka local citizens).
One major benefit of Elva is that every citizen becomes a potential reporter. As a result, the platform receives a wealth of information from across the community. Reporting is not monopolized by a select few, but is instead undertaken by every citizen who feels that he or she has a stake in the issue. More sources of information also translate to more trustworthy data. Another benefit is that Elva empowers people to keep decision makers and fellow citizens informed by granting them a voice in community affairs. Citizens are made to feel that they can make a difference in their communities, since it is their reports that help to identify and map not only local problems but also the solutions that are being put in place to solve them. Elva also acts as a feedback mechanism for project progress and efficacy in addressing community needs. Long-term monitoring takes place with citizens reporting information about a particular regional project, providing on-the-ground analysis of its local impact. Finally, Elva users can reach a large audience with updates on local issues and the solutions being employed to address them. The platform can distribute community-wide messages through its SMS broadcasting system, keeping both decision makers and local citizens informed about critical information and acting as a two-way means of communication between them.
Importantly, all of these uses have humanitarian assistance and disaster relief implications. For instance, when deploying a particular technology to a stressed population, it is important to know the penetration and level of local adoption of the product. Elva can be employed to make such determinations and keep decision makers and key stakeholders informed. Elva can also make residents aware of crucial weather forecasts and seasonal trends that impact agricultural production and shelter facilities. The platform additionally acts as a safety network, alerting authorities about the security incidents that are threatening a community. Many times, the perception of safety and sense of security that Elva provides are just as important as a quick emergency response. With all of this in mind, Elva clearly has enormous potential to serve local communities and contribute to humanitarian assistance efforts worldwide.