RapidFTR Field Trip – Day Two

This is a write up for day two out of five. here’s a link to the other days:

(Disclaimer – this post reflects my own personal thoughts and opinions and not those of anyone else (or any organisation))

Day Two – 8.00am, Tuesday 12th Feb, 2013 – Training Day

The Good

Today marks the day we get together all the various stakeholders that will be using RapidFTR into a room and train them to use the new application. We arrive early to a nearby hotel where we’ve hired an area to perform the training. I’m told that things are too hectic at the camp to try to hold the training there and that we wouldn’t have the facilities available (I’ll find out the next day just how true this was)

We’re expecting around 10 people to turn up for the training, across a number of organisations: UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees), ICRC (International Committee of Red Cross), URC (Uganda Red Cross), UNICEF, STC (Save The Children) and OPM (Office of the Prime Minister) -> I’ll explain in the next post just how all these organisations are involved in the running of the camp, and their stake in RapidFTR.

Setting up the training area

The plan for the day is to introduce both the mobile phone application, and the web app (which will be accessed via the netbooks UNICEF are providing). Ultimately it is 4 local volunteers that will actually be using RapidFTR (2 volunteers from Uganda Red Cross, and 2 from Save the Children -> again, I will explain why/how in the next post). We have a box of 10 mobile phones to use for the training.

We were anticipating that the volunteers would not be familiar with android devices, or smartphones in general, so in order to make the phones as easy to use as possible I also went through and cleared the “desktop” of each phone and placed the rapidFTR application in the same place on every home screen. This way, if they were to accidentally swipe across to another home screen, they’d still see the app in the same spot. The phone we’d bought also had a very annoying feature of playing music whenever you pressed a button that was located in a terrible position and would constantly be pressed by accident. So in order to stop an awkward situation that could (and most probably would) occur during a potentially emotional registration process I went through and cleared out all the pre-loaded music and videos on each phone. This was not a fun task.

The training started with a brief introduction to rapidFTR. While the attendees were familiar with the concept and had been hearing about the planned deployment for a while, no-one in the room had seen or used the application before. Until now, all child registration and reunification was done via a paper-based system. The introduction of this new technology was going to be a massive improvement.

Before we moved on to the application, we started with the basic anatomy of an android device, and talked through some of the basic features and a “how-to” on the phone. The group slowly got comfortable with the touch screen dynamic and the use of the keyboard, and how to perform some of the basic functions on the phone. While the phone was new to most, they were very quick at picking up how to use it, and in a few short days they had all become experts.

training in progress

This was followed by an introduction into rapidFTR itself. We had set up a demo environment that they could connect to, and I set up test user accounts for everyone they could use. The training remained very hands on – we would introduce a small piece of functionality and then have them perform that function themselves on their phone as we went around the room and offered support and answered questions. It proved to be an effective method of training and I’m glad we brought extra phones so that everyone had their own to play with during the training.

We also had a demonstration from the attendees of a registration process so we could all get a glimpse of how the app would be used in a real registration scenario.

a mock registration is performed while the group watches

In addition to this, we also had a specialist counsellor attending who ran a session on the more human side of the registration process and gave important advice on how to communicate and treat the children during the registration process. It was this session which reminded me of the reality of the situation we would be using the application for. Helen talked about how we would be getting children that have either been separated from their parents or had even lost their parents. Children who would have travelled hundreds of miles and been subjected to unimaginable experiences and somehow survived and fought their way to a refugee camp. These volunteers would be the first contact these children would have, it was on them to present to these children something that shows that their struggle was worth it, and that they are in a better, safer place now. There was a lot of responsibility on the shoulders of these people.

We break for lunch.

We spend a little time in the afternoon on the web application, but we don’t spend a large amount of time on this. The majority (if not the entirety) of the usage of RapidFTR from Nyakabande will be via the android devices. Therefore the bulk of the afternoon is spent with people breaking out into smaller groups and performing multiple demo registrations to get themselves familiar with RapidFTR and the android phones.

The day ends with us reminding the group that tomorrow we’ll all be back at the camp. The training is over, the next time we use the phones, it’ll be from the refugee camp, and they’ll be registering a real child. I’m excited, but exhausted; they day isn’t close to complete yet though.

trail registrations

We say our goodbyes as people leave the training room. The room is cleaned out and we return back to our hotel where we sit and debrief on the days events. This lasts a while until eventually we’re all exhausted.

Day Two – 00.00am, Tuesday 12th Feb, 2013

The Bad

Let’s rewind back to the start of the day, it’s the midnight before the training.

I’m up late prepping the phones with the stable(ish) version APK (with the addition of a few last minute fixes that we added in). I finish, exhausted, and fall asleep.

The mosquitos here don’t seem to like me, or perhaps, they seem to like me a little too much. The mosquito net in my room seemed to do little to protect me from the onslaught. I managed about 3 hours sleep in between the constant biting and freakishly terrifying buzzing right in my ear that keeps waking me up every few minutes.

I manage to wake up and grab a quick breakfast, I’m lucky that my room has a working water heater, the first 4 minutes of warm water it provides does a good job of helping me shake off the tiredness. The cold water that follows suddenly does an even better job.

During the training we notice a few issues, most are new stories and bits of work that come up in response to real user feedback, and some are the type of things that can only come up when the real users start playing around with the app. I make a note of all the information and keep track of it. I’ll analyse it all with the team once I’m back in Kampala.  However one of the issues that is realised is quite critical. The photos that are being taken with the phone are coming out skewed/stretched. We’d recently made changed to the photo capture, and I don’t think we had tested it on this specific phone…doh! Luckily we have a crack team of developers and I’m on hand to see the issue. I open up my laptop, spend some time trying to figure out what’s going on. I get on a call with the rest of the team back in Kampala and Subhas picks up the task. A few hours later the issue is resolved and pushed to the release 1 branch on github.

The training has ended and we’re back at our hotel talking trough the day and going through any issues that we had seen. I had a pretty serious back injury a couple of weeks earlier (resulted in 2 damaged discs) and the combination of the long car journey the day before and the long day training was starting to take its toll. I tell the others I’m not going to be able to join them for dinner and head back to my room. I rest for a bit and then get to work on setting up the phones again for the next day- redeploying the amended APK and reconfiguring them all to connect to the production server instead of the demo one we had been using that day.

Day Two – 09.00am, Tuesday 12th Feb, 2013

The Ugly

Let’s go back one last time and take a look at the day from another, final, angle

So far a lot of what I’ve said suggested a pretty smooth day of training. Unfortunately that is not entirely accurate. I don’t feel it’s appropriate to go into the gory details of exactly what happened, it would be unprofessional. I can, however, try to explain without going into the specifics.

As I mentioned earlier in this post, there are many different organisations involved. I had been warned that the dynamics of so many NGOs interacting could lead to a highly political environment, rife with conflict. I started to see the signs of this today.

Getting buy in from all the various organisation for RapidFTR has been a struggle, there is a lot of red tape, a lot of meeting and discussions and musings and conversations and reviews and committees and panels and whatever else it takes to get a decision made. But eventually, after some heroic activity by various people (of which I was not one, I was carefully shielded from this, along with the rest of the team, by Cary) we finally managed to get a Memorandum of Understanding signed by the heads of the various groups. It was this document that finally gave us the go ahead to move forward and start using rapidFTR in the field.

The MoU came through quite late, just in time for our trip to Nyakabande, but it seems that not everyone was aware of this, so attempts were made to get the training and the deployment cancelled at the last minute. Thankfully the MoU had indeed been issued and signed, quashing any such attempts. It did however act as a stark reminder of the ugly side of things.

About the Author: akash


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