Archives for 25 November 2011 dunxd.com (2)

Can you work with the Chaos Monkey?

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Published on: November 25, 2011

At the Nethope Conference, one of the better plenary sessions was by Joe Baguley of VMware.  One of the things he mentioned in his talk that resonated for me was something that Netflix had developed called the Chaos Monkey.

The Chaos Monkey is a programme that Netflix run on their systems that randomly shuts down processes and services.  The idea is that the world is a chaotic place, and at some point one of your processes or services will shut down.  The chaos monkey simulates this, forcing everyone to design systems that can handle this or that part failing.

This seems to be a particularly important concept to grasp, particularly when building on platforms that market themselves as extremely resiliant.

At Christian Aid, I don’t think we need to build our own chaos monkeys. In our international environment, we are frequently interrupted by chaotic events, from giant signs falling on VSAT dishes (Abuja, 2008) to seemingly random VPN outages caused by ISP config errors (Port Au Prince, Dhaka, Delhi, La Paz, all to often recently).  Whilst these are a proper pain in the derrier, we must learn from them, and take this learning to build more resilant infrastructure, but also organisational processes that can handle everything from Earthquakes to SAN failure taking out our email system

The Chaos Monkey teaches us to expect the unexpected.

Read more:

Grameen’s Community Knowledge Worker programme – an I4D case study

Categories: Christian Aid, InfoTech
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Published on: November 25, 2011

Grameen Community Knowledge WorkersAt this years Nethope conference, which I attended last week, the stand out for me was a presentation of a project run by Grameen – their Community Knowledge Worker programme in Uganda.

The project employs Community Knowledge Workers who live in communities in Uganda.  These CKWs, many of whom were previously Agricultural Extension Workers, are “trusted neighbours” who can be consulted on a variety of issues that are deemed useful for smallholder farmers in Uganda.  More details about the CKW programme can be found on the Grameen website.

IDEOS phone - an $80 smart phone!At the presentation I attended, Grameen showcased the technology they are using to support their CKWs.  Each CKW is supplied with an IDEOS android mobile phone – these retail for $80 in Kenya.  The phones have three Grameen authored apps installed.

The first app, CKW Search, is a searchable repository of information that the CKW can consult through a very simple menu.  This information is stored locally on the phone, but is updated automatically when a 3G signal is available.  Each query is logged in the system with GPS coordinates, and this information is sent back to Grameen when a 3G signal is available.

The second app, CKW Survey, is a simple forms based app the CKW can use to capture images, video and text, as well as fill out surveys – typically the CKW will survey farmers who use their services.  Again the data is stored locally on the phone until a 3G signal is available.

The final app, CKW Pulse, is the hub through which Grameen can communicate with the CKWs.  This can be used to message an individual CKW or a group.  Each CKW can monitor their own performance based on the work they have done with the other two apps.  CKWs can also log support calls through CKW Pulse.

In addition to these applications, the CKWs can supplement their income by selling airtime on the phones, and selling phone charging services using the solar chargers they have for chargind the IDEOS phones.

At the backend, Grameen are using Salesforce to collect the data, and have a live dashboard where various aspects of the CKW service can be monitored.  The survey application is based on the Open Data Kit – a free open-source set of tools built to make survey building and data collection quick and easy.

This project is a great showcase of what can be achieved by joining up widespread mobile phone coverage, low cost smart phones, online database systems, and a well trained local workforce.

There are a number of opportunities that Christian Aid could take advantage of here.

  • Simple surveys on touch screen phones are a great way to collect baseline data and aggregate it quickly, before and after other initiatives have been carried out.
  • The ability to collect images, audio and video and send them quickly through 3G networks means that collecting stories about our work is easier and more immediate than ever.
  • The Pulse application could be a useful way to immediately keep in touch with partner organisations, reminding them about deadlines, contacting them with specific messages, or allowing them to see the results of M&E activities and understand their performance.
  • The Search application is a simple way of making different kinds of information available offline.  This could be useful for Christian Aid staff, as well as in programme work that employs the “trusted neighbour” model or similar.

For more information on the Grameen CKW project I suggest the following reading:

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