Rebecca Wanjiku is a project assistant for Ushahidi in Kenya. She interfaces with many organizations and individuals who have inquiries about Ushahidi. In this post, she shares her perspective and experience.
“How do we inspire active participation in a project that is non-political, and not related to a crisis?”
This is a question asked by many organizations who are thinking of using Ushahidi, our Knight-funded project. They usually ask it immediately after I am done explaining that the platform can be used in non-crisis situations, even though its genesis was Kenya’s post-election violence.
I’m uniquely suited to understand this predicament because I live in a community where people are obsessed with politics and general elections — and the media ensures that if it’s not about politics, it rarely makes headlines.
Promotion is Key to Participation
It’s very easy for me to tell those interested that people will participate in a non-crisis application of Ushahidi. To make it work, however, this kind of application requires aggressive marketing and online awareness campaigns, and mixing and matching online and offline initiatives.
For example, organizations could issue a press release, and make sure to highlight the URL of their Ushahidi installation in order to direct people to share their opinions online. During media opportunitites, those being interviewed on radio or TV can also make sure to direct people online.
Another question that comes up is: What if we have no media coverage to help drive awareness?
Many organizations may have compelling stories, but they fail to get coverage because they don’t do a good job telling it to the press. They need to understand the way journalists work and what they are interested in. If the media is not interested, or if the organization has no experience dealing with the press, then blogs, Facebook, mailing lists and Twitter are options that allow one to reach a greater audience. (They should be used whether the traditional press is interested or not.)
Tips for Using Ushahidi
Aside from promotion, the way the project is conceived and executed also matters. Don’t start using the platform then abandon it halfway, and don’t leave the categories empty. Your categories also must be relevant and easily understood so that people know which ones to use when they submit reports. Also make sure you dedicate the time required to approve the incoming reports in order to make sure they can appear of the map.
Finally, the way you choose to receive information from participants is very important when it comes to response and participation. Don’t insist on using Twitter and Facebook if the expected users don’t use these applications. Often, SMS is the one of the best ways to offer universal access to a wide variety of people.
In the end, it always helps to think through the implementation, the goals and expected user experience. For examples of how some people have used Ushahidi effectively with both offline and online tactics to raise awareness, see the following links and PDFs of use cases: KANCO [PDF], Stop Stocksouts, and Peace Heroes use case [PDF], the funny Zombie Reports site (see image above) and the ongoing Building Bridges initiative, which you can look at below: