Research finds: Are mobile surveys just reaching urban elites?

Posted March 23, 2015 by Tom Walker

The engine room has been collecting and summarizing research on ‘what works’ in projects that use technology to solve complex problems. We’re sharing research that we find useful on our blog in the hope that a wider range of people can use it to inform their work.

Background: The Center for Global Development and the World Bank (Tiago Peixoto, Jon Mellon, and Steve Davenport) have been testing whether mobile phone surveys can reliably produce nationally representative samples across different countries. Here’s a summary of their blogpost on the results (emphasis added):

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Board-erline perfect: Meet the newest members of our board

Posted March 17, 2015 by Kristin Antin
compass

(Credit: Dayna Bateman)

We are excited to announce three new members of our board of directors: Ali Ravi, Brenda Burrell and Nathaniel Heller. You can read more about the background and experience of each of these new board members in their bios below (and they now live on our about page with info about our organizational advisor, Allen Gunn from Aspiration). Our board of directors provides guidance, strategic support, and oversight for the engine room. We are excited to have them joining the team and look forward to the engine room benefiting from their deep and diverse experience and expertise!

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Teaching the computer: how we are testing humanitarian machine learning tech with our advocacy partners

Posted March 10, 2015 by Alix Dunn
X-4 program with what Langley engineers euphemistically called "Female Computer" support personnel.

(Credit: NASA)

A big part of the engine room’s Matchbox project is to match the right experts with partners at the right time. Some of that requires networks and project design clarity, and sometimes it requires a little bit of serendipity. We were fortunate to come across an innovative project at the Qatar Research Computing Institute (QCRI) that was initially designed for the humanitarian sector. The tool, called Artificial Intelligence for Disaster Response (AIDR), aims to support humanitarian responders who want the help of computers to filter the firehose of tweets and SMSs in crisis situations.

So what does AIDR have to do with transparency and accountability projects? Well our partner Kubatana has done an amazing job of building a large community of engaged citizens in a WhatsApp group, and has been looking for ways to process incoming messages about water availability. They first want to be able to toss out the spam and then will be looking for ways to filter and organize the information in an increasingly efficient way.

We got in touch with Patrick Meier from both QCRI and his great blog iRevolution to see if AIDR might be right for Kubatana. After a bit of back and forth emailing, we were up and ready to go with an AIDR system to test. We’ll report back about how AIDR has worked for our partner, but we were excited to share this update (and thank Patrick). You can read more about AIDR here and here.

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What we’re learning about roles, permissions and security

Posted February 9, 2015 by Maya Richman
Image from page 404 of "Dante and the early astronomers" (1913)

Deciding permissions can feel similar to mapping the cosmos in the 13th century. (Credit: Evershed, M. A. (Orr))

As our engine room family continues to grow, we are also changing and strengthening our organizational digital security practices and policies. After considering our threats and risks, we discovered our digital Achilles heel: the backend of our website was only as secure as our users’ weakest account password. So we knew we needed to force strong and regularly updated passwords, and we had to be smart about who had access to what information. Beyond improving security, simplifying roles and permissions, by removing access to unhelpful dashboards and irrelevant buttons, could streamline the user’s work experience, while hiding some of the organizations core features from any potential attack.

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