Digitizing Social Mobilization: the Liberian Experience

from Mercy Corps
Published on 12 Mar 2015

In an attempt to end Ebola transmission in Liberia, Mercy Corps through its Ebola Community Action Platform (ECAP) is employing massive social mobilization, which has to date reached over two million people with critical anti-Ebola messages.

Using this method, social Mobilisers go out into their community to spread information on how people can protect themselves, their families and their communities from the Ebola virus. They work in thousands of communities and go by many names, but the task is one: spread the word! Ebola Must Go.

During these social mobilization campaigns, many tactics are employed. People go from door to door, meeting households and individuals and talking about Ebola; they present dramas in market places and meeting points; some organize townhall or ‘palava hut’ sessions while others use music and dance.

But there is one quite unique tool that has been grasped in this fight. Through ECAP, smartphones from the Paul Allen Initiative donated via the NetHope Foundation, are being used by over 800 community social mobilizers in about 3,000 communities.

These mobilizers use the software application ODK Collect to record activity in their communities, measuring knowledge and uptake of preventative behaviors such as handwashing and attitudes on a variety of related issues like stigma: people’s willingness to accept survivors and Ebola workers into their homes and communities.

Mercy Corps’ Monitoring and Evaluation team, based in Monrovia, on an ongoing basis reviews aggregated data received from all 76 partners, who are together contributing over 12,000 monthly survey responses - providing a massive data set which can be used to monitor changes over time and by county and district.

This data then informs Mercy Corps, its partners and Government stakeholders on how people in often far away locations feel about the Ebola situation and where critical information or behavior gaps may present problems, so as to target messaging and inputs where this is most needed.

Joan Taylor, a mobilizer working with the West Africa Network for Peace Building (WANEP) on the ECAP Program, says she feels very excited to be working in the field with smartphones. “This phone helps to make my work very easy and fast. I don’t have to struggle to carry a lot of things, which makes it easier to work in the field. It’s also possible to show communities visuals and photos relating to the topics I’m talking about which adds to the credibility of the messages.”

Mobilizers are also making creative use of social media channels such as WhatsApp and Facebook to share images, video, and audio files relating to their social mobilization activities, and to generate ideas and discussion across county borders.

Jzohn Alexander Nyahn, Jr., Executive Director of CHESS Liberia says that mobile technology is enhancing coordination among Mobilisers. “We find it’s very interactive and we can learn a lot from other organizations facing similar challenges. It’s cost effective and the young people especially find it exciting to work with.”

Micheal Catalano, E-CAP Digital Outreach Advisor, believes the use of the smartphones by capable E-CAP mobilizers supports community outreach with high fidelity message dissemination, photo submission, and valuable feedback from many field activities.

“We were excited to train mobilizers on the use of the smartphones prior to their social mobilization campaigns and community engagement. We can receive photos, short video, and audio submissions from across Liberia,” he said.

These smartphones are loaded with memory cards containing approved Ebola messages and guides to help mobilizers promote positive behavior change. Digital video, community radio audio content, illustrations, and PDF files can be shared with people they meet in their communities.

Catalano commented that the idea to load the phones with SD cards came about when mobilizers started reporting that some rural community leaders doubted the existence of the virus and were still living in denial. “With digital audio of survivor testimonies and other material promoting positive behavior change, mobilizers can make maximum impact.”

About ECAP

The Ebola Community Action Program is a large social mobilization program, funded by USAID and developed by Mercy Corps and Population Services International, which has engaged over 70 community-oriented NGOs to support the Government-led Ebola response. You can read more via the ECAP website: www.ecapliberia.org