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In January, the mVAM project reached an important milestone: after 6 months of preparations, we launched our live phone surveys in Goma, in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Internally displaced persons (IDPs) are now responding to WFP food security surveys by mobile phone.

In order to get the first round of calls started, Marie and the team spent a week in Goma to organise the distribution of mobile phones to respondents in the camp, training our two operators, and working through a ‘long list of loose ends’.

How to distribute mobile phones in an IDP camp

Our November face-to-face survey established that only one in four people we would like to hear from own mobile phones—too low for a phone survey without dealing with considerable bias issues.  Following the best practice and discussions with our local partners, we decided to give basic mobile phones to our respondents in Goma.

It turns out that mobile phone distribution is a necessary, but labour-intensive process. Each of our 350 phones had to be charged, and its SIM card manually activated. WFP’s number was entered as a contact on phone’s memory, so that respondents would be able to recognise an incoming call from WFP.  Without the active participation of Vodacom staff, the activation of 350 SIM cards would surely have taken much longer than a day and half.

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SIM activation for 350 mobile phones.

The distribution of mobile phones in the camp also required considerable effort. We had to verify that each of the recipients was the same person who had responded to our November face-to-face survey. About 80 respondents (out of 330 who had agreed to participate) were not located in our mid-January phone distribution. We are now in the process of checking with the camp management whether they are still camp residents. We suspect that some of these respondents may have already left the camp, following an improvement in security in North Kivu over the past two months. We may need to replace these missing households in our sample.  Local media were there, and we were pleased to see an article about the launch of the mVAM project in the Congolese press(link is external).

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Mobile phone distribution to mVAM respondents in Mugunga III camp

News from the call centre

Our calls are currently being placed by two operators, who are based at WFP’s office in Goma. These operators received an orientation about the mVAM project and the food security modules that we will ask by phone. They also received an operators’ manual, which describes how to interact with respondents and manage information. Our colleagues first practised calling unsuspecting colleagues and relatives, first in French and then in Swahili. This allowed them to get comfortable with the questions and to ‘find their voice’.  On January 29th, ‘actual’ calls to respondents in the camp began. At present, our operators are able to implement the reduced coping strategies index questionnaire in 3 to 5 minutes. It takes 6 to 8 minutes to complete the food consumption score, a longer and more complex module. We will keep an eye on average call time, as we want phone interviews be as short and user-friendly as much as possible. For now, our operators are entering data ‘live’ into a simple excel spread sheet.  Next month, we hope to report on how the first round went, and comment on survey results.

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Live calls, underway…

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