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Archive for the ‘Ukraine’ Category

Modern libraries in Ukraine strive to provide services and workshops that address essential community needs, from increasing electoral literacy to promoting healthy lifestyles. Many of the most successful of these initiatives are those implemented in partnerships with NGOs. In October, Bibliomist held a forum in Kherson with librarians and NGO professionals to create a platform to share these experiences and best practices, and promote increasing and ongoing partnerships between libraries and NGOs.

Many libraries in Ukraine are unaware of the existing opportunities to collaborate with NGOs, and others lack the experience to develop new projects through out-of-sector partnerships. Similarly, NGOs acknowledge that they have not sufficiently reached out to libraries as an ally for promoting their causes and sharing information with the public.

More than 50 civil society representatives, including librarians, participated in the event. During the forum, libraries and NGO professionals came to understand how they can partner effectively to provide valuable services and information to the public. For example, the Mediation Group, an NGO committed to promoting peaceful interactions and reducing conflict sparked the interest of several libraries that hope to host workshops on conflict resolution techniques for children from orphanages and vulnerable groups. Several libraries were also inspired by the environmental promotion work of Kherson’s Yednannia Foundation and health promotion work of Mykolaiv’s Indigo Foundation, and have already initiated plans to host information and outreach activities in their communities.

Librarians from Mykolaiv, Kherson, Kirovograd, and Dnipropetrovsk oblasts were inspired by the NGO Ukrainian House and the book donation and exchange campaigns that it has held with other libraries, and hope to replicate the partnership in their communities. “In villages and towns, libraries are becoming the only cultural center; they need a lot of input from different organizations,” concluded H. Dolnyk, director of Ukrainian House.

Ms. Petrenko, from the NGO Youth Center for Regional Development has partnered with libraries to promote hum

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an rights awareness, and she reflected on the valuable role that libraries play in supporting her Center’s work: “We are using libraries’ technical resources and facilities for educational trainings on human rights. We are now stocking the library with legal literature to hold regular trainings for youth.”  Petrenko added: “We are always open to new partnerships and we will be happy to support initiatives of librarians because they know what needs to be done in their community.

The forum proved that libraries and NGOs are eager to work together to launch common projects and initiatives. As these partnerships continue, the Bilbiomist program will continue to share success stories to inspire the development of similar partnerships in other regions of Ukraine.

 

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Yesterday (July 11, 2012) the UN Global Pulse hosted a roundtable on Big Data and Global Development. This follows the release of their white paper – Big Data for Development: Opportunities & Challenges – on May 29, 2012. In this same spirit, I would like to present some products of IREX Ukraine’s quest to become more data driven. The last paragraph of their blog post announcing the white paper is worth quoting directly:

“It is important to recognize that Big Data and real-time analytics are no modern panacea for age-old development challenges. That said, the diffusion of data science to the realm of international development nevertheless constitutes a genuine opportunity to bring powerful new tools to the fight against poverty, hunger and disease.”

The white paper presents a number of key dialogue points for the movement, all of which are very applicable to global library development. The first asks what types of new, digital data sources are potentially useful to the field of international development? In this case the data source is from computers in libraries in Ukraine. Each of the computers that the Bibliomist – Ukraine program provides to libraries in Ukraine has software included to provide impact data back to our team. Upon deployment, the librarian completes a short questionnaire, including information on the library’s location and the size of the community in which it resides. Also, the software reports to our database every 15 minutes; a 1 if the computer is actively being used, a 0 if it is on but not in use, and Null if it is switched off. This simple ‘hand raising’ exercise from each of our 700 libraries provides a wealth of data. Over the course of the first half of 2012, Bibliomist has certainly accumulated a big data source that provides insight on public computer usage in international development settings.

The second question posed in the UN’s white paper is what kind of analytical tools or methodologies for analyzing Big Data have already been tried and tested by academia and the private sector, which could have utility for the public sector? Like most big data analysis, I use a combination of tools to retrieve, format, and visualize our project data. The raw data is stored in a MySQL database, and through a variety of views is exported into a csv file. From there, I use a few Perl scripts I had laying around from graduate school to clean things up. I then produce a monthly workstation usage report to our project team, which ranks libraries according to Oblast. This Excel spreadsheet allows the whole team (representing a wide range of technical expertise) to be comfortable making more data driven decisions. For the fun stuff, I bring my data into R. Using the wonderful IDE, R Studio, I get down to visualizing the activity of over 2000 computers in libraries across Ukraine. Specifically I use the ggplot2 visualization package written by Hadley Wickham to produce the following graphics. The following animations are not meant to be comprehensive data driven representations of the program, but provide what I feel are compelling displays of the beauty to be found in visualizing the data in our development work.

Click each of the images to watch the animation in full size.

(WordPress resizing the gif files removes the animation, but I think they lose too much visually if sized down)

This first animation shows the evolution of computer usage by month based on the size of the library’s community. Workstation usage is taken only during working hours for a library (8am – 8pm). As can be seen, the vast majority of the computers are in rural locations. There is a surprising amount of change from month to month.

This animation is the same as the first, only each of the 25 Oblasts of Ukraine are graphed separately. The variation between Oblasts is striking; some have many more computers than others, others are much more urban. In this visualization you can almost feel the project breathing from month to month. The binary report from each computer comes together to paint this full picture.

In this final graphic, we again return to the location size vs. performance. Each of the dots represents a library. The box and whiskers is used to mark the nature of the distribution in workstation usage. Over the months, libraries move fairly significantly. Some very noticeably separate themselves from others, most noticeably in the village community size. We can now reach out and specifically find out what aspects of programming are making these libraries successful and how can they be emulated?

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Library space design has been a challenge for many Ukrainian libraries. Often hosted in old buildings with uncomfortable furniture and no heat in winter, many libraries do not come across as cozy and welcoming spaces to their users. Frequently an open layout of shelves and tables is overlooked, which contributes to the “unwelcome” look of libraries filled with stacks of books instead of  space for users to socialize, hold meetings and serve as a “third space.” These issues are key factors affecting library visitation in Ukraine.

The librarians visited the new Philological Library at the Free University in Berlin.

Fortunately, many Ukrainian librarians recognize the importance of modern library space design, and Vinnytsia Regional Scientific Library is leading an initiative to address these challenges. The Designing for Harmony and Success project  (http://bit.ly/H5TO1G) is focused on the modernization of the library’s space through researching best international and Ukrainian practices, compiling the findings into a handbook, and offering training for Ukrainian librarians. To do this, the library has already forged partnerships with local designers, as well as the city public library in Berlin, Germany.

I had an opportunity to accompany a Learning Library project team headed by library director Natalya Morozova on a study trip to Germany on March 13-15, 2012. Taking advantage of the existing partnership with the Central City and Regional Library in Berlin (also known as ZLB, http://bit.ly/HfPmKu), the Ukrainian librarians traveled to Berlin to learn more about German libraries and their design, meet with leading library interior designers and architects to collect information and gain even more inspiration to implement innovative library space design methods back home and transform Ukrainian libraries into more vibrant, welcoming spaces for users.

Over three working days the group visited nine German libraries, including eight in the city of Berlin and one outside the city, in Eastern Germany, in a small town called Luckenwalde, where the library is located on the premises of a redesigned railway station: http://bit.ly/GGdjz7

Project team in Berlin Library

The Humboldt Box, part of the Humboldt Forum project, which brings together museums, Humboldt University, and the Central and Regional Library in Berlin.

One of the many highlights of the trip was visiting the public library in Adalbertstrasse in Berlin: http://bit.ly/GLq49W, which is located in a neighborhood populated by recent immigrants who often do not yet speak the language and need substantial support accessing information and overcoming a range of social challenges. The library has been recently renovated, and the architect who was responsible for this project, Ralf Fleckenstein, accompanied the group on the tour and shared design ideas, including materials, color scheme, furniture, and layout aimed at creating a welcoming space. The library served as an example of a multicultural center open for everyone, and showed us how it effectively responds to its users’ needs by providing a print collection in different languages, offering homework assistance, and holding a variety of community events. The team found this library especially interesting not only in terms of its design, but also in the services provided to the diverse local community.

The newly equipped public library in Adalbertstrasse in Berlin.

The Learning Library project team returned to Ukraine after brainstorming and identifying ways to adapt the experience to the Ukrainian context, and materials about German libraries will be included into their handbook  and training materials. One idea was to use mats on wide windowsills on the library’s top floor to attract more users with laptops to sit there and enjoy wi-fi access. Next, the team will look into changing the library floorplan to provide more space for social activities. The library will share its expertise with their colleagues at the Libraries and Community Development Fair, which will be held by Bibliomist and its partners on May 21-22, 2012 in Kyiv: http://bit.ly/GKz1wL More photos from the study trip are available on the Bibliomist Facebook page: http://on.fb.me/GLiz4e

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Citizen Access Point at Mykolayiv Kropyvnytskiy Library

A patron connects with her government online at the local library.

by Megan Volk, Bibliomist Senior Program Manager

Ask Ukrainians about the last time they’ve been to their local library and some may tell you about their days as a student bent over an open encyclopedia. But ask others and increasingly they will tell you how a visit to the library earned them money, saved them time, or just made their lives easier. Valentyna in Kirovograd may tell you how a librarian helped her find an error in her pension calculation, which she corrected to see an increase in her monthly payment. Viktor, a farmer from the village of Izmailivka, may tell you how he went online to use the Ukrainian Agricultural Portal to find a buyer willing to pay top dollar for his corn.  Iryna from Sumy may tell you about how she used the state employment service’s website to find a job at her local post office.

The Ukrainian government is taking steps to make the lives of citizens easier by placing access to services and information online. Unfortunately these efforts are undermined;  according to World Bank data from 2011 less than 6% of the population has a fixed Internet subscription. In late 2011, we conducted a survey that indicates that a large number of public libraries across the country are helping to bridge this divide by providing not only internet access, but assistance to patrons in utilizing e-governance services.

Based on completed questionnaires from 246 librarians working in libraries with computers and internet access across the country, 73% reported offering some kind of e-governance services. Of those offering such services, 97% help users access links to national and local level government and 48% report providing training to users on searching for government information online. Librarians report that patrons are most interested in information closely affecting their lives, with pensions topping the list: 97 percent of librarians responded that this was an issue of particular interest among their patrons.

Many libraries are not only helping patrons find the information they are looking for, but taking their efforts a step further and helping the government to develop and promote its new services to the public.  68% of those libraries offering e-governance services report cooperating with government officials in helping to disseminate information, and 17% report working with the government in the creation of online sites and tools. In some libraries the exchange of information is a two-way street, with 25% of those respondents reporting that they routinely provide government with feedback and suggestions from their patrons.  Of these, 18% (45 respondents) said the government acted on at least one of their suggestions. 44% of respondents report that their work in e-governance has improved their relationship with local officials.


In addition to serving as access points to e-governance information and tools, libraries also continue to serve as a physical meeting place, connecting citizens to their government officials and elected representatives. 72% of all respondents report holding roundtables in the library attended by government representatives, and 32% report holding seminars on different government policies and procedures led by experts in the respective field.

We’re excited to have the opportunity to share this information with our partners and demonstrate how powerful this collaboration between libraries and government can be as both work to connect citizens with the information they need.

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This is the second post about our new reporting tool in Ukraine, which uses Frontline SMS and GoogleDocs to track information that our regional representatives collect in the field.

Here is the link to Part 1

You can download the completed and documented script here.

I will now walk through the code itself and describe the purpose of each piece.  Unfortunately our blog can not currently imbed inline code, so I will just post images for the time being.  This is going to get into some basic computer code; just a warning.  If this sort of thing is new to you, these resources may be a simpler and more basic introduction to the same sort of tool that I built (first and second).  To get this tool running you will need to download a few things.  Thankfully they are all free.

  1. Download and install the latest version of Frontline:SMS
  2. Make sure you have the latest version of Python installed.  We will be working with the Google Data Python Library.  Follow the instructions found here to get things running.  You will need to have both Python and the Google Data Library.
  3. I recommend making sure that you can get a simple Python script to communicate with a Google Spreadsheet by following the hello world example, or by running some of the example programs that come with the Google Data Python Library.
  4. I also recommend making sure that you can install Frontline:SMS on your computer and get it sending and receiving text messages with your GSM modem before moving on.

Now that Frontline:SMS is up and running and you can get a Python script to connect to the Google Spreadsheet API, lets work on coding something that links the two together.  This code represents just one way to accomplish this, and is by no means perfect or optimized.  However, it does get the job done.  Open up my script (found here) with your favorite editor and lets walk through the different portions.

(more…)

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cell phone coverage map - Ukraine

Coverage Map Courtesy of MTS Ukraine

The drive for data is a central motivation in large, dispersed ICT4D projects such as Bibliomist in Ukraine. The distances and number of project sites for Bibliomist are both vast and challenging, especially given the infrastructure realities in the less developed regions of the country. When it comes to data reported from the field, too much is never enough in my book. I constantly look for tools to improve and streamline our reporting mechanisms. It might be tempting to think that the best route to accomplish this is to simply gather more data, however in many cases the best approach is to simplify the data gathering process.

Currently, our regional staff usually reports to our central team either via email, updating a shared google document, or by direct cell phone call.  The problem here is that data can be delayed a few days by the reporting process, or by a lack of Internet connection.  When visiting libraries in rural locations, reps must travel back to a location with an Internet connection to report on what they found at the library site.  Reporting data can vary significantly, but this particular instance was to improve the reporting efficiency for pre-installation surveys.  A regional rep must verify a number of conditions for each library that applies to our program to ensure that facilities meet our requirements.  For example, this particular survey contains questions such as ‘what is the available Internet connection?’; ‘are there burglar bars on the doors/windows?’; and ‘is there enough physical space for the computers?’  I wanted a technological solution that would allow the reps to report on this survey without having to transcribe answers into an email, or worry about the availability of an Internet connection.  I also wanted the survey responses to be organized and parsed automatically and not have to be done so by hand by our monitoring and evaluation team.  Currently, reps would wait until they were home to work on the actual reporting of the survey.  This tool will allow them to report on the survey results from the library site itself.

With this goal in mind, I wanted to make it easier for my regional staff to report data to myself and our impact team. Some of my key constraints:

  1. I did not want to reinvent the data organizing tools already in place by our impact team. (Don’t fix what isn’t broken)
  2. I did not want to mandate new technology to the regional staff. (Outfit them with smart-phones or require learning a new program)
  3. I wanted the tool to be accessible to all regional staff regardless of technology comfort level and language preferences. (Keep it simple)
  4. I wanted reporting to not be dependent on an active internet connection.
  5. I did not want to spend (much) money.

Taking these things into account, I began researching tools that are already out there. Constraint #1 meant feeding reports through google docs, which requires playing around the Google Documents API. This works in this case as we do not require the power of a stand alone database, and the cloud hosting inherent to gdocs solves a lot of the backup and access worries. #2 meant  I wanted to bring data gathering to a technology and process our regional staff already use everyday. In this instance, my regional reps are my ‘customers’ and a quick user-needs study brought back a clear direction. It became apparent that the only common tool available to all 25 representatives is a basic mobile phone with only SMS (text message) and voice capabilities. Even java based form reporting (such as this example) would require buying new phones for some of the staff. #3 kind of fell in line after #2; I knew I’d be crowd-sourcing SMS’s at this point. #4 amounts  to the fact that it is very difficult to mandate that staff inform you that the internet is down at a particular library if the only way they can effectively report this is through an internet connection. While internet connections can be unstable in rural Ukraine, cell phone coverage is more or less ubiquitous. For #5 I was half way home by using Google Docs, there are plenty of open-source tools laying in wait out there, but which to choose? I settled on a trusty-veteran of the text message world: Frontline:SMS.

I decided to build a reporting system that would tie together the  ubiquitous functionality that Frontline:SMS puts in the hands of each of my field staff with the cloud ‘database-on-the-cheap’ that is Google Docs. I wanted reps to be able to text message in the status of library locations by parsing the message contents. I used the following items in building my tool:

Frontline has a very nice feature where an incoming SMS can be used to trigger an external command. I wanted this command to be a call to a python script I would write, and the command line arguments would be the data that the script passed along to a Google Spreadsheet. To do this, I would need a few helpful Python tricks.

  • gdata to give me all the google api calls and authentication commands
  • optparse  to get data from the FL:SMS command line call into my script
  • urllib to clean up an encoding issue so that I can properly parse the text message’s contents

In my next post I will walk through my code and give a tutorial on how I built this tool, and how to install it. In the mean time, you can download the completed, and documented, script here.

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OCDCamp SignOn October 20-22 I took part in Open Government Data Camp (Warsaw), which is the world’s biggest open data event.

I was really impressed by the number of participants – over 300 people from over 40 countries: NGO activists, programmers, public servants, journalists, businessmen. I also appreciated the unique venue style – former Warsaw factory turned into a club served as a perfect location for techies’ gathering.

The range of topics discussed and projects presented at the Camp was very diverse: open data and transparency, crowdsourcing open data, open data as a tool for local government building ecosystems of open data innovations.

Powerful international institutions, such as the European Commission and the World Bank, took interest in the event. In particular, Ms. Neelie Croes, Vice President of the European Commission and European Digital Agenda Commissioner, in her video address stated that “public data…will help us address the challenges we face in areas such as transport, energy and health. The overall economic gain could amount to tens of billions of euros, every year.” An Open Data Strategy of the European Commission will be presented in November 2011.

I particularly liked the case of the Sunlight Foundation (the U.S.) intended to create accountability in government, the Albanian open government initiative which has become an important online tool on economy, demography, geography for the entire Balkan region, a Dutch case – open data activists managed to advocate for passing Open Data Motion in the town of Enschede. In Brazilian case “Hackers for Transparency” movement within one year managed to establish good working relationship with City Council of Sao Paulo and the Ministry of Science and Technology, initiated Federal Open Data Portal and got the Minister of Science and Technology to say that “hackers are good.”

One of the most productive events, in my opinion, was Open Data for Development: Open Space Session, where we discussed such topics as open data in developing countries: international involvement, open data manuals, building blocks. Possible solutions are to take Open Data conference to developing countries, provide more scholarships to support developing country participants, hold Open Data exchanges, foster cooperation between neighboring countries.

And, finally, some recommendations on open government data development:

  • constant work with government, even though it is very time-consuming
  • economic relevance and statistics are a key argument
  • visualizations are a powerful tool
  • citizens, journalists and governments need to be educated more on open data topics.
  • it is important to build an ecosystem
  • open data platforms should be intended for ordinary citizens, not intermediaries or partner organizations
  • open data should become a part of education system: scraping tools for students, wiki, success stories, apps contests, open data school manuals; contest among local schools, e.g. government provides funding to those schools, which put some of their data online.
  • run hackathons to mobilize people. Hackfest 2011 is planned for December 3, every country is invited to participate.

As campers said, one of key success formulas is “Think Big, Start Small,” so more developments are certainly to follow!

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