MONITORING PLATFORM FOR THE INFRASTRUCTURE IMPLEMENTATION UNIT IN LIBERIA
What are we doing here? The Liberia Road Asset Management Project was launched by the World Bank to help connect outer parts of Liberia to the capital of Monrovia. A total of 155 miles of road are currently being built and restored. Our platform, Argo, allows reporters from the Ministry of Public Works to track the progress of this endeavor on a daily basis.
Tiger Party travels to project countries to engage with local citizens, train officials on our platform, and present the capabilities of our platform.
On a recent trip to Monrovia, Liberia, our Producer and Creative Director met with Ministry officials to discuss use of the Argo platform and how it can be introduced to the public. We also trained Ministry reporters on how to utilize our app and website to submit data on local issues.
What does our platform do? In Liberia, it allows officials to keep track of road condition issues like bridges, potholes, and culverts. Citizens can also report on issues they observe in their community using an SMS shortcode to submit to the platform. These issues are then reviewed and addressed by the Ministry of Public Works.
Argo can be used for any number of development projects. It is used for road condition projects in Liberia, school & sanitation projects in Ghana, and infrastructure projects in the South Pacific and India.
How does the platform work? The platform is based on coordination between a website and a mobile Android app. The app is used by reporters to gather data on the field, no matter the conditions, internet connection, or timing. The app has a specific user flow that allows reporters to input data on the spot, and then edit and submit it for review once they are back from their field trip.
The type of data reporters can submit varies from simple text input to photos to dynamic GPS route tracking.
Once the data is submitted to the website, it can be manipulated for aggregation, data visualization, and a timing slider that presents the data narratively for all audiences. With this, the website is useful for all parties involved— reporters, Ministry officials, the public, and other stakeholders.
The website is streamlined to be a powerful yet flexible tool. In Liberia, admin users can choose custom categories to assign to issues, create comprehensive forms for reporters to fill out (including if-else logic), and assign issues to corresponding reporters.
Why is this important? First and foremost, gathering this data helps to solve local road condition problems faster and more efficiently. It strengthens the line of communication between those living with the complications and those responsible for fixing them.
On a broader level, the platform allows government stakeholders to observe long-term trends across various projects. Officials can see how progress aligns with project indicators, what is effective, and what needs a second look.
Finally, those passing through can get a glimpse into the progress Liberia is making in road conditions, and how it is improving each day.
From the World Bank website: “This is one of the largest road projects in a country with a huge infrastructure deficit currently trying to make up for the disruptions caused by the Ebola Virus Disease outbreak,” said World Bank Liberia Country Manager Inguna Dobraja. “The project will improve the dilapidated road infrastructure and connectivity that Liberians need to have access to markets and basic social services.”
What did we learn? During our trip, we focused on gathering feedback from those using the app on a daily basis. We found that the tracker function caught the attention of the public works reporters, as they could track their routes to and from field trips.
We also found that the user flow and customizing functions needed to be further streamlined to accommodate users who might only use the app occasionally, and require a shorter learning curve. To accomplish this, we added some simple tutorial annotations to the website for first visit users.
In terms of public interaction with the platform, we plan to launch a marketing campaign featuring SMS shortcode information on radio spots and billboards. This will inform citizens that they can communicate directly with the Ministry of Public Works thanks to our platform.
Internally, this project required a synthesized team where last minute feedback needed to be addressed in real time. For example, as we demo’d the create category feature, the number of requests revealed some performance issues with the page. We needed our engineers to resolve this while we were still on our trip, in order to ensure the Ministry the feature was operational. Next time, we will include more performance testing in our regression tests to abate this problem in the future.
This project taught us that a diverse set of skills is required to develop Argo for each country. Initially, we need production and design team members to understand the context of the country, their needs, and the relationships between the different stakeholders. We need to know how involved each party will be, and who the target audiences are.
For example, this platform is designed with public works officials in mind, so it needs to be step-by-step, simple, and efficient. The less information on each screen the better, because these reporters are not sitting down at a computer analyzing information—they are actively capturing measurements, photos, and other specs while on the field, interacting with contractors and other parties.
Next we need our architecture engineers to solve the main problem of the platform—how do we accommodate all this different data in line with the user flows and stories provided by production and design? How do we make a graceful system— accomplish the client goals while also creating a solid foundation?
Finally the production team is sent to present our solution and ensure it is in alignment with what the Ministry needs. Sometimes these needs change, politics change, teams change. We want to ensure the platform we are delivering is sustainable for our client in the coming years.