In an effort to document all of my first impressions in a timely manner, I have neglected so far to discuss my work. You know, no big deal, just the entire reason I’m here. Believe it or not, my main goal for these 4 months isn’t to have fun, culturally-immersive adventures, although that is a nice perk.
Work can be a little daunting to talk about; I want to do justice to the super-cool work VOTO does. However, I can’t just remain quiet for fear of this not coming out perfectly. Here’s my best shot. There will be more work updates as time goes on.
As you all know, I’m working for VOTO Mobile. If you missed the memo and don’t know what VOTO is: here’s their website and here’s my blog about them. Sparknotes version: A lot of development work lacks adequate research/statistics/data. If you don’t know a population’s demographics or desires, how do you serve them? It’s expensive and difficult to gather this information in-person. Enter VOTO. VOTO is a social enterprise that aims to amplify the voices of the underheard by bridging information and communication gaps between populations and governments/organizations. They do surveying tailored for development (which comes with an interesting set of challenges) and information distribution (think health advice, farming information, behaviour-change, etc.).
Where do I fit into all that?
My primary role this summer is to work on VOTO’s programs team doing research. There are two main types of research that I’ll be completing:
Program Impact Evaluation
I will be doing research to demonstrate the impact of VOTO’s programs. The end result will be reports and case studies for use by the marketing and communications team.
My first task is to compile a resource outlining all of VOTO’s major past projects. Given that VOTO has worked with over 200 organizations and I have to retrieve this information by talking to people, this is a little daunting.
Next, I will be following up with 2-3 recent major programs and documenting case studies of their impact. This will include program data analysis as well as interviewing end-users. For example, one project I may research is an agricultural education program for maize and rice farmers. Here’s a previous VOTO blog about it. VOTO delivers farmers who opt-in to this program updates throughout the growing season in order to maximize their output and connect them with quality buyers. The information is timed based on farmers’ regional weather patterns and planting schedule. This program was very successful last year. This year, I may analyse data collected from users, attend site visits with the program director, and document the farmers’ experience with the program.
(It sounds cheesy, but I don’t know how else to put it)
For this part of my research, I will be tackling overarching questions which challenge VOTO. You may recall me mentioning that last year’s JF, Hilary, did this type of research on reaching rural women via mobile phone given social and logistical constraints.
My current research goal is to delve into how VOTO can best gather sensitive information. Information about topics like sexual assault, sexual health, political preferences, drug use, and income is of critical importance in development work. Think about how sexual assault and drug use rates, for instance, would affect the type of infrastructure and staffing required at a healthcare facility. Moreover, good statistical information on sensitive topics can push governments to make policy changes enabling better services for vulnerable people. However, this information can be some of the hardest to gather. Surveys to gather sensitive information often have lower completion rates, more skipped questions and more chronic misreporting than other surveys. I will be researching how VOTO can minimize these issues, how we can ensure the information is gathered respectfully, and how we can ensure adequate resources are available to vulnerable survey respondents. This topic came to light as the result of a project I have been working on for Ghana’s Gender Centre. They are gathering information about sexual assault rates and attitudes towards sexual assault in Ghana. More on my involvement with that project below.
What have I been doing so far?
Here’s a few things I’ve been up to at work since arriving:
- Implementing the tree logic for a voice-based survey for the Gender Centre. I created the survey in the VOTO platform (the website/software where users can design tree/message/survey content), added survey content in 6 languages (English, Twi, Dagbani, Ewe, Hausa and Ga), coordinated survey testing (i.e. finding people who speak all those languages to listen through the survey and give feedback), and gathered replacement audio files for any parts that needed fixing. We’ll be collecting data with this survey throughout the summer, and I will remain part of this project alongside my research.
- Finalizing a translators’ guide. As VOTO produces voice content in many languages, and requires different voices (i.e. male/female/old/young) depending on the target audience, many different translators are required to achieve the audio we need. The document I finalized compiles tips for the translation/recording process and will be provided to translators so we (hopefully) receive high-quality audio files and increase efficiency.
- Recording English translations for an experimental in-house motivational call. This is the brainchild of one of the employees here. It’s meant to give staff a boost. I find it kind of funny that they’ll hear my voice.
- Providing feedback on potential re-designs for the VOTO platform which is currently undergoing a facelift. I’ve been providing feedback on colour choice, sidebar style, etc. to my colleague in charge of this project.
- Helping a colleague on the tech team set up software testing infrastructure. I let slip that I had been heavily involved in testing at my last placement and got swept up into the tech team to help them get testing solidly implemented. We’re working on things like test reporting, automated regression testing and documentation.
“Culture eats strategy for breakfast”
Fun fact: the VOTO staff never stop working. My first few days here, I was so confused about when to stop working because it just seemed like no one ever stopped. Granted, this may be partially due to everyone living and working in the same place, but honestly everyone has so much to do. The hectic start-up life is real here. Needless to say, they’ve been keeping me busy. I’ve been working 10+ hour days, and while I need to work a little on my work-life balance, I’ve been really enjoying it. Everyone is very friendly and willing to help me out.
“Home is where my toothbrush is”
I’m excited to travel a bit around Ghana this summer, both for work and for fun. This placement so far has really allowed me to grow when it comes to my reliance on a home base. While I think having a home base is healthy, I was overly-reliant on my familiar home back in Canada. Even on my previous work term in Ontario, I wasn’t emotionally satisfied with my (extremely comfortable!) home there. Now, I feel blessed to have a home in the VOTO house at all. I’m excited to travel and to live out of a bag for a while, and I feel less need for a perfect, safe “nest”.
“Where’s the platform?”
If you don’t understand what VOTO does, you’re not alone. My colleague Suyuhini told me this story: one time, he showed up to meet with a client, only to be asked “Where’s the platform?” as though the platform was a physical gadget. The service VOTO offers – software complemented with partner support and program management – can be a little hard to describe and understand.
“I’m not stuck in traffic, I am traffic”
I love VOTO’s humility and constant self-evaluation. They put the data they gather to good use to evaluate whether what they’re doing is working. My whole role this summer is focused on learning from past successes and issues. I like it. That’s all.
“Focus on what you can do, not what you can’t do”
As always with a new job, there have been times here where I didn’t know what to do. It’s easy, where everyone is so busy, to turn in on myself and feel overwhelmed. I really don’t like to bother people, and where everyone’s so busy it can be easy to feel like a bother when asking for help. At those times, I try to focus on what I can do – who I can reach out to, what tools I do have – and proceed from there. It often inspires in me the courage to go ahead and ask for help anyway. Of course, in the end, while I’ve been socialized to aspire to be pleasant and convenient, that’s not how work works. I have to do what’s best for the organization, no matter how personally challenging that may be.
If you get the chance, I definitely recommend talking to me about work. Probably 200% more effective than this blog post. Regardless – thanks for reading 🙂