arnessing technology amidst the Covid-19 pandemic: how has USMID done it?
By Paul Ahura
Social Development Specialist
And Wilson Kayom
This past year has been unprecedented in many ways. The coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic necessitated that the world rethinks the mode of work in all sectors, and like other places, at USMID, work continuity had to be well thought out. Adopting and adapting to the online meeting technologies became the first direction, while the physical planning agenda fully utilized online platforms and so were safeguards; an important part of the civil works.
A lack of physical field access and awareness of specific needs and dynamics in situations of Fragility, Conflict and Violence (FCV), as well as in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, obstructed operational engagement precisely in the areas where development interventions were critically needed. Given the constraints, Governments took on certain solutions that could provide real-time insights into field activities. One of the new technologies adopted at the time, and is continuously used to date is the Geo-Enabling Initiative for Monitoring and Supervision (GEMS), an initiative that responds to the challenge by helping to ‘bring eyes on the ground, where we cannot always have feet on the ground’ – World Bank, 2021.
The Government of Uganda, like many others at the international level instituted a host of Standard Operating Procedures (SoPs) to curb the spread of the Virus, and some of them limited movements, congregation and some work sectors completely closed, until such a time when the Government reviewed and sensed a reduction in virus spread. Even as the construction and civil works industries were permitted to progress during the times, some SoPs were limiting the pace and capacity of the works for example number of workers occupying a campsite, a housing unit among others.
It is at that time that the Funding Agency, the World Bank organized a GEMS training for all its project implementing units in Uganda. GEMS aim at building capacity of the Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) of Government and the project implementing Local Governments on the ground to leverage lowcost open-source technology, such as Kobo Toolbox, and simple methods for digital data collection and analysis to gain real-time insights on local dynamics that can inform decision making. Using GEMS allows for remote supervision, real-time risk management and coordination across projects and partners.
The Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development undertook the GEMS training with a package that includes tools on Environment, Social, Health and Safety aspects of the projects. Through their respective supervising consultants and contractors, Local Governments have been able to complete the online tools and delivered real time information for effective project supervision. Using their Mobile phones, the Kobo Toolbox application enable one capture data, pictures, attendance lists, meeting minutes, and others, and it is transmitted in real time, saving on travel time to physical civil works sites, and protecting staff from exposure to the pandemic.
The tool is simplified with automatic selecting online questionnaires and is customized to specific project requirements. The Ministry will undertake further roll out of GEMS to all local governments. It will also enhance capacity of central government staff to enable them provide appropriate and sustainable support to the Local Governments. The application requires high grade smart phone and data connectivity in order to function, and this has been and remains a challenge in some instances.
In Physical Planning, remote sensing technologies such as use of unmanned aerial vehicles became an essential source of collecting 3-dimensional information for decision making since physical collection of data was close to impossible at a certain time in the year.
In addition, in the original 14 USMID implementing local governments (currently some have become Cities) USMID was and continues to facilitate the use of the Physical Planning and Urban Management Information System (PPUMIS) that integrates different aspects of geographic information systems. Amidst the corona virus outbreak, PPUMIS has helped planners in the analysis, storage, and manipulation of both the physical, economic and social data provided, allowing planners to adopt and use the available mapping functions in analyzing the situation at hand.
Planners in Jinja City were able to track urban sprawl trends using the mapping functions provided on the PPUMIS systems, and predicted the spatial extensions of Jinja City. This was effective and important in finding suitable sites for further development of the city urbanizing regions. In addition, the information provided on the system facilitated remote implementation of plans for an informed development methodology. This was done through the overlay functions integrated in the system by plotting projects and development applications against google images and the physical development plans provided assessment of the environmental impact done in order to evaluate and minimize the impact of development on the physical environment.