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Published on October 17th, 2015 | by EJC

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Lessons Learned In Nepal – Social Media Monitoring During Humanitarian Crises

Part of ACAPS’ Nepal project included a social media monitoring pilot: the team produced fortnightly monitoring reports, with the aim of helping to identify needs, concerns, developing trends and emerging risks among the effected population; and conversations related to the quality and accessibility of aid. The following is an extract from their report ‘Lessons Learned – Social Media Monitoring during Humanitarian Crises‘ published on 21 September, 2015. Republished with permission.

The Social Media Monitoring Project in Nepal

Carried out in English and Nepali, and operating from 1 June to 27 August, social media monitoring was part of ACAPS support to the Nepal Earthquake Assessment Unit. Insights gained through social media (mainly Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr and blogs) and national media monitoring were intended to feed into the “Communication with Communities” (CwC) project.

Issues of main interest were:

- needs, concerns, developing trends and emerging risks among the effected population; and

- conversations related to the quality and accessibility of aid.

The ACAPS team in Nepal produced fortnightly monitoring reports, covering the period from 17 June to 14 August. At the request of OCHA, distribution of these documents was limited. The project was supported by financing from the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID).

This document summarises the experiences of the pilot social media monitoring project set up to following the 25 April earthquake in Nepal, and draws out key lessons learned and recommendations. It was informed by a lessons learned workshop in Nepal as well as interviews and email exchanges with members of the project and external recipients of project’s reports. Written by Timo Lüge, the lead consultant responsible for the project, this is not an independent evaluation of the project.

Key Findings

- Monitoring of social media conversations in the aftermath of the Nepal earthquake was found mainly to be useful in two ways:

  1. Analysing public reactions to media reports: The data enabled the team and clients to see which issues were widely discussed, and whether these conversations led to sustained discussion or merely short-term spikes.volume
  2. Seeing the relative prevalence of topics and identifying changes: Where a pure quantitative analysis can only show that a certain area of discussion is gaining or losing volume, a qualitative analysis was able to identify which sub-topics gained importance. For example, a shift in conversation from response-related topics towards reconstruction.

- Social media monitoring was not useful in breaking down needs geographically. The digital divide between rural and urban populations, as well as between different socio-economic groups, led to a bias in the data.

- The social acceptability of topics plays an important role in the scope of possible analysis: while queries related to issues such as shelter or food returned results of consistently high quality, some WASH, protection and health issues could not be easily monitored as they were not discussed publicly.

- Social media monitoring in a rapid-onset emergency should start as soon as possible to provide the most benefit to decision makers, since the volume of social media updates is largest in the first days of the emergency.

- It is vital to have qualified, computer-literate national staff who are familiar with social media, the local media landscape, the local geography, and basic information management techniques. A social media expert should be deployed on-site during the first phase to set up and customise the systems, help train staff, and increase awareness of the possibilities and limitations of analysis.

- Social media monitoring could provide significant value to decision makers in contexts where humanitarian access is poor, the information landscape is fragmented, and social media is widely used. But more information is needed to develop more generalised recommendations regarding where social media can add the most value. Additional pilots would be useful in building on the lessons learned during the Nepal project.

- Like all other forms of assessment, social media monitoring alone cannot provide a comprehensive overview of needs or opinions. It is just one piece of the analysis puzzle, and knowing the limitations and bias within social media data is essential.

What Social Media Analysis Can Do

Social media use is increasing as more and more people move to urban areas and have access to ICT infrastructure. Already today, two-thirds of all smartphones are in the developing world, and this percentage is expected to increase Gillet and Hatt, 12/09/2014.

Humanitarians need to be able to tap into social media conversations: social media monitoring can help improve situational awareness since the conversation is immediate, direct, and – in many countries – a well-established form of communication. Monitoring social media can help identify needs and provide an unfiltered view of the opinions and attitudes of parts of the population. As such it can assist with resource allocation and contribute to assessment processes.

Social media can also be used to address the immediate needs of affected households by connecting responders and affected people directly. This was not within the scope of ACAPS’ project as it is best undertaken by first responders. In Nepal, Kathmandu Living Labs gathered and verified requests for assistance, and coordinated with responders.

About the Organisation:

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 The Assessment Capacities Project (ACAPS) is a non-profit initiative of a consortium of three NGOs (Action Contre la Faim – ACFNorwegian Refugee Council and Save the Children International) created in December 2009, with the aim of supporting the humanitarian community with needs assessments. ACAPS collaborates with a large network of partners including NGOs, UN and academics. ACAPS works through the existing humanitarian architecture and reinforces the structure in place rather than creating new and separate systems. Follow on Twitter: @ACAPSproject

Photo: IM Individuell Människohjälp / Foto Erik Törner

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