CiviRep allows citizens to report crimes via short-message-service (SMS). This information is then processed and aggregated at the CiviRep engine and displayed on a web-map in real time. By receiving this data in real time, more rapid and efficient responses can be elicited from governments, organizations, authorities and others, and will make them more aware of the needs of their citizens. CiviRep offers a noise filtering mechanism through ‘user-ratings’ that will allow for more immediate and efficient validation of reports. This mechanism will allow CiviRep and the authorities involved to check the authenticity of the SMS, so that SMS hoax possibilities are minimized.
By aggregating this information and creating reports, CiviRep provides a transparent view of the criminal situation in a particular context to government authorities, international organizations and communities around the world that have access to the Internet. It is important to note that CiviRep is not intended to be a substitute for a national emergency service such as 911 in the United States. CiviRep is envisioned to be a complement to this service and a way in which citizens can make authorities and governments aware of events that were not responded to promptly by police. Conversely, people can choose to report an event that was responded to by the authorities, in order to inform the international community as well, of the state of crime in their particular town.
Caracas in Venezuela tops the list of murder capitals in the world with 130 murders per 100,000 people in 2006, the latest year for which statistics are available. Petare is a city in Metro Caracas with a population of 370,000. Poverty dominates Petare, where most of the population lives in shanty-towns called “barrios”. CiviRep will be initially deployed in Petare, upon the success of which, it will be extended to cover the whole capital of Caracas, which has a total population of 4.9 million. We plan on deploying gradually in other municipalities such as Hatillo, Baruta and Chacao.
Our vision is to provide justice to the citizens of Caracas and provide them with a means to report criminal incidents. They will be allowed a new, fast option for transparent response from authorities, which they have not had before. Because the data reported is transparently reported on a website, national and international organizations will have the latest, authentic and transparent information about the crimes occurring in the city of Caracas.
Our innovation stems from our key strategic partnerships, our user-rating noise filtering mechanism, our multi-level response enabling, police validation, citizen anonymity, innovation in marketing and ease of customization. Furthermore, our feasibility comes from our current partnerships with local authorities in Caracas, with the Harvard Kennedy School and the MIT NextBillion network. We have been working on our proposition for several months now and have a working model of our technology.
CiviRep will allow citizens in Petare and eventually in Caracas, Venezuela to report crimes via short-message-service (SMS). This information will then processed and aggregated at the CiviRep engine and displayed on a web-map in real time. The municipal authorities, as well as the local police force will receive this data in real time. This will elicit more rapid and efficient responses from the authorities in order to serve their constituents.
By aggregating this information and creating reports, CiviRep provides a transparent view of the criminal situation in Caracas to the government authorities, international organizations and communities around the world that have access to the Internet. It is important to note that CiviRep is not intended to be a substitute for a national emergency service such as 911 in the United States. CiviRep is envisioned to be a complement to this service and a way in which citizens can make authorities and governments aware of events that were not responded to promptly by police.
Caracas tops the list of murder capitals in the world with 130 murders per 100,000 people in 2006, the latest year for which statistics are available. The number has been steadily rising in the past decade due to increased incidents of uncontrolled gang wars. Killings tend to spike during weekends and around paydays in the middle and end of the month, when robberies are also common, according to criminologists. The large majority of incidents involve boys and men ages 15 to 25.
Crime is a very serious matter in Caracas. The government of Venezuela had not acknowledged the importance of crime up until last week! This is a very important tool that comes to the country at just the right time. CiviRep would initially directly impact the residents of Petare, or at least those with cell phone access.1 Eventually, the service would be rolled out to all of Metropolitan Caracas, going through Hatillo, Chacao, and Baruta. We envision all active cell phone users utilizing this product, with higher adoption rates by youth, and gradual adoption by older segments of the population.
Caracas currently does not have an emergency call-in-system such as 911 in the United States. The only place that has such as response is the municipality of Chacao, but it is still in its incipient stages. CiviRep will provide a transparent crime reporting solution The added value of this system is that the occurrence of crimes will not only be available to local police authorities and municipalities; but once the crimes are visualized on the web in real time, anyone with internet access will be able to consult this information; whether it is a member of the Venezuelan Federal Government or a college student in China.
CiviRep’s vision is to provide justice to the citizens of Caracas and provide them with a means to report criminal incidents. They will have an option of requesting immediate help from local organizations in case of severe criminal incidents in addition to reporting crime for visibility to higher authorities. National and international organizations will have the latest, authentic and transparent information about the crimes occurring in the city of Caracas.
In the future, we hope to build a feedback mechanism through which the implementing organization can update the status of crime on the CiviRep website thereby providing real time information about the response to a crime. This would enable CiviRep to provide ‘turn-around’ times for each crime to interested parties monitoring the state of affairs in Caracas.
There is currently no service being offered in Venezuela that does anything similar to CiviRep. We would be first movers in this space. Because we are working with the local mayors and authorities in this space, users will be able to utilize the service without paying. Once we have enough people using CiviRep, we will enter the consulting and data subscription space. However, because no one has done this before, we will have more flexibility in pricing and positioning.
One of the drawbacks to this technology is that it is quite new and people might be not used to this kind of system, so adoption rates and times might take longer than envisioned. However, the opposite could occur; because cell phone penetration rates are so high in Venezuela, and people use SMS to communicate so frequently, the service could take off immediately. We need to be particularly cautious of data validation and we need to make sure that people are not sending in hoax SMS. Because we will be collaborating with local authorities, they can verify information and reports for us in the first couple of months, and then once credit ratings are regular, our noise filtering mechanism should work well.
Through Civirep, we are providing a mechanism by which citizens can express the crime they have witnessed through a simple and safe mechanism. CiviRep’s platform allows citizens to send crime related events through an SMS. The SMS consists of a short description (5 character) of the crime witnessed and the address. This information is processed by the server and then plotted on a map (see chart below—provided by another organization that does something similar). The data sent is then aggregated and can be used for multiple purposes.
As mentioned previously, this is not a replacement for 911 and should not be viewed as an emergency relief system. While emergency issues require immediate response, CiviRep solves the problem of fear among citizens and they provide assurance that their problems are being heard and will be responded to. CiviRep also provides an authentic, transparent view of the ground situation in crime-affected areas to international organizations and media. CiviRep will provide information to the governing agencies which will help them deploy strategies for combating crime and provide relief to the affected in these crime affected areas.
The barriers to entry in an open source software environment are very low because software development is relatively simple. There are existing players in this area like ‘Ushahidi’ who have implemented crime reporting solutions and ‘InSTEDD’ who have deployed ‘disease tracking’ mechanisms. However, the real challenge is the implementation of this technology – encouraging citizen adoption of the technology, protecting the citizens who report crime and eliminating erroneous messages from the system. Also, there are challenges in terms of transforming the behavioral patterns of citizens and obtaining support from local organizations (governmental and non governmental) to ensure the success of such projects.
Our solution targets all the challenges mentioned above so as to ensure the success of this project in the future. Our competencies and innovative capabilities are listed below.
- Strategic Partnerships: We have developed key partnerships with organizations that share our vision of a place free of fear and where citizens are empowered to speak for justice. We have partnership with the Center for International Development (CID) at the Harvard Kennedy School of government who provide expertise in policy and criminology areas required for planning this project. We have support from the mayor of Chacao, a municipality of Caracas, who will provide the operational support we need to execute our solution in the city.
- Validation by the police: Our partners in Harvard have received assurance from the local police of Caracas who have agreed to validate the crimes reported by the citizens. Crimes reported by the citizens will be forwarded to the police. The police department can view the crimes on a webpage. They will be provided with a validation user ID and password which they will utilize to validate the crimes. An authentic crime will raise the credit rating of the citizen who has reported the crime while erroneous crimes will decrease the credit rating. Unlike the federal police, the local police is very eager to modernize their systems and find a way to improve and streamline their operations and response times to crime.
- Noise filtering: The CiviRep engine will provide a mechanism for the stakeholders (police at this time, it may be provided to other stakeholders later) to validate the crime via web. If a crime is validated as authentic, the credit rating of the citizen who has sent the message will go up and vice versa. This provides an incentive to the citizens to report crimes only as a mechanism to garner support for actual unwanted events rather than misuse the system.
- Anonymity of citizens: In order to protect the citizens reporting crime from the crime perpetrators, citizen information will be encrypted and saved within the CiviRep database. The encrypted information will provide a mechanism for CiviRep to track credit rating to the citizen while maintaining the anonymity at the same time.
- Multi-level response mechanisms: The information sent by the citizens will be sent to multiple levels to elicit response
- Level 1 – Neighborhood level: Relaying SMS messages to local neighborhood volunteers for rapid neighborhood warning and limited response from them.
- Level 2 – City or National Level: Relaying SMS messages for response at the city level and aggregating information on maps and other reports for inter-agency planning purposes at the city or national level.
- Level 3 – International Level: Providing web-based reports and maps to allow international observers to collaborate on transnational solutions
- Innovation in marketing: CiviRep needs to ensure that citizens view our engine as a tool for self-empowerment. We need to create trust in the minds of people, which will trigger adoption of this technology. CiviRep is building key partnerships with universities and NGOs who can help spread the good word about CiviRep and encourage citizens to adopt this technology. They will also be our point of contact between CiviRep technology and citizens.
We plan to coordinate our marketing efforts with the Mayor of Chacao, our main partner on the ground. It will be important to follow protocol and to follow the types of promotion they have used for services in the past. However, if permitted, we will propose to do the previous-mentioned tasks within the following timeframe:
- Viral networks/ word of mouth (throughout first year)
- Advertising on print media (months 1 – 6)
- Advertising on TV (months 3 -7)
- Advertising on radio (throughout first year)
- Promotion in schools and workplaces (whenever approved, throughout 1st, 2nd year).
- Ease of customization: Although Civirep will be initially implemented in Caracas, we plan to expand the CiviRep engine for multiple applications and international locations. The existing CiviRep engine can be easily customized for many reporting and plotting requirements like hunger, disease, traffic lights, potholes, etc. We are currently talking to multiple organizations across the world to find partners and reporting applications. Talks are currently going on for CiviRep to be used for hunger plotting with the partnership of CRS (Catholic relief Services). If this partnership works out well, and crime reporting becomes a strength, we could also decide to focus our efforts solely on crime.
We have been working on this project for the last three months. Because of the nature of the project, CiviRep requires an ‘interdisciplinary’ approach. For that reason, we have different team members focusing on the following roles: Project Management, Systems Architecture, Software Systems, Institutional Relations and Sustainability Officer.
Our status to date is as follows:
- Technical Implementation:
- The technology has been set up and our programmers have a technical alpha prototype demo ready. Over next 4-6 weeks, we will be working on fixing loose ends and getting a finalized product for our partners.
- Partner Relations:
- Our project will be deployed under the sponsorship of the Mayor of Caracas and Kennedy School of Government (HKS) at Harvard University, under the mentorship of the NextBillion Network at MIT.
- Towards the end of April 2009, an HKS team is traveling to Caracas for initial assessment and meeting with various stakeholders. One of our team members is traveling with the HKS team in order to understand current crime reporting technology and infrastructure in Caracas. We are also planning on solidifying relations with Venezuelan universities as local project partners for technology deployment and support.
- During the trip, we are also planning to develop relations with local NGOs in order to ensure the adoption of the technology.
- Based on the feedback and understanding from the field trip, we are planning to fine tune our prototype towards the demo during end of May of 2009.
- Field Testing:
- Over the summer of 2009, we are planning to deploy CiviRep in Caracas to get initial assessment by the community.
- Marketing Video:
- We created a rudimentary video that has our value proposition and a brief description of CiviRep. The video is available on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TnaaIOCbfwY. The plan is to develop viral and social media campaign during summer of 2009 and to get university students involved.
- Once CiviRep has been piloted in Petare, then our partner’s involvement will be diminished and we can determine whether we want to expand further in Caracas or go elsewhere. The chart below highlights our timeline:
Community Connection & Impact
We are working with the Mayor of Chacao, and the mayors of 4 other municipalities, as well as local police authorities. We are planning to develop connections with major universities in Caracas, as well as grass-roots organizations and NGOs that are concerned with the violence and crime in the area. As mentioned previously, our project will be deployed under the sponsorship of the Mayor of Caracas and Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, under the mentorship of the NextBillion Network at MIT.
We know we’re providing a service to the community because citizens do not have a way of reporting crime in Caracas, and the high level of crime in the city leads us to the logical conclusion that even if we can’t find a solution to the crime, we can give them an easy tool to combat or respond to crime in a timely and transparent manner.
If people adopt the technology tool that we are offering them, we foresee an important magnitude of effect, as well as rapid adoption rates of the technology. It is well known, as mentioned previously that cell phone penetration rates in Venezuela are about 90%, and it is also well known that people use SMS to communicate regularly. We are providing an easy SMS tool for a very serious problem. If our logic and hypothesis serve us right, this tool should become very popular very rapidly. Ideally, this system will have a direct effect on crime decrease in the next five years. We will be working closely with local authorities to make sure that our tool is part of an integrated plan that targets crime decrease.
CiviRep can be used for many other things. We foresee it being an important data-gathering tool that can be used by international organizations, local authorities, NGOs, as well as crime experts. The data will serve in order to analyze crime patterns and to hopefully craft appropriate and timely responses to crime peaks in specific urban areas in Caracas. CiviRep will provide information on time, place and type of crime. We will be able to track amount of users and subscribers, user ratings, flow of information, validated information, repeat users. We will also be able to monitor response of authorities and effectiveness of our solution by their response times. Ultimately, we should be able to evaluate whether the incidence of crime has decreased over time in Petare, or whether a specific type of crime has decreased and whether that is correlated with the introduction of CiviRep. We can conduct and econometric analysis in order to measure impact of CiviRep’s introduction in the city. The data analysis can have a potentially huge effect on crime analysis and study.
Through CiviRep we will be able to measure our social impact by reduction in crime, starting from the deployment of CiviRep in Petare, to a year after that. We will also measure social impact by number of users of the service. If the users increase from 5 – 100 within the first three months and then exponentially out, this will be an important social impact. Furthermore, we will determine whether schools are teaching students to use this service and what kind of effect it has on younger generation. This will hopefully be in collaboration with the Ministry of Education, as well as local governments in Caracas. Lastly, our social impact will be determined by the police’s response to events. Because of our partnership with the Mayor’s office, this type of information should be easily accessible.