Growth Beyond Expectation - Insights from Frena La Curva

June Mwangi
May 18, 2020

By the time a national lockdown was imposed in Spain on 14th March, cases had been confirmed in all 50 provinces in the country. By 25th March, their death toll had surpassed that of mainland China, at 3,434 people, coming second to Italy’s. The Frena La Curva project was launched to provide useful online resources, and map public services around citizens using the Ushahidi platform in an effort to flatten the curve. We featured their work on our blog in late March, as an oustanding example of citizens self organising to help respond to this crisis.

Since then, the initiative has expanded above and beyond even its founders’ expectations with extensions of the project having been set up in 16 other countries in Latin America and Europe (Portugal, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Chile, Mexico, Uruguay, Bolivia, Argentina, Colombia, France, Peru, Venezuela, Brazil, Guatemala, Germany, and Poland).

They also recently held the Frena La Curva Festival, a unique experience of citizen creativity, civic resilience and neighbourhood solidarity. It was a 12 hour online event that featured talks, workshops, debates and concerts to unite against the pandemic. The festival also featured a chat between Pablo Ruiz-Muzquiz, FrenaLaCurva Maps Technical Coordinator and our Executive Director, Angela Lungati about the usefulness of open source mapping tools to respond to this crisis. You can watch the clip here. The full recording of the festival is available on the Frena La Curva youtube page.

We got in touch with Pablo, once again, to gain further insight into how Frena La Curva is doing, and how their work is progressing.

Ushahidi: Approximately how many people have been reached by all your deployments

Pablo: I'd say Argentina, Uruguay, Portugal and Mexico are the most active deployments. It is difficult to say exactly how many people have been reached by them all during this early period but perhaps close to 20,000 individuals. Spain's map has now had 250,000 visits and close to 10,000 location pins.

Ushahidi: Wow! And all this in just two and a half months! How did you pull this off; coordinating the set up and supporting the teams in all these other countries?

Pablo: First, we decided on both a standard authorized Ushahidi map configuration and a server configuration. Secondly, we prepared specific cloning scripts to replicate this standard authorized server into any new country-specific server using infrastructure. Third, we gave them admin access and trained them in the use of the Ushahidi platform but also shared with them our full approach to FLC Maps and what that means. Fourth, we gave them freedom to adapt their Ushahidi instance on the admin configuration level. Finally, we keep all communication between the teams in one Telegram Group and have Rosa Castizo as Overall coordinator and myself as Technical+Training coordinator.

Thanks to the support from the Kaleidos company, we can offer all the teams in each country free technical support, free training and cover all server costs. Moreover we are willing to do this for as long as it's required.

Ushahidi: A method that is clearly working, very impressive! Now, what would you say has been the key to the success you are having in reaching so many people in such a short time? We are 100% sure that all our users past and present and future can’t wait to hear what “the secret” is (smile emoji).

Pablo: Most importantly, we already had existing networks where different people and organisations were already working together in a trans-continental array. This has been our “key to success” as you put it. We made use of our established trust networks and selected the people we knew had experience in citizen-driven initiatives.

In addition to this, we made every effort to share our experience, our approach, as well as making all pertinent information readily accessible to the set up teams in the other countries. Rosa and I as the trainers especially always availed ourselves to the teams despite the challenge of different time zones. We wanted them to know we were taking care of the technical stuff and the costs, so that they would only need to focus on adapting our approach to their context and take action.

Ushahidi: Leveraging existing relationships with other organisations and working 24/7 with your set up teams to ensure they know what to do and have what they need. Sounds intense but definitely worth the effort. How would you summarize the effects/outcomes of all the FrenaLaCurva deployments so far (e.g. changed behaviour, support offered and received?)

Pablo: I could have as many answers to that question as there are the weeks we have been at this and it continues to change. What works now does not invalidate what worked two weeks ago and so it's difficult to summarize. But I can say this:

  1. Make it simple for everyone to understand the value of the map. Don't try to educate people on your very smart decisions, it's not the time for that.

  2. We have 4 pin types. Own need, need through proxy, help offer and public service. By far, "help offer" by individuals is the most common pin and it makes potential need or need through proxy pins not appear because the people in need already find help nearby and contact them directly. This is huge!

  3. The maps work. We have many testimonials about this. Also, people trust FrenaLaCurva thanks to many other initiatives that we're leading and/or supporting. It's useful. Sometimes "too useful" if I'm allowed to say this, and we had to make it easy for "help offer" pins to be deactivated.

  4. This is only a gut feeling, but if as a citizen you are suddenly aware of ways to ask for help or offer help to others in need, there is a much higher probability you'll be more self-aware of the situation and will be more active about it. We do believe, and this is just a hypothesis, that a lot of people have had an awakening, through FrenaLaCurva and other similar projects, to the importance and value of community and support.

Ushahidi: Are there any stories from any of these countries that stand out for you?

Pablo: Whoosh! There are so many! However I was personally moved by one that occurred about 3 weeks ago. A homeless person in Madrid had prepared himself in advance by buying several power banks to stay connected to the world through his phone. However, he could no longer access cafeterias to charge them. He asked for help through FrenaLaCurva. A lady saw his request and volunteered to charge his power banks on a regular basis. The first time she went back with the charged power banks, they were stopped by the police but the moment she said she was a FrenaLaCurva volunteer and she was helping this homeless person, the police said it was fine and let them be.

Ushahidi: That is truly heartwarming. So what do you envision for this project given that it has gone as far as it has; has it gone beyond expectation, if so, have you changed your vision?

Pablo:It has gone way beyond our expectation but also mutates every week, as I said before. We have had to change our communication strategy, our legal strategy, our logistics strategy and our team strategy every. single. week.

At the moment, our top priority is inviting NGOs and other local and trustworthy organisations to start using FrenaLaCurva and manage the pins within their territory. This will help relieve the pressure on individual volunteers.

We also need to increase operational capacity and keep building on the existing trust networks; creating this intermediate level between FrenaLaCurva main teams and individuals so as to keep scaling up. We have many NGOs, small neighbourhood organisations and even some companies helping here. Red Cross has joined FrenaLaCurva but we have a dozen more, it's difficult to keep track.

Ushahidi: What would you advise other groups looking to do this kind of work?

Pablo: To answer this, I'll stay away from the international approach we took and answer this question for those intending to launch something like this in their country.

You probably need a very tight and values-aligned team of at least 10-15 people to start with. The more diverse the better.

You need to keep it very simple. In times where people are in distress, it has to be clearly worthwhile for everyone to use a map like FrenaLaCurva. Simple pins, privacy and safety first, stay hyper-local and still manage a whole region or country.

Also, be ready to adapt as the response to a crisis and how people feel about it change. The media knows how to do this, sometimes even they make people's feelings about the crisis change. It's important to be able to anticipate whether the next week is going to be a "how people are starting to be smart about lockdown" type or a "Frustration and anger as care homes for the elderly are hotspots for the pandemic" type so you keep in sync and still be useful.

Ushahidi: How can the rest of the world join in /support your efforts

Pablo: If you're in one of the countries listed above, the answer is simple, locate your FrenaLaCurva Map under the flags banner here and start using it or even contact the teams behind it.

In terms of monetary support, Kaleidos have been covering all costs and taking care of everything technical, therefore if interested, feel free to ask your national map if they need monetary support.

In general, supporting our efforts can be done simply by exercising our values. Wherever you are, whether you use our map or not. These are community, inclusiveness, solidarity and generosity.

We are very thankful to Ushahidi, not only for creating this great piece of software but also for all your help and support in tweaking some aspects of the platform. We hope that our use case has also brought interesting insight into how Ushahidi can be more helpful and more adaptable to other contexts.

Thank you so much Pablo for the wonderful life changing work you are doing through FrenalaCurva to ease and even save people’s lives during this pandemic. Your work is truly remarkable and will probably go down in the history books as records are made of change makers in this season.