“Giving a face to the numbers”: Community Based Social Information System


There are interesting experiences in the country from the community perspective that have incorporated tools to strengthen resilience to disasters, such as DIPECHOs, specific CSO projects, etc. However, the level of vulnerability is exacerbated by models that drive growth but not real development in these communities, even in some of them a level of invisibility continues to exist that reinforces marginalisation and severe levels of vulnerability.

This has led to the strengthening of actions within the framework of local empowerment (both local government and the most vulnerable communities in their territory) within the framework of a shift in attitudes, in light of cyclical phenomena, such as floods and displacement, especially in urban areas.

A working methodology was developed that sought to increase not only the amount of social data of the affected communities, both during and before the emergency phase, but also achieved a significant increase in the quality of the data, allowing decision-makers to have a real map of the social situation in real time and almost without inaccuracies, with a comprehensiveness of data that allowed to include social programs within the basic assistance that used to be provided. Likewise, the leading role of the collection process was transferred to ordinary citizens and affected residents, allowing not only a very enriching process of social mobilisation but also facilitating the citizens to oversight the information and the actions emanating from it.

The Community-Based Social Information System project facilitated a very simple and dynamic methodology that any citizen could be part of the fieldwork process, raising awareness in a sector of the population that had a very strong prejudice towards these communities, allowing a change of perspective about them and their reality. The common point was the technology, which through smartphones gave the passport to help and be part of this process. The motto was “if you can use Whatsapp, you can help”, which allowed engagement of a young population that is generally apathetic of social activities, and reduced costs thanks to the optimisation of open-source applications.

The project was self-funded by the organisation Construyendo Sociedad during the stage of developing the methodology and the use of the technology; the preparation of the indicators and questionnaires to be used during the data collection, the generation of a temporary database to manage the information that was being uploaded to the cloud (online digital database), and the process of data collection in the field.

The project’s strategy sought to involve the Municipality of Asunción (which, in addition to being the capital of the country, allowed the replicability of the process to be tested), since, in percentages, it was the most affected by the crisis created by the El Niño phenomenon. A very positive synergy was generated, integrating the strategic agencies of this local government, and as part of the project’s exit plan, the work methodology was transferred as well as the use of the technology used, as a tool for the Municipality, being already incorporated and used in an institutional manner by the General Management of Social Affairs.

Work was carried out with the local government and local organisations in the affected areas, involving the National University with specialists/teachers and students involved in the process of developing the technological tool.

The project lasted approximately 8 months, between the pilot test, the joint work and the transfer of capacity, culminating when the emergency situation caused by El Niño diminished and official assistance ceased.


The community was able to get involved in the process from the beginning, creating a space for dialogue, presentation and work with local references, community-based organisations and affected residents in the shelters. This allowed for the redefinition of strategic guidelines as well as activities, some of which could be prioritised in terms of the particular needs of the affected population, integrating social data provided by the community for actions in response to the disaster and the process of analysing the information that was sent in real time to the local government. The local government played the role of administrator of the emergency (as established by current regulations) but also with access to clearer, more credible and truthful data and information collected from the affected areas, it managed to consolidate a more fraternal and convening social message, as well as dynamics with neighbours of the affected areas, reducing the social tension that the displacement initially caused, especially by the occupation of public spaces due to the lack of provision of spaces prepared for the purpose. With regard to the collection and analysis of the data, a team was formed between the Social Management of the Municipality and members of the organisation Construyendo Sociedad. From this primary planning organisation, other actors were called in, allowing for more capacity and logistics, at the time of the response, from the information gathered.
Working directly with the residents, community leaders and community based organisations, priority was given to work zones, and within them, to the most vulnerable social classes. This work was complemented with medical assistance directed to these sectors by the team of volunteer doctors of Construyendo Sociedad. This work on health allowed us to have our own database about the health condition of these patients, as well as the evolution of the medical care during 6 months of medical assistance, with more than 1,700 paediatric patients and a similar number of adults of different ages.
The work on the emergency health and paediatric care allowed for a permanent dialogue with the community, both during the consultations and in the data collection process during the visit days for this purpose. The use of the social information collection tool provided a great contribution to the weekly analysis of the information and facilitated the redesign of the actions and agenda of activities with specific communities, as well as the logistics and provision of specific consumables. This, in addition to facilitating actions and improving the trust with the community, was strengthening the database of the response to the social crisis caused by the flood, therefore becoming this information tool, not only cross-cutting data for various institutions and organisation,s but a powerful social message, channelled through social media with the aim to make visible the invisible reality of these communities.


The project was absorbed by the municipality as a social information management tool, even used in a social plan with street vendors to develop a strategy to address their situation regarding informality. The fundamental resource of this project, which was provided by the population itself, was information. The key factor for a successful outcome was to give ownership to the residents and community-based organisations in the process of collection, dissemination and planning of tasks. This tool is currently being used by the Municipality of the capital, Asunción, according to the intervention strategies selected by it, and the project was presented to the Bloomberg Foundation in the competition for the municipalities of the Americas Mayors Challenge, resulting in the local government of Asunción being among the 20 finalists, of more than 400 municipalities competitors, thanks to the innovation and social utility of the project, and to the successful experience between a local government and civil society.
This project allowed the communities to feel heard and, as they themselves said, "for the first time we felt important to the rest of the people”. It also allowed the community indirectly affected, decision-makers and opinion leaders to gain a better understanding of the dynamics and socioeconomic and health effects of the flood on the coastal populations.


As a result of this experience, a project was set up at the National University of Asunción (through the signing of an institutional agreement with the organisation Construyendo Sociedad) called "Humanitarian Innovation Laboratory", precisely to develop technology with humanitarian uses, generating from the academic core a space for research and, above all, for the participation of students and professionals in communities exposed to vulnerabilities and disaster risks.
In Paraguay, there are initiatives that have been successful in strengthening resilience in vulnerable communities (e.g. Dipechos, specific CSO projects, etc.). However, the very models that drive growth (but not development in these communities) have a high percentage of responsibility for the increase in social vulnerability that takes place every day in these populations.