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Using the Wisdom of the Crowd to Protect East African Children from Violence

Updated: Oct 13, 2022

by kate mcalpine

Citizens 4 Change is a community of citizens in East Africa building safe and inclusive societies for children and young people.

Violence and maltreatment of children costs East Africa over $20 billion every year and inhibits the region’s aspirations to develop inclusively.

63% of East African are under 24 years, and of those 68% are under the age of 14. The future of the Continent lies in young people maximising their potential but 73.5 million of them report experiencing physical violence and 26.5 million report experiencing sexual violence (Ministry of Gender Labour & Social Development, 2015; Rwanda Ministry of Health, 2017; UNICEF., 2011, 2012).

Violence and maltreatment of children has a global annual economic impact of $7 trillion (Pereznieto et al, 2014). The economic cost to the East African region is estimated to be 6% of each nation’s annual GDP (Save the Children South Africa, 2017; Institute for Economics and Peace, 2015; Korir, et al; 2016).

There is not a causal relationship between poverty and violence against children. However, people who live with few social and economic safety nets, such as our target population, face high levels of toxic stress that may predispose them to become victims and/or perpetrators of violence.

All East African countries have developed national plans to eliminate violence against children. All share a commitment to fostering progressive attitudes and protective norms; to safeguarding children against violence in schools; and to protecting them from child marriage and teenage pregnancy. SDG 16.2 strives to “End abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence against and torture of children.”

In practice cognition, coordination and cooperation problems create disincentives for joint action in the pursuit of this common goal to eliminate violence against children. The cooperation problem lies in how to achieve high levels of cooperation amongst non-cooperative actors. National plans are often de-contextualised; driven by experts (foreign consultants, multilateral agencies, INGOs); and focussed on developing national coordinated and centralised child protection systems. Development programmes typically target change-makers based on their location and profession rather than on their motivation and pre-existing prosocial behaviour. Time and energy is wasted targeting people who may be ambivalent about addressing violence against children. Centralised child protection systems cannot scale because of weak public finances; overstretched and under-skilled public servants; and heterogenous cultural, economic and social practices related to child rearing.

Given that citizens cannot rely on formal child protection systems to respond to safeguarding concerns; the coordination problem lies in a lack of clarity about who is accountable for protecting children. The energy and wisdom of individuals who do protect children is ignored in national plans and also by many child protection practitioners.

The cognition problem lies in the fact that Governments, development agencies and child protection practitioners do not understand the mechanisms that underpin people’s desire and actions to keep children safe. Citizen protectors resolve moral dilemmas as they struggle to protect the best interests of children, but Governments and development agencies have little empirical evidence of how they do this. There is a death of evidence about who is protecting children; and about how they keep children safe in different situations. This inhibits the development of practical theories, plans and interventions that could scale protective norms through East African society.

Citizens 4 Change’s innovation lies in the power of the crowd.

We catalyse, tap into, and learn from the collective intelligence of a crowd of child protectors in East Africa. We take a decolonised approach to child protection by learning from child protectors’ instinct to do the right thing; rather than putting excessive faith in experts. In doing so we anticipate protecting 156,000 children from maltreatment and harm by the end of 2023.

The cognition problem is addressed by creating a big, diverse and decentralised crowd of citizens who are intrinsically motivated to protect children from harm.

The coordination problem is addressed by tapping into the wisdom of the crowd; helping protectors explore and resolve the dilemmas they face; and building solidarity within the crowd. In doing so child protectors protect children better.

The cooperation problem is addressed by aggregating the knowledge and problem-solving capabilities contained in the crowd of protectors and using that to inform the wider eco-system of government, development agencies and child protection practitioners who are working to address violence against children.

We intervene by using tech for good; creating a community of protectors; building an evidence base about the beliefs and actions of a growing mass of child protectors; and developing our social business.

We develop and deploy a SMS platform that enables us to map, track, communicate with, and mobilise citizens who want to do the right thing. We identify citizen protectors who have the motivation, skills and networks that enable them to protect children from maltreatment and harm. We build an evidence base that demonstrates the social value being generated by the crowd of protectors; and provides insights about what works to prevent and respond to violence under different conditions in East Africa.

We assume that tech can be used for good; that a crowd of child protectors can be created; that we can tap into the wisdom of the crowd; and that crowd wisdom can influence others. We also assume that

Small world networks are powerful transmitters of protective social norms. Binding and bridging forms of social capital can be actively cultivated. Protectors are intrinsically motivated and thus their protective actions are not predicated on monetary incentives.

Our goal is that protective norms spread in East Africa so that children grow up in safe and inclusive societies, creating over $5 billion of social value.

By the end of 2023 we plan to have built a big, diverse crowd of 104,000 child protectors in Tanzania & Uganda; 52,000 of whom report experiencing solidarity, as they take advantage of personal development opportunities; and 16,000 of whom feel better able to protect more children.

Assuming that each protector takes action to to protect 3 children in three years an 156,000 children could be protected from violence and harm in Tanzania and Uganda.

Using data analytics we will generate an evidence base about what works to prevent and respond to violence against children in East Africa on the ground. This could inform the programming of development agencies, community child protection practitioners and Governments.

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