Mapping the Gun Culture in Serbia: Finishing Touches to the Platform

We are in the last weeks of putting in place our project “Oruzje na meti” (“Targeting Weapons”) and so far, we have managed to keep within the set-out timeframe. Several things have been completed over the past few weeks. The platform has been set up, and although it is still being finely tweaked, the bulk of work has been finalized.

Setting up the platform has not been such an easy task as we experienced some technical glitches. We received error messages when a report or an email was submitted, which called for adjustments. Also, the latest version of Ushahidi 2.5, which we are still debating whether to upgrade to or not, had to be taken into an account when deciding what kind of platform and with which plug ins we wanted to present.

Our colleagues from the IT and PR departments had to follow a stream of our daily mails which included many changes of the outline of the platform, how and where boxes, questions and/or applications were positioned in order for them to be visually more attractive and clearer,etc.

Finally, the very message of the platform required a lot of brainstorming within our office and testing it on our other colleagues and friends. As my colleague Iva Savic already mentioned, the visualization of the project message had to be properly nuanced, presenting the project as neutral as possible so that visitors would not have a preconceived idea whether they should be pro or against gun ownership and what it entails. In view of this, the reporting form itself was altered last week, now including questions such as ‘What is your opinion on gun ownership?’ (Answer options: Positive, Negative, Neutral) or ‘Do you think that carrying a gun in public is appropriate and in which situations?’

We hope that by the end of this week we will have finalized the entire ‘image’ and functionality of the platform.

Image: to have enough material for people to get a grasp of the current situation in Serbia regarding gun ownership (who, how many) and perception of gun use (where, why). Our designers who are currently working on different kinds of animations for the platform, such as statistical presentations and a short video, will also incorporate different social network tools into and along with the platform. Having finalized this part of the project, they will now have most of the branding work done for their next marketing phase, i.e. contacting selected media and bloggers, preparation of printing materials, etc.

Functionality:  to enable people to use the platform/send an email/download Ushahidi application easily and without any technical problems while simultaneously providing them with an unbiased reporting form to be filled in.

Providing context in order to spark the discussion

The last week was spent on collecting statistics, real-life examples, videos, photos and other materials that speak to the subject of gun ownership in Serbia (and wider), and how it affects its citizens. SEESAC has done research on this subject in the past (see SALW Surveys and Gun Culture in SEE) and Ministry of Interior of course has its own data, which can be useful and which we requested. In addition to using the platform to “feel the pulse of the nation,” we also hope to make the platform a place where visitors can learn more about the issue.

The material offered on the site can educate, spark discussion and energize citizens to share their views. It will also be used to frame the discussion when we begin with the promotion of the platform. Among other things, the PR experts will use the provided materials to design various internet tools that will draw attention of the public to the platform. We expect to see their proposed solutions for these tools next week.

The official launch of the platform has now been set for September 6th and is to take place at the Media center.

Visualizing the Message – the making of a logo

“Oruzje na meti” LOGO

All the pieces of setting up the   “Oruzje na meti” (“Targeting weapons”) platform are slowly coming together. The designers have been hard at work coming up with a visual solution that would be easily recognizable and clear in communicating the topic of discussion, while remaining as neutral as possible. Which means no ex signs, crossing off of guns etc. We want the visitors of the platform to feel comfortable in expressing whatever views they might have.

Four distinct ideas and at least 5-6 variations later, we decided on the logo that will mark the campaign from now on. It is a play on words and shapes, and it colour-wise goes well with SEESAC’s visual identity.

Given that we aim to reach out to a wide audience, in our process of logo selection it was important that we gauge the opinion of people who are not in our line of work – security, arms control, etc. So I asked all of my colleagues to show the various logos to their friends and families. We also sent out the proposed solutions to our UNDP colleagues who work on more soft power projects. Although I was in theory in charge of picking the logo, my opinion in fact did not count for much. The logo I liked the best did not cause much reaction in others, and the one I liked the least got many of the “outsides” intrigued. Finally we picked the logo that we think will resonate with most people.

Now that we have the logo, our designers have a base needed to design the platform, as well as all the social media and other promotion tools.

Mapping the gun culture in Serbia – Use of guns in partnership violence

We are also looking to introduce the platform as a tool for collecting cases of using guns in the cases of domestic violence, having in mind high incidences of this kind of violence.  Thirty seven women were killed last year by their current or ex partners, according to the data collected by NGOs. In 60%, the perpetrators of femicide used guns, which confirm there is no adequate control over the possession and use of small arms and weapons, no matter if it is personal or official.

In 2007 UNDP SEESAC conducted a research Firearms Possession and Domestic Violence in the Western Balkans which findings confirmed there is strong linkage between the firearms as a risk factor in domestic violence and proliferation of SALW. The response to the domestic violence must address the issue of SALW control at the policy level, especially in post conflict areas.

Raising awareness of citizens about negative impacts of gun culture is one aspect of SALW control as important as putting in place comprehensive policies and institutional monitoring mechanisms. The platform on the gun culture UNDP SEESAC is currently building will enable citizens to anonymously report gun related illegal activity which will hopefully shed a light to use of guns in the cases of domestic violence. Having in mind that every third woman in Serbia is victim of physical violence, the platform will become a powerful mapping tool.

Laying Down the Groundwork for the Campaign

Today we received five proposals, from our PR agency, for the slogan of our Innovation Fund campaign. We chose “Oruzje na meti”, which can loosely be translated as “targeting weapons,” as the name/slogan of our campaign. We felt that this was edgy, catchy, clear about the topic yet not distinctly negative about weapons, as we did not want lose the audience that might not have a strong opinion about weapons.

This will be the base upon which all the campaign materials will be built, message wise and visually. We are now waiting to see how our colleagues at the PR agency will translate the message into its visual representation. It is very exciting! First draft of the entire campaign should be presented to us during this week and we hope to have everything finalized by first week of August.

At the same time, our in-house IT guru, Nemanja, with a little help from the team hosting our server, was able to set up everything for a transfer of the platform from Jelena’s computer, to the server. We are now ready to have the platform up, in its first draft form. In fact, anyone who is interested to see it in its bare bones version, can find it here. Yet another exciting moment!

Hit the Ground Running

With all the details of the official proposal and action plan ironed out, we hit the ground running. The designer and digital sector specialist from our PR agency came to the UNDP/SEESAC office, to meet the team and see what the platform looks like. Our communications assistant, Jelena, showed them what we had so far and we discussed possibilities for the design, integration of facebook, twitter and phone applications with the platform. Nemanja, from our IT team who has been assisting Jelena on the programming end, joined us as well. It was particularly important to have both UNDP and PR agency IT experts meet, so that any technical problems can be discussed and avoided. I hope we achieved this so far.

 

Mapping the gun culture in Serbia – Step 3: Solving the outreach puzzle

So, we developed a proposal, received the funding and started working on the Ushahidi-based platform with a view of trying to map the much talked about gun culture in Serbia. Since the beginning our most pressing problem had been how to reach out to people so that they would come to the website, or sms, or tweet or email us with their views, comments and gun sightings. We wanted to make sure that the we could make the platform known to as many people as possible in order for us to receive as much feedback as possible. And this is how we decided to engage a PR company – after all they are professionals in this and could help us reach out to a wide audience. The additional benefit is that the company in question also has technical expertise in developing apps for Facebook, and is strong in the blogging and tweeting world. They developed a plan of action, and while adding a new player to the team is leading to some small delay, I am increasingly convinced that this was the right move. But we shall see in a month or so…

Mapping the Gun Culture in Serbia – Step 2: Setting up the platform

“SEESAC is launching a pilot project “Mapping and countering the gun culture in Serbia” that will give everyone (armed or not) a chance to speak out” (quoted from SEESAC’s last blog) is under way.

The SEESAC Team is in the processes of finishing its interactive Ushahidi platform which will give us a unique opportunity to record and collect data from citizens of Serbia on where weapons have been sighted (bars/clubs; streets; public transport stops; parks; schools, etc.), where weapons have been used and moreover what people actually think about weapons in a country where gun culture is perceived as a dominant one.

Creating the actual Platform has proven to be more challenging than we first thought. As the platform is in English, all the fields had to be converted to Serbian, many fields had to be added/deleted. Luckily, with the great help from our IT department, we managed to power through the process and finish the Platform today which will be activated in the following days. 

More importantly, we used three Cs when creating the Platform: concrete, concise and creative.

Concrete: Explain what the project is about and how logging onto the Platform and filling out a form, sending an email or a sms can provide a great input of the actual situation in Serbia which results can further affect the change of culture, customs and behavior.

Concise: The information flow is constant. Our attention span has been reduced and long and over explanatory posts on a website can drive people away from your webpage. We needed to provide a simple report form, with a description tab to be filled in and couple of categories people can click onto. We tested filling in one report and it took us around two minutes to upload it. The fact that dedicating only two minutes can provide such an important contribution was inspiring.     

Creative: Why is mapping the gun culture in Serbia important? Why are people’s inputs important? Where and how can they provide their inputs? A clever and interesting presentation of these questions is extremely significant if we are to get people involved in the process. The marketing part of the work will mainly be done by a PR company, but we also need to give them an idea what we would like to see on our Platform and further in our promotional materials. Creative also means that the topic itself draws people to use the Platform and spread the word around of its existence and how very useful it can be for their own more secure and safer environment. 

Mapping the gun culture in Serbia

Hours-long sounds of gun fire on New Years Eve, pistols as a normal part of the inventory at a wedding, these are some of the things that we expect in the Balkans. Owning and using weapons is part of the Balkan genetic code; how we in the Balkans define ourselves.

OR IS IT?

This is the question that we at the South Eastern and Eastern Europe Clearinghouse for the Control of Small Arms and Light Weapons (SEESAC) asked ourselves.

Figures of registered weapons show that citizens of Serbia are indeed highly armed and research suggests that the number of illegal weapons further bolster the gun culture myth. However, being situated in Belgrade, we often hear timid complains about those very things that “define us.” Could there be a silent majority in Serbia that does not support the widespread existence of weapons in our daily lives? Are there people who wish to celebrate without a fear of being killed by a stray bullet, or do not wish to think about how thoroughly and diligently the security at the entrance of a club is searching each person, etc.

In order to find out the answers to these questions, and in tandem with our colleagues from UNDP regional center in Bratislava, SEESAC is launching a pilot project “Mapping and countering the gun culture in Serbia,” that will give everyone (armed or not) a chance to speak out.

Using modern technologies, namely the Ushahidi platform, SEESAC will create a safe place where everyone can express their views about guns and, if they wish to, where they can anonymously report gun related illegal activity, sightings of gun use or display, etc.

So far, we have secured funding for the creation of the platform and a modest promotion campaign. There is a long road ahead of us.

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