First Delivery: Data for a life free of violence


By Sergio Araiza

Translation: Blanca Vargas

If someone asked me how to describe Casa Amiga in one word, I would say: commitment. It is the best description I can find to talk about the great job being accomplished by Lydia and her team at Casa Amiga AC.

Casa, as it is Also known, is a Crisis Centre for women who live with violence and has worked in Ciudad Juarez for the last 17 years. Among other activities, this organization cares for physical violence cases, providing recipients of psychological violence With emotional support and legal assistance. They have prevention programs for teenagers in a situation of violence (and also for childhood sexual abuse) plus orientation and/or training services provided by other institutions they collaborate with.

Ciudad Juarez is a city in the north part of Mexico and it borders with El Paso, Texas. Within the past years this area has received a lot of attention due to the climate of violence set in motion in the region. Such violence provoked red flags in all types of indicators related to home dynamics - like intra-domestic violence - the cause was the problematic events happening in the home environment.

Our History with Casa begins on December of 2015 when Alexis, who is part of the team at NDI Mexico, talks to us about Casa Amiga, an organization with a vast amount of semi-systematized data, but did not have much clarity on how to analyze or what could do with them. Over the days I talked and got acquainted with Lydia, director of the organization.

In that first conversation with Lydia she shared some details that are key for the next stages of this history:

  • House is a "small" organization with a team composed mainly of psychologists, social workers, lawyers and care staff who are in contact with people who live or have lived situations of violence. There is also a team for management and support to the director who are up to date with all the stationery paperwork of the organization.
  • The model of care to a user of Casa focuses on emotional stability, which means that in the early stages their goal is to provide security and warmth to whom they serve.
  • The database of the organization comes from the information that the user provides in the first interview for assessment of the case. The aim of this interview is to obtain a first diagnosis of the reasons that motivated her to seek Casa’s help and for them to recognize violence in any of its manifestations.

The first visit

Over the months I had the opportunity to travel to Ciudad Juarez to work closely with the organization and for a better understanding of its dynamics.  That first visit resulted in the backbone of this project. The commitment of people working at Casa is clear, day by day they confront all kinds of cases, many of them, truly heart breaking.

It is then when you understand that only by being aware of the stories of people living violence, can one see the huge social problem it represents not only in Juarez, but throughout Latin America.

On that first visit, I had a better insight of the organization, its work areas, processes and objectives of the accompaniment. I also had access to the database of the organization and these were some of the first discoveries:

  • The document resulting from the first interview (which feeds the BD) is recorded on paper and then passed to an area to capture information and is then inserted in the file of the user. Capturing data was not standardized.
  • Overall there was much transit of documents between the various areas. As a result, if you were not familiar with the case from the beginning, several hours would be needed to be well informed of the case in question.
  • The data once loaded to the information management system (self developed a few years ago) were not consulted later, and this caused that the BD had no weight for decision-making.
  • If the project wanted to move forward it was necessary to sensitize each and every one of the leaders within the organization of the value of the data. Starting with the director.

The project

Initially, the project had no specific deliverable, in fact to be honest, for a good part of the process we were unclear of the result, but we had to start somewhere.

To generate a culture which values the use of data within an organization is not an easy task, one does not have the time required in the heat of the work load.

Vision is also needed for the input of data to the organization and that was precisely the first challenge and the mission where we focused:  recognize and assess the potential of using data generated by Casa towards improving the service and care to the beneficiaries.

Within the team of Casa there is no IT figure or technical support, in reality these technological support functions are executed by Adrían who is part of the team covering administration and other needs of the organization.

I mention this because it is vital to understand that many organizations do not have permanent or semipermanent support staff for their daily needs.

This situation naturally brings all kinds of technological conflicts but also those associated with productivity and quality. In the case of Casa Amiga, this was reflected directly on the quality of the data contained in their database.

The database of the organization is derives from a digitalization process of information that began around 2012,  which sought to have an electronic file system that would capture the information and made it accessible to anyone who needed it.

Within time the system proved inefficient for the daily needs and changes in the dynamics of the organization. In that sense, this scenario inevitably should make us reflect on the various modernization processes undertaken within organizations who rarely have "project leaders" who make a proper diagnosis and design tailored products adapted to cover present  and future needs.

To date, the database had compiled 18950 registries valid from January 2013 to May 2016, nearly 15 patients daily. Within the database we found all kinds of issues that which had to be corrected, for example:

  • All types of open fields (no lists or multiple options)
  • Typing errors in data capture
  • Lack of standardization in the capture of concepts (like; salary 1300 pesos or 1300 pesos per week)
  • Duplication of records representing the same person
  • Files that had not been captured in full
  • Records that had been captured showing different values to those in the document
  • Other - all kinds of data nightmares-

In order to execute a diagnosis for the organization and determine the scope of the project, arduous work of cleaning and standardization of the information was necessary. At this point, it was not clear if we could achieve the goal but we kept firm to try. Basically a leap of faith right Lydia and Alexis?

DJ Patil and Hilary Mason in their publication "Data Driven Creating a Data Culture" explain that about 80% of the work in all data project is focused on data cleansing.  As a result, a good amount of resources are invested that sometimes generates deterioration within the work teams and in reality, there is no guarantee of progress in the following stages of the project.

Something similar happened to us with Casa;  a good part of the project was devoted to data cleansing and again without guarantee of advancement.

After lots of work and many cups of coffee, we achieved a viable basis for analyzing the data. I say viable because it was not really the database we knew we could obtain.  So  we assumed the responsibility for this situation, that is, by being able to imagine what we could achieve with the data, the organization understood its value and the importance of a proper capture process for future experiences.


Some of the great learnings were:

  • Intense collaboration with those who produce and capture data. Without them nothing makes sense, because they are the responsible source for understanding the data, but their role feeds various areas.
  • Dealing with frustration. Leaving behind what could have been to focus on what we had became a mantra,we needed to move forward without regret and be optimistic and honest with what we could achieve at this stage.
  • Participate with a positive attitude. It sounds old,  right?  But in practice it proved to be much better than on paper. Without the participation and good attitude of each and all during the working sessions, such a complex problematic would not had been possible to understand.
  • Learn to listen. Any project seeking to support a specific sector or group must be patient and adapt to the times. Listening was the basis for our support. Meaning that throughout the talks I was able to connect with the cause, feel part of the organization and contribute in a condition of equals.

The result

As I said, we were not clear on what the result might be, not for lack of planning but due to the constant evolution of needs to which we had to adapt;  time availability of  all parties involved, immediate and long term needs and finally, constant emergencies a crisis centre deals with on a daily basis.

For a while, we oscillated with the idea of having a product within the organization, for example: an efficient model for data management accessible to the various areas; and we accomplished it.

We also thought of an infographic to communicate best all the work done in Casa; we felt it was viable and would add value, but before we began to work on the final product we started to think big. The result: a report on the dynamics of violence against women in Ciudad Juarez.

In Juarez there are several organizations that study and provide information on gender violence in the city, but never directly from a crisis centre such as Casa Amiga. For this, the work and experience support our report.

Most important was to have clarity about what Casa Amiga wanted to say and how this would contribute to understand the dynamics of violence in a city so battered by all sorts of violence. On this point, Lydia took over and allowed me to analyze with her,  all valid records  in order to present a set of indicators to provide most information available. Lydia's vision outlined these findings to specific elements that gave an account of what the organization faces working with victims every day.

The result is expressed in the First Report of Findings. Dynamics of Violence Against Women in Ciudad Juarez.

To Casa this report contains their voice, their job and their experience. The numbers speak for only a small part of the problematic existing in the city. Here is some data  from the report:

  • 74.13% of users are between 18 and 39 years. The current age range of women is significantly lower, this new analysis shows a red flag regarding the trend that younger women increasingly experience violence.
  • 33% of users are mainly stay home women receiving no financial compensation.
  • Casa now recognizes as priority users needing attention at the centre,  young women, married and/or with a partner, limited to 8th grade education, dedicated to the home and without financial remuneration, and with few job opportunities. This profile is key because it offers specific characteristics to understand and reflect on the few academic and employment opportunities for women in Ciudad Juarez.
  • The design of this profile allows us to reassess, redesign and redirect our interventions and interactions with users in all areas and services offered by Casa Amiga.

This report was taken up by various media both local and national:

The Mexican


El Diario

The direct result places the organization as a reference on the subject at municipal and national level, not only by what is shown in the report but also due to the experience they have acquired.  Currently Casa continues to undertake internal modernization and redesign care models for victims based on the data obtained.

For SocialTIC the results are diverse and invigorating:

  • Once again it allows us to work hand in hand with organizations that are working to create social change.
  • It also allows us to rethink the value of the data not from a perspective of Big Data, but the value of data for the causes it should serve and whether it is available and accessible for people and\or organizations who need it.
  • We are also challenged to rethink that an organization has the capacity to generate its own data and use it with bravely for their causes.

Finally, our thanks and acknowledgement to those who joined us in this experience.

Thanks Lydia, Adrían, Horte and all the team for their belief and trust in this madness. For getting up every day with enough motivation to do something and help the many people who need you all. We made a great team!

Thanks NDI, carnalito Alexis, Cassandra. Thank you once again for letting us do crazy stuff with you and also having fun along the way.