Transcribing thousands of stories

All Story Locations (click for interactive version)

The GlobalGiving Storytelling Project asks people in communities all across East Africa to tell a story about a time when a person or organization tried to help someone or change something in your community.

Today I took Zipporah and Moses to visit Horizon Contact Centers, the company that transcribes our thousands of paper stories.

Zip took a taxi from home and dropped off about 5000 more stories:

Horizon team helps unload 5000+ more stories
Moses reads a story from the pile

Each bag is a batch collected from a specific place on a single day.

It’s hard to capture visually how big this data set is. The stacks weigh hundreds of pounds and would completely fill my old VW Golf. Based on the 30% that has been transcribed (~7000 stories), Horizon estimates that we’ve given them between 16 and 20,000 stories. What began for them as a two-person job now requires a staff of 3 full time and 11 part-time transcribers! They work in both day and night shifts, transcribing each story and scanning the originals.

The volume is beginning to be a liability, because the few cents we pay scribes and transcribers is adding up. Amazingly, our team has managed to keep all this data organized.

Considering the hundreds of Africa research projects that aim to collect community feedback, how is it that no one has ever faced the problem of an unquenching flood of information before?

Susan, Moses, Alice, and Marc discuss the volume of stories

I’m sure everyone would like to have this “problem.” The real problem is that we have not yet figured out how to provide the right “slice” of this information to each person, organization, or unique audience that needs it. That will be our focus for the next six months.

Why the flood?

Yesterday Zip, Moses and I spent several hours talking about the first six months of the GlobalGiving Storytelling Project. We agreed that the reason gathering feedback has been easier than we expected is that:

  1. We’ve earned the public trust. GlobalGiving is completely transparent and people truly believe our aim is to help everyone be heard. No hidden agendas.
  2. We offer just enough of a nudge to make it worth their time to collect stories.

We offer story collectors (or “scribes”) money: 10 Kenyan shillings or 300 Ugandan shillings for each story they collect correctly. This is about 10 to 13 cents. It is a good wage or a poor wage, depending on what side of the tracks you live on. It’s not perfect, and it’s not breaking the bank. A scribe typical earns $3.50 a month for 30 stories. Other evaluators expect community members to give information for free, and fret when that information is fraught with the interviewee’s biases. People generally tell you what they think you want to hear. I think this effect is amplified when you offer them nothing, because now they start working to get something by saying the magic words that will unlock future wealth.

Because GlobalGiving is a neutral party, and we recruit scribes that are somewhat removed from the NGO scene they are seeking to gather stories about, these stories are less biased. In the future I’ll demonstrate some quantitative ways of gauging this reduced level of bias compared to other information.

All of these stories will soon be available online. (It’s a tech problem now – the database is full but the website isn’t built.)

We asked Horizon’s transcribers to tag stories especially worthy of highlighting.

These are 8 stories they tagged:


She is a woman found in Kasubi-Kampala District found a child on the dustbin. This child was in a critical moment.After reporting herself to police she took the lady to hospital upto now the lady is still helping the child financially to the extent that the lady is paying school fees for this girl-child.


I lived with my family in a slum. We had a grass hatched house. One day it rained so heavily our house was full of water to an extend that a nine month child would drown. But one rich man felt mercy for us and gave a house.


I was an orphan without a mother and a father. I was very lonely in this world. I never got any love of mother and a father. One day a good couple came to the Sanyu babies Home and took me in as their own daughter.


The Village Health Team(VHT) has helped us in such away  that they bring health treatment nearer to the people deep in the villages.
They have decreased the spread of malaria and other preventable diseases.


World vission helped us to establish a bore hole in our village. Water is a problem in our community becouse swamps are far from our homes but this bore hole atleast helps us to have access to clean water although we need more bore holes.


My parents died when i was four years my relatives mistreated me to the point of dening me a chance to study because am disabled. Iwas treated as a dog ata home. I can God sent me an angel to rescue me, a good freind of my late parents visited us one day and decided to take me with her. Iwas taken to Uganda society for disabled children as i talk now i earn a living through my skills. why not to say that the credit be reserved for this organisation


KAZI KWA VIJANA is a government initiative to help reduce joblesness among the youths because the unemployment rate in kenya is very high and it was noted that most of the crime was committed due to joblesness of the youth also they blamed joblesness for drug use. It aimed to reach every village in the city and they succeeded in doing so very well.
Work detail included picking rubbish,clearing sewages,planting trees,clearing overgrown bushes and trees. At first we were so syked because we got something to do and we could get paid,since the government disbursed alot of money for the project some leaders became greedy and started to steal some money three weeks under the project it started to cramble and we were not paid efficiently so we had to quit and look for other job opportunities.
KAZI KWA VIJANA was good institute that the government started but greediness and corruption made it become a failure. I really wish that they become less corrupt and help the poor people in slums.


I am an employer with the medicines sans and it has really helped me improve my standards of living by giving me an employment. We work at the slums by provide basic health care information and care. We have a small mobile car with a strecher to help carry either disabled or very sick people who cant takr themselves to the hospital.
Our organisation has really helped in providing basic health care to slum dwellers. We admit four people daily in the slums who are very sick and can’t access basic healthcare facilities e.g hospitals.
We are a global organisation and we help in relief situations and our division has been posted to help slum dwellers because we saw that there is a shortage of doctors in the slum.
We will continue to provide this healthcare until everyone has access to better health care.

You can download a summary of our Storytelling Project‘s design and aims here:

3 thoughts on “Transcribing thousands of stories

  1. I am the Executive Director of UMICEF Kenya, Universal Fellowship Organization and Global Education Fund Africa. These organizations operate in Western Region of Kenya. They have been mapped in Kakamega. All the three organizations have been nominated to Website. We are now participating in the Gateway Challenge in Uk. We have our head office in Kitale. I highly commend the work Marc Maxson and Zipporah have done in Kenya. May God bless the abundantly. Thanks and God bless you. Bishop Raymond Mutama, of P.O.BOX 3980 30200, Kitale, Kenya. Tel: +254722917055.

  2. This project has granted us teh opportunity to offer close to 20 scribers work on a part-time basis and we are very honored to be participating in this Global Giving Noble work.

    Keep up the great work Marc and the coordination team.

    Kind regards,
    Alice M. Muchugia

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