Learning more about FrontlineSMS users: Results from our first ever survey!

Offering FrontlineSMS as a free software download has proved a successful way to help many non-profits; but it’s an approach that doesn’t come without its challenges. There are many cases of our software having a positive impact on people’s lives which the FrontlineSMS team and other FrontlineSMS users remain oblivious to. At the end of 2010 our software had been downloaded 12,500 times and was being used in 60 countries across the world. Yet the FrontlineSMS team remained aware of only a fraction of what happened to these downloads; who they are and what exciting projects they could be running with the software. Therefore we decided to do our first ever user survey!

Through the survey we were also keen to better understand the needs of those using our software, so that we could then tailor our user support and planned upgrades to our software more effectively to users’ requirements. The nature of FrontlineSMS means that users can download the software and not need to get in touch again. Thus part of the challenge we have is ensuring users have the support they need once they start using our software.  We of course aim to do this in many ongoing ways, for example through our user community, which has nearly 2,000 members. Yet the survey provided us with an in depth user snapshot; comprising of 33 questions and thus providing us with a wealth of valuable information.  We received 174 initial responses and have been given a fantastic insight in to the profile of FrontlineSMS users as a result, so thank you to all those who contributed! We’d now like to share some of those insights with the wider user community.

Quick Facts:

  • Biggest impact of FrontlineSMS use in Africa, at 69%, but software being used across the world in over 70 countries
  • 67% of respondents are from local, national or international NGOs, with the remainder being academics (18%), independent researchers and testers (13%), governments (8%) and for-profit organizations (11%)*
  • 41% of individual respondents are unpaid volunteers, 54% staff, and 5% students or researchers
  • Our software is being used in over 20 different sectors
  • 84% of users found FrontlineSMS easy or somewhat easy to set up

Detailed analysis:

One of the most striking things the survey results demonstrate is the sheer diversity of organizations and projects making use of FrontlineSMS. When asked what sector they were working in respondents answers spanned over twenty different areas of work. Sectors high on the list included health, education, agriculture and humanitarian work.* As we expected well over half of those responding to the survey were working for non-profit organizations, with 49% working for a local or national NGO, and 18% working for international NGOs. The remaining users were made up of academics (18%), independent researchers and testers (13%), governments (8%) and for-profit organizations (11%).* It is great to see the variety of non-profit organizations using SMS technology in their projects.

Nor was this diversity confined to the ways in which FrontlineSMS is being deployed. The geographical spread of use cases was also quite staggering, with respondents doing work in over 70 countries across the world. Countries with the largest numbers of users working in them included Kenya, Nigeria and the Philippines. From the 174 survey respondents we learned that the geographical reach of FrontlineSMS is greater than we previously thought. Interestingly, when it came to analyzing the impact of the work being done with FrontlineSMS the most prominent region the tool is being used in is Africa, as you can see from the below graph of impact in countries worked in.

The results provided a relatively comprehensive idea of the profile of the individual FrontlineSMS user. A massive 41% of those who completed the survey are unpaid volunteers, with the remaining being 5% students or researchers and 54% paid staff. In combination with the statistics on the sectors people are working in, this shows the dedication of many of the individuals out there using FrontlineSMS.

In line with our expectations of individual users, not all of the individuals using our software were the technical specialists within their organizations. Just 32% of users said they worked in the IT department of their organization, whereas 39% stated that they work in management or leadership. This reinforces our assertion that you do not need to be tech savvy in order to use FrontlineSMS; in fact 84% of respondents found the software easy or somewhat easy to use.

Here at FrontlineSMS, being user-focused has always been our ethos. The feedback we received on the way people are using our software and the type of user support needed will help to guide our plans future updates to the software and development of user resources. It was interesting to learn therefore that just under half of FrontlineSMS users currently use keywords functionality of the software. 31% used the software for data collection via Frontline Forms and 21% of people used reminders. This insight in to functionality use was helpful in understanding user priorities for the software.

We did note that many people were keen for new user resources to be developed to help optimize their FrontlineSMS use. Almost half of respondents wanted to see more training on best practices, more task guides and more case studies. This is certainly something we are working on providing more of at FrontlineSMS. It’s great to see that our existing resources are of helpful for users too though; 70% of respondents had used our help files, and over half of respondents had made use of our Forum by either actively starting discussions or reading previous threads to help them with technical difficulties.

We’ll be continuing to engage with our users in a variety of ways to keep in touch with the needs and activities of our user base. We are extremely grateful to everyone who took the time to fill out the survey and help us improve our work here at FrontlineSMS; thank you everyone! A very special thanks is also due to our FrontlineSMS Heroes - Molly Reading and Robin Flanagan - for their valuable help in analyzing this survey data.

*Percentages at times total over 100% for questions where users could give more than one answer