This is a guest post written by Camilo Mantilla for Frontline.
In late 2015, my organization was tasked with immersing ourselves in a remote, historically violent, and complex environment, located in the department of Boyaca, in Central Colombia. We guided and assisted new actors and stakeholders in the region to engage, understand, and communicate with communities that are remotely embedded in the eastern fringes of the Andean mountain range.
Communities in the area historically subsisted around artisanal and irregular gemstone mining and trade. They also endured 30 years of a violent conflict known as the “Green Wars,” fought between local families and mine owners. The people in these communities were caught in the middle, and had to live through hardships, while being continuously marginalized by the mining industry that fueled the conflict.
In 1990, a peace was brokered between the actors of the war. However, the communities living around the mines continued to be subject to traditional social and economic dynamics. Forgotten by the State, they had to uphold peace and tranquility by themselves. West Boyaca lacked inclusive governance, strong state presence and basic infrastructure and services.
The region slowly began to welcome new actors and stakeholders, including my organization. This was an opportunity to create new social and economic dynamics and to build business, governance and community participation for the region. It brought us a step closer to bridging the gap between the growing interest of communities, new business and industry actors, for more sustainable investments and agendas, which led to improved social and environmental aspirations.
WHERE FRONTLINE CAME IN
As part of a broader engagement and community relation strategy, we used Frontline with local residents to help new actors engage, learn, and interact with the residents that lacked the means to have their concerns heard. Frontline allowed us to open non-traditional communication channels for different communities in a part of the country with very low connectivity.
With Frontline, we engaged with and learned about a complex environment, its inhabitants, and the local dynamics at play. Together with the community, we were able to communicate transparently and to better identify and assess their needs. We crowd sourced people’s voices and opinions, and despite our limited capacity to cover the entire area, to find several things. One of them striking, and contrary to traditional assessments, showed us that people wanted help for small businesses, help for women heads of households, and the elderly.
Some people even invited us into their homes via Frontline!
Through Frontline and our direct engagement with the people of West Boyaca, we saw that more than half of those we worked with and surveyed had a positive perception towards new economic actors in the region. This new practice was giving people a voice and changing local social and economical dynamics. We were listening and learning about their views and opinions on several matters covering local development, investment, community projects, livelihoods, the environment, and social issues.
In approximately 2 months, we reached some 2,800 people living in 27 hamlets across 2 municipalities with limited connectivity and with few roads fit for vehicles.
"Frontline was the most efficient way to reach them, given that the majority of the population and households have at least one mobile phone and rely on a mobile-cellular network."
SMS technology was the most effective path we could take. We were receiving approximately 30 to 35 text messages daily with an average response time of 3 to 4 days, making it transparent and effective.
HOW WE USED FRONTLINE
We managed Frontline remotely out of different cities in Colombia, using a laptop computer (it broke down a few times, but fortunately Frontline didn’t!). We would check Frontline on a daily basis, send weekly messages, and depending on the campaign, we would use periodic messaging to broadcast public service announcements, invitations to town hall meetings, request feedback or inform on events, local initiatives and procurement opportunities, giving everyone the opportunity to participate.
"Frontline is a great tool for reaching broad and diverse audiences in challenging places."
It makes communicating easy simple and cost efficient. It forces people and organizations to be clear, concise, creative, and accurate when communicating. Frontline is a great example on how to maximize an organizations capacity and resources to conduct complex tasks while communicating with their audience accurately when used properly. Multilateral and government organizations should use this tool for a lot of their endeavors; it’s accurate, it creates accountability and transparency, while giving more people opportunities to share their voice. Benefits from using frontline are infinite and if put to good use it reaps a lot of rewards, especially knowledge by broadening outreach.