Coming to you from the University of Cambridge's Centre of Governance and Human Rights, we are pleased to feature a short film about the Africa's Voices project. This research pilot project supported local radio stations to use FrontlineSMS for audience participation, in an effort to continue to enhance citizen-based dialogue. Radio is still the killer app in Africa for sharing information. Adding mobile turns a one-to-many medium into a two-way interactive opportunity, empowering people to ask questions and hold their leaders to account.
'As part of our Masters program at Drexel University School of Public Health, we were afforded the opportunity to work on addressing public health concerns in the Gambia for six weeks in summer 2012. We would be working on a community-based masters thesis. Our project focuses on advancing mobile health concerns by improving dental health practices using SMS messaging, as well as enhancingvaccine inventory control at village trekking sites. Health workers could manage referrals, follow-up treatment, and reminders to patients using SMS.
UN Special Envoy to the Western Sahara Christopher Ross landed in Morocco last Wednesday. While the international community anxiously waits to see where his next round of negotiations go, here's a peek into the lives of those affected most by the outcome - Sahrawi refugees. For once, a little hope for the future coming from the Sahara...
The MFarmer SMS service, a project of the Nakaseke Community Telecentre in Uganda, helps farmers in rural areas to connect with better markets. It encourages two-way feedback with farmers, buyers and agro-processors, and other service providers. The project is designed to help farmers access agricultural market price information and weather information through their mobile phones.
Given the incredible growth in mobile usage in the last decade, it comes as no surprise that many organisations are embracing the use of mobile technology to expand their reach and engage with communities. This has come with its fair share of challenges, given some of the limitations of technology such as poor mobile connectivity in some areas, SMS has become the more reliable and inexpensive option.
I had my first mobile phone in 1999, a metallic blue Motorola M3888. Its street name was “phone booth” because it was the cheapest mobile phone available, even though it was a luxury. It cost 14,000KES ($160) – a gift from my father bought during a Safaricom Valentine’s Day special. I could make calls - for 40KES (50 cents) per minute, and send SMS, and that was it; I loved that phone!
In the second of our seven blog posts celebrating the month that FrontlineSMS turns seven, our Founder Ken Banks reflects on one of the first users of our free, award-winning platform and the example that put us in the headlines for the first time. See a slideshow of our users showing off their work here.
"I'm often asked what my favourite FrontlineSMS deployment is.
"I don't really have a personal favourite - they're all interesting and inspiring in their own way. But if you asked me what I thought was organisationally one of the most important FrontlineSMS deployments, I'd have to say its use in the 2007 Nigerian Presidential Elections.
"I was at Stanford University on a Fellowship at that time and, although FrontlineSMS was ticking over quite nicely it wasn't having the kind of impact I was hoping for. I was even considering shutting it down - what a mistake that would have been.
"Suddenly, one weekend in April 2007, the mainstream media got hold of a story that an ad-hoc coalition of Nigerian NGOs, under the banner of NMEM (Nigerian Mobile Election Monitors), had monitored their elections using FrontlineSMS. As Clay Shirky has pointed out since, this was groundbreaking, and it was being done by grassroots NGOs on their own terms. This is exactly what FrontlineSMS was designed to do. As media interest picked up, downloads went up and donors began paying increasing amounts of attention. That summer the MacArthur Foundation stepped in with the first FrontlineSMS grant - $200,000 for a software rewrite.
"Without NMEM this would never have happened, and we wouldn't be where we are today. For that reason I'd have to choose it as one of my all-time favourite deployments. Thanks again, guys. What you did has indirectly helped thousands more dedicated, grassroots NGOs like yours, all over the world".
Starting today, we’re collecting photos of our users telling the world how they use FrontlineSMS. If you want to get in on the act, take a photo of yourself or your team holding a piece of paper or a whiteboard telling the world what you do with FrontlineSMS. For example: ‘I monitor elections’, ‘I safeguard children’ or ‘I make art’. You can see a slideshow of the photos we’ve had so far on our Flickr page.
It doesn’t matter what language it’s in as long as it’s legible and if possible you should be able to see from the photo where it was taken, so, if you can, get out of the office!
You can: - post to Twitter or Instagram with the hashtag #FrontlineSMSat7 - email the picture and we’ll post them - post the picture on our Ning network and we’ll post them - post them on Flickr or any other web service and let us know where they are
By Kavita Rajah, FrontlineSMS Community Support Assistant Stop Stockouts is currently using FrontlineSMS in their campaign to increase access to medicines in public health institutions in Uganda and Kenya. Recently we’ve spoken with Denis Kibira, National Coordinator for the Stop Stockouts Campaign in Uganda, about how FrontlineSMS software has helped to achieve campaign objectives.
When a pharmacy or health center runs out of a medicine, this is referred to as a ‘stock-out’. Stock-outs often include medicines that are used to treat common but serious diseases such as malaria, pneumonia, diarrhea, HIV, TB, diabetes and hypertension – all of which are among the highest causes of death in Africa. In African countries such as Uganda and Kenya, stock-outs can frequently occur and it can be weeks or months before the stock is replenished. Patients needing these medicines are then forced to travel long distances in search of alternate sources, pay high prices for medicines from the private sector or they are forced to do without – ultimately facing life or death circumstances.
The Stop Stockouts campaign lobbies African governments to meet their obligations to provide essential medicines by increasing the national budgetary allocation for the purchase of these medicines and by ensuring efficiency and transparency in the procurement, supply, and distribution of medicines. The campaign is an initiative of Health Action International (HAI) Africa, Oxfam, and a number of African partners – with the support of the Open Society Institute (OSI).
Stop Stockouts was introduced to FrontlineSMS by OSI, who promoted FrontlineSMS as a very useful tool for advocacy and quick monitoring of medicine availability. Since then, Stop Stockouts has been using FrontlineSMS to aid in campaign communications. They use FrontlineSMS to send information to members, to remind partners about meetings and to update stakeholders on advocacy events.
Stop Stockouts also use FrontlineSMS in their monitoring activities such as ‘Pill Checks’; where researchers visit public health institutions to check on the availability of essential medicines. Researchers send an SMS containing the results to a common server, and the incoming data is managed via FrontlineSMS. These results are then reflected in an online map of the country, produced using mapping tool Ushahidi, and showing areas where medication is out of stock. This map provides real time evidence about the stock-out situation on a national level and serves as a compelling lobbying tool to the relevant authorities. The visual mapping of these ‘pill checks’ have increased visibility of the Stop Stockouts campaign which has contributed to the success of the campaign.
Stop Stockouts state that FrontlineSMS has greatly improved their communications. Denis explains “it has reduced the turnaround time in which we get and respond to issues in the communities where we work, and the "pill check" map has added impact to our advocacy and technical reports.” Denis says that the online mapping system using FrontlineSMS and Ushahidi is especially powerful because it comes from the people. He asserts that using FrontlineSMS as part of their campaign communications has helped to reach at least 1,000 people every year. The results have been very impactful that governments are also currently using SMS to collect its own data and monitor facilities. Additionally, there has also been an increased demand for use of technology for monitoring government activities as well as new relationships for information sharing with other NGOs in different countries.
Stop Stockouts are also currently exploring using FrontlineSMS in their complaints and compliments desk which is a feedback mechanism for communities in which health service delivery, in particular human rights violations, can be reported.
We look forward to staying in touch with Denis and the rest of the Stop Stockouts team as they continue to make powerful use of FrontlineSMS software. o/
Earlier this month, Amy and Peter from the FrontlineSMS:Radio team based in London, UK made the short trip north to Cambridge to meet the University’s researchers at the Centre of Governance and Human Rights (CGHR). In this post, we share an update on the trial of FrontlineSMS:Radio and research being carried out with Breeze FM, Zambia and Radio Buddu, Uganda.
In 2012, the Cambridge Centre of Governance and Human Rights (CGHR), as part of its project on 'New communications technologies and citizen-led governance in Africa’ (2010-12), is piloting Africa’s Voices, a collaborative platform aimed at enhancing debate, discussion and knowledge on contemporary issues of public interest in Africa. Designed as an African-wide research initiative, Africa's Voices is aimed at analysing citizens' opinions on a wide range of issues as radio stations all over the continent ask a monthly question and audiences are invited to reply via SMS. Stations are then provided with comparative analysis and can create innovative broadcasts that put their communities’ views in an pan-African perspective. Researchers have recently visited Uganda and Zambia working with local radio stations who are getting ready to ask audience questions. This research will lead to comparative findings on how SMS is used by listeners to discuss issues which affect their community.
Sharath Srinivasan who has been working with presenters in the studio at Breeze FM, Zambia reported that one 45 minute show - based on the role of the police and community in arresting criminal suspects - attracted 60 incoming SMS's and generated a very lively debate. The DJs have been testing FrontlineSMS:Radio’s "shows" function for the first time. Shows are designed to be a space where different presenters can organize their own area within the FrontlineSMS:Radio system. By clicking an “on-air” button, all SMS received from that moment on are fed into the current show, making it easier for DJs to organize messages relevant to them. DJs can click "off-air" when they finish so messages are filtered to the main inbox or another DJ's show. With the awareness that many stations have volunteer staff coming and going, this FrontlineSMS:Radio function is designed to be simple and not restricted to user names or passwords.
Meanwhile, Florence Brisset-Foucault has been at Radio Buddu in Masaka, Uganda, where they receive around 30 text messages per day and are trying to develop their use of SMS. The most popular topics for interaction from the audience seems to be shows on domestic and personal problems. Presenters are enthusiastic about the future for FrontlineSMS:Radio software especially since they previously relied on a premium rate number. A shift to using FrontlineSMS means they can use a local number, reducing the cost for listeners to text the station by 50% or more. Previously people would pay 220 or 250 sh to text the station but now it will be 110 sh or 50 sh if on same network. (1 £ = 3900 sh).
"FrontlineSMS:Radio makes it much cheaper for audiences to interact with us and we hope it will increase access to our debates," Pascal, Radio Buddu's head of news told Florence. Pascal is confident this will enlarge the number of people able to contact the station and share their views.
Another new FrontlineSMS:Radio function is polls, which allows stations to ask listeners to respond to a question using a keyword followed by a letter denominating their answer. When messages are received, FrontlineSMS generates a visual representation in a graph and introduces a system to cope with misspelt keywords through a manual override function. Umar, the programme manager is very excited about the polling activity which he thinks will have great potential particularly in Radio Buddu’s development and health programmes. With a smile, Umar observed that "the polling function will definitely help those of us who are bad at maths, as it displays the results automatically! It will make things easier to announce the results live on air".
You can also hear Hassan Korona of Radio Gbath, Sierra Leone's promotion audio for Africa's Voices here.
For more photos from Radio Buddu see the online album.
em>Clare Salisbury has recently completed her MA in multimedia broadcast journalism at the University College Falmouth, Cornwall, UK, and this summer has been making a radio documentary on the impact which technology is having on administering aid in Africa. Clare is particularly interested in the ways that mobile and internet technology are influencing small scale farmers, food producers and NGOs. She recently met up with some FrontlineSMS users in Kenya, and in this guest post she shares some of her experiences.
“In the summer of 2011, I travelled to Kenya to make a multimedia documentary about the impact of mobile phone technology on farmers and NGOs that support them. Although I was prepared to see mobiles everywhere, driving from the airport into the city, I couldn’t believe the enormous billboards advertising mobile operators which lined the motorway. The next morning, I sat in a shopping mall in Nairobi and watched as people literally battled for space inside the nearest mobile phone store. People were even queuing to get in the door.
This is, of course, just another day in the capital. During my week in Kenya I would see that the real changes are happening in the hands of people based in rural areas. For these people, the possibilities opened up by access to a mobile handset are life changing.
Whilst in Nairobi I met John Cheburet who founded a radio programme in 2008 to complement the work of The Organic Farmer’s magazine and other outreach work. His programme focuses on agricultural techniques in a programme aired on two national radio stations.
John uses FrontlineSMS to manage the growing number of text messages he receives from the farmers who tune in every week. It’s a great tool as far as production goes; especially because he can send reminders to his listeners about upcoming programmes. John also admits that it’s a great way to think up content, for example– if he wants to make a programme on successful chicken farming techniques, he can easily find a farmer who’s working with chickens to interview by flicking through his SMS message inbox.
Moreover, this feedback ensures his programmes are reactive to the opinions of the listeners which enriches his programme. ‘Farmers know things’, he told me, ‘for a radio programme to be interesting, there has to be a two way communication.’
But as I found out later in my trip, this conversation facilitated by FrontlineSMS is happening in more than just two directions. In Busia, a border town between Uganda and Kenya in the western region of the country, I met Emmanuel: a small scale dairy farmer who trains his peers and neighbors as part of the Send A Cow project.
He was carrying a copy of The Organic Farmer magazine. It turned out he never misses an installment of John’s radio programme on the Kenyan Broadcasting Corporation (KBC). I asked him whether he ever texts into the show. He said he does, and that through the programme, he has made contact with other small scale farmers across the country and exchanged many ideas and techniques.
Emmanuel had clearly been motivated by the success and potential of text messaging. He told me how he encourages all the farmers and he helps to train them to use SMS effectively. This encounter was fascinating and it showed me that whilst the concept of text messaging is a simple two way dialogue, combined with a powerful radio presence, the two way conversation is only the beginning. As John said to me back in Nairobi; when he is producing, he likes to imagine that as well as disseminating information on The Organic Farmer, he is really only contributing to a much bigger knowledge exchange throughout the farming community.
I learned during my trip that mobile phones are changing the future for the small scale farmers in Kenya. And the many potential benefits of mobile technology continue to be explored. Spending a day in Nairobi’s sophisticated iHub innovation space for the tech community offered me an enormously exciting insight into what mobile technology tools could be to come for farmers in Kenya and across Africa, too. As international infrastructure accelerates to accommodate the technology being developed, farmers in Africa are increasingly able to benefit.”
You can find Clare's full radio documentary, as well as more audio and photos from her trip on her website here: http://aidtwenty.wordpress.com/ If you are interested in the powerful combination of mobile and radio technologies check out our FrontlineSMS:Radio project website here: http://radio.frontlinesms.com/
caption id="attachment_7958" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Radio Nam Lolwe in Kenya are trialing the new software Image: Iginio Gagliardone"] We are delighted to announce that the first beta version of FrontlineSMS:Radio has been built, and is currently being introduced and tested in three African radio stations.
FrontlineSMS:Radio is a tailored version of FrontlineSMS customised for radio DJs, particularly for use during live-on-air broadcast. The FrontlineSMS:Radio software is built on an entirely new version of FrontlineSMS, due out next year. We are in the process of building messaging tools designed to make FrontlineSMS more versatile and more intuitive to use.
The unique features of the FrontlineSMS:Radio software will include an on-air button for DJs to click on and off as they start and end their programmes and live graphical visualisation of poll results to make interpretation easier live-on-air.
The FrontlineSMS:Radio team has worked alongside Internews and Developing Radio Partners to identify community-level radio stations as project partners. Pamoja FM - located within the Kibera slum in Nairobi, Kenya - was the first station to test the new software, shortly followed by Radio Nam Lolwe, in Kisumu, northern Kenya. Breeze FM, a community-based commercial radio station located in Chipata, Zambia, is now installing the software.
Our team of developers, based in Nairobi were at Pamoja FM for a training session to witness the first message ever to be received by FrontlineSMS:Radio, which was a song request from a listener for the locally popular Holy Day by Jimmie Gait.
Jael from Radio Nam Lolwe said, “The new features are really helpful for our radio programming. The live polling and the fact that each show can have its own folder means that the received texts don’t get mixed up. It feels more organised and clean. We are especially looking forward to the auto-refresh feature; in the last version we had to manually check for messages. Now the software just does it, we can concentrate on doing the show.”
Read the full post on the FrontlineSMS:Radio website
In Chad, Equal Access produces a youth radio show titled “Chabab Al Haye” (Youth Alive) which uses a presenter-led chat show format to discuss peaceful ways of addressing grievances, tolerance, livelihoods information and problem solving. Listeners can send in feedback through our FrontlineSMS system asking questions, such as this young listener who texted:
“I lived for a little while in the North, and I noticed that tribalism still exists there. The young people from the North and South avoid relating to one another. How do we get past this behavior?”
Questions and comments like this one can be featured on our radio programs and discussed, helping youth from all reaches of the country feel included in the conversation.
Perhaps most importantly, we use FrontlineSMS to create interaction with the radio programs and include listener feedback in the programs, to show listeners that they are being heard. In closed communities, or those struggling with violence or intolerance, the act of engaging in an interactive dialogue via a mass communications platform such as a radio can help people feel engaged and included. As one young listener in Niger texted, “[EA’s youth show] Gwadaben should be congratulated because it is an essential environment for young people, where we can discuss and address the questions that concern us.”
In Niger during the pre-election period running up to the peaceful and democratic transition from a military junta to an elected civilian administration, radio listeners around the country were able to express their views about positions and candidates through SMS messages in response to our radio programs. The messages contributed to a more open and inclusive debate because audiences were able to connect to program producers directly through a toll-free SMS message line.
We also noted a measurable increase in the number of responses we received when radio stations began reading out the text messages received from listeners on the radio programs. We have learned that audiences like responding to questions posed on the radio program and this was verified through audience research conducted by InterMedia in Chad and Niger in 2011. That research also showed us that producers should remind audiences of the phone numbers after asking questions on the radio program, allowing audiences to respond in real time. In addition to engaging the listeners in the conversation, FrontlineSMS allows EA radio producers to increase their responsiveness to listener preferences and needs.
Since life in capital cities, where our production hubs are generally based, is far removed from the rural communities of many of our listeners, the feedback on SMS also provides a window into cultures and customs of remote tribes and communities. In this sense, FrontlineSMS has proved to be a vital data collection tool and link between increasingly disconnected urban and rural communities.
EA has also integrated FrontlineSMS into our programs in Cambodia and Nepal and plans to do so in several of our other projects around the world, building on our experiences and lessons learned so far.
With our popular programming and the increasing reach of mobile phones, the volume of SMS interactions with our shows continues to rise and we look forward to the future versions of FrontlineSMS which will be able to handle this increased traffic. Although the FrontlineSMS software is not as robust as commercial applications equipped to handle thousands of messages per minute for advertisement campaigns and commercial contests, the simple interface and availability in Arabic and French makes FrontlineSMS a great choice for our projects.
In the future, we plan to continue innovating with FrontlineSMS, including using the keywords feature of the SMS system and allowing listeners to join groups by texting in specific words. For example, users could text in the name of their favorite drama character, which would place them in a contact group to receive regular updates or a special mobile drama mini-series about the character. We are also implementing FrontlineSMS to enable radio presenters to ask multiple-choice quiz or poll questions that test audience message retention and to send out ‘flashes’ – an SMS sent to an audience contact list that informs listeners about the next radio broadcast time on their preferred station. We are keen to continue exploring the many potentials of making our radio shows more interactive using FrontlineSMS."
English versions of our radio programs in Chad and Niger can be heard here:
To hear more about Equal Access uses of SMS and interactive voice response (IVR) technology, check out this recent MobileActive feature on our work
If you are interested in the combination of SMS and radio, check out the FrontlineSMS:Radio website
em>By Lisa LaRochelle, FrontlineSMS Project Assistant FrontlineSMS is being used for social change in many different ways across the world. Common use case examples include election monitoring, provision of health information, and agricultural support – these kinds of use cases have direct positive impact on people’s lives. Yet here at FrontlineSMS we have seen increasing numbers using FrontlineSMS for organisational management, which has indirect benefits for people which are
far harder to measure and demonstrate; helping organisations to work more efficiently, communicate more easily with their staff, and move information around more swiftly. Examples include using FrontlineSMS for monitoring and evaluation, data collection, and internal communication. It is this latter kind of FrontlineSMS use case that we recently discussed with Sanjay Rane, Information Management Officer at the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Kenya.
Mobile phone penetration is high in Kenya, and the UN OCHA staff members that Sanjay works with all have their own mobile phones. The convenience and accessibility of SMS appealed to the team, and FrontlineSMS is a low-overhead way of managing text messages to and from groups. “For the last couple of months we have been using FrontlineSMS as an in-house communication tool,” Sanjay explains “and it has certainly helped foster better information sharing among the OCHA Kenya team.”
SMS offers an immediacy and intimacy that can be seen as unique from other methods of communication. People always have their mobiles close to them, and generally read messages quickly. This has certainly shown to be the case in OCHA’s experience. They have found that using SMS helped them to reach staff, especially during an emergency occurring in off hours, when most of the staff do not check their emails. OCHA Kenya can use the tool to send out urgent updates to the team.
One of the major benefits of using FrontlineSMS is the ability to manage SMS more easily than using a simple phone handset. When trying to send out messages using a handset, Sanjay found it difficult and time consuming to add and delete people’s contact information, send messages to multiple contacts at the same time, and maintain groups of contacts. FrontlineSMS offers a simpler solution: the ability to sort contacts into groups so that, for example, an emergency alert text can be sent out to a large group of staff at once. It is also possible to set up key words and automatic replies with FrontlineSMS, so the system can automatically send people important advice and information.
The OCHA Kenya team had such success with their experience that they decided to implement FrontlineSMS to facilitate communication with a larger group of humanitarian partners in Kenya, as a preparedness tool for the referendum in 2010. They are now exploring the possibility of using SMS to help coordinate with agencies responding to the current East Africa drought. This is an indication that FrontlineSMS is enabling improved communications management in a way that was otherwise not possible.
It was the capacity to manage data in combination with the popularity and simplicity of SMS which led Sanjay to FrontlineSMS. “At OCHA Kenya, using SMS for internal communication is very popular, as it is a familiar communications tool. We have found it really valuable to use SMS for communicating with colleagues on important humanitarian developments in Kenya,” Rane says. Organisational management, although behind the scenes, can provide huge social benefits by enabling those working for NGOs and INGOs to communicate more effectively and do their challenging jobs more efficiently
a href="http://infoasaid.org/" target="_blank">infoasaid is a consortium of Internews and the BBC World Service Trust. The objective is to improve how aid agencies communicate with disaster-affected communities - the focus is on providing humanitarian information. The emphasis is on the need to deliver information, as aid itself, through the most appropriate channels. In this guest blog post first published on their website, infoasaid highlight some of the innovating approaches they are piloting to using FrontlineSMS in communicating with communities affected by crisis. ** This use of FrontlineSMS has also been reported on by ActionAid, the BBC World Service Trust and ReliefWeb. In addition, we included it in our National Geographic blog series, Mobile Message. **
Targeted, reliable information can help save lives in crisis-affected communities. As famine is declared in neighbouring Somalia, we’re helping ActionAid to improve vital communication with drought-affected populations in northern Kenya.
Open source mobile solutions such as FrontlineSMS and Freedom Fone are enabling two-way communication with vulnerable communities.
A chronic problem
Isiolo County in north eastern Kenya suffers from chronic drought and food shortages. A population of about 143,000 mostly semi-nomadic pastoralists rely on their herds of camels, cattle, goats and sheep for daily food and much of their cash income.
Many of the communities in this semi-arid area have been continuously dependent on food aid from the World Food Program (WFP) since 2004. ActionAid has been heavily involved in both long term development and drought-response projects in the Isiolo area for more than 15 years.
It knows that better communication can help save lives.
Livestock information bulletin
Weekly information about livestock and food commodity prices in Isiolo market – the main reference market for the region – is sent through SMS messages (using FrontlineSMS software) to field workers in rural communities, who post the information on local noticeboards.
Given high illiteracy rates in the area, the project is also providing a recorded message service using Freedom Fone that allows people to listen to local Swahili updates.
The bulletins help drought-distressed pastoralists to keep tabs on the price of staple foods such as maize, beans and vegetable oil on which they increasingly depend.The bulletins help drought-distressed pastoralists to keep tabs on the price of staple foods such as maize, beans and vegetable oil on which they increasingly depend. The market information also allows them to achieve better prices for the animals they sell to traders – boosting cash household income.
Local news and information given alongside market prices also contain useful tips on issues affecting the well-being of animals. Items will include updates on rainfall, outbreaks of animal disease and de-stocking programmes.
Together, the two channels allow pastoralists living in isolated communities to access reliable and up to date market information. They also allow ActionAid to keep in closer touch with the village relief committees that handle food distribution to individual families.
250 basic mobile phones and solar chargers purchased as part of the project are also being used by village relief committee members who live in or near locations with network coverage.
The cheap and durable solar chargers are vital in areas without electricity. They can also provide a source of revenue (as they charge other mobile phones for a modest fee) that allow relief committees to purchase vital air time for their phones.
An additional aim of the Isiolo project is to speed up ActionAid’s collection of data from the field.An additional aim of the Isiolo project is to speed up ActionAid’s collection of data from the field.
FrontlineSMS allows ActionAid to transmit electronic forms to field staff in Isiolo County via mobile phone. These are filled in electronically and dispatched immediately to the regional office through SMS messages.
These FrontlineForms are now being used to transmit time-sensitive reports on issues such as food distribution, food for work activity, malnutrition rates and local food prices. The information arrives rapidly in a standard format which is easy to analyse.
In the long term, this will help ActionAid to ensure its humanitarian aid activities in Isiolo are more effective and more responsive to the needs of the local population.
Communication as aid
In any emergency, be it natural disaster or man-made, long- or short-term, people's lives are turned upside down. Knowing what's happening, where to go for assistance and who to call for help is crucial to their survival and recovery.
The goal of the 'infoasaid' project is to help humanitarian organisations integrate two way communications with affected communities into their emergency programmes. This in turn improves the effectiveness of aid delivery.
As the drought and famine crisis in the Horn of Africa deepens, such communication is more important than ever.
A new 'Communication is Aid' animation, produced by infoasaid, demonstrates the positive impact of two way communication with crisis affected populations.
Read more about the work of infoasaid on their website.
By Amy O’Donnell, FrontlineSMS Media Project Manager
At an event held at the Royal Geographic Society, a diverse panel came together to discuss 21st Century Challenges with respect to digital technology in Africa, approaching the question: can technology offer realistic educational, economic and sustainable opportunities?
The BBC’s Technology Correspondent, Rory Cellan-Jones, chaired the event (as a last minute stand-in for Sir Bob Geldolf!) and he explained his impressions of technology’s impact in Africa. He recollected, “When I was in Mombasa I met some farmers, each of whom had a mobile phone even though they didn’t necessarily have water and power. They spoke about connecting with the rest of the world to sell their crops. On another occasion, from a data centre in Slough [in the United Kingdom], I was shown a screen showing transactions of Kenyan farmers who were transferring money via M-pesa.” M for mobile, pesa is Swahili for money; this is mobile-phone based money transfer service first launched in Kenya. These powerful examples helped to kick off an evening which highlighted the changes technology is provoking in Africa.
One of the speakers was Erik Hersman, Co-Founder of Ushahidi, who describes a spirit of “business ingenuity born of necessity,” when speaking about innovation in Africa. Erik has launched the iHub in Nairobi as a space for innovative software development (where the FrontlineSMS development team operates) and is about to open the doors to the mLab (an incubation space for mobile apps and services).
The default device for Africa is a basic mobile, explained Erik, and “SMS technology is now.” He described how iyam.mobi builds SMS services such as directories; and others can build services off the foundation of this structure. Technology is developing at such a rate that, “If you blink, you'll miss it.” Although basic mobile phones are still the most ubiquitous and thus useful devices in Kenya, there is a predicted 843% mobile internet growth by September 2011 compared to 1 year previous. 60,000 Android-powered IDEOS phones have now been sold in Kenya.
Internet use in general is growing, with Erik pointing to 9 million internet users in Kenya as an example of this. A blog by Steve Song shows mapping of the exponential growth in undersea internet broadband cables across Africa. Steve’s site - manypossibilities.net- paints a dramatic picture of the reality of how rapidly this infrastructure is being put into place.
Hubs of technology are emerging across Africa; in big cities such as Lagos, Nairobi and Kampala amongst others, which have proven that critical mass and investment are needed. During his presentation Erik called for more money to be invested in risky start ups to encourage African entrepreneurs to take risks in developing more new solutions. He pointed out the mLab initiative called Pivot 25 which will show us what’s next in the mobile space. "Progress is never made by the pessimists; even we are too small to see the possibilities."
Other speakers at the event included Nicolas Negroponte, from MIT Media Lab who discussed the ‘One Lap Top per Child’ initiative and Herman Chinery-Hesse, who has been coined the 'Bill Gates of Africa,' and runs leading software developer company SOFTtribe limited and the innovative Black Star Line, which is described as an ecommerce market place like eBay.
All of the discussions at this event demonstrated how technology is creating rapid change, which is more accessible in Africa than some people might expect. Herman explained, “I studied manufacturing and when I came back to live in Ghana, I wanted to set up a factory but didn’t have the money. I had a PC and could write software and then I realised - that was my factory!” He also noted that "We have SMS in the bush, and Internet in the cities. We can innovate around that.”
From a FrontlineSMS perspective the key message of the event was empowerment of local people. Although approaching the issue from a wide variety of perspectives, the speakers were all aware of the ability of technology to empower people, particularly if built using local knowledge.
Ken Banks, FrontlineSMS Founder, was interviewed in the lead up to this event and you can watch the video here
You can watch videos from the event itself here: http://www.21stcenturychallenges.org/challenges/digital-technology-in-africa/
Building on the core FrontlineSMS platform, FrontlineSMS:Radio will optimise the software for community radio stations, helping them to interact dynamically with their listening audiences. An increasing number of stations across the world are already using FrontlineSMS to receive and manage messages on issues such as health, politics and the environment, allowing them to wave ‘hello’ to two-way radio ~/. Now, FrontlineSMS:Radio’s targeted pilots will run alongside research conducted by Cambridge University, allowing us to understand the impact of interaction. Amy O’Donnell has recently joined the FrontlineSMS team and is leading the FrontlineSMS:Radio project. Here she shares her ideas about the power of coupling SMS with radio and her expectations for the project.
“When I spent some time in Mchinji in Malawi, I had to walk for an hour from the village to the boma (town) and pay 200 Kwatcha only to spend an hour clicking ‘refresh’ on a dial up internet connection. In contrast, my telephone signal was mostly fine and alongside the eggs, bread and bottles of pop I could always buy Celltel credit at the small village shop. Most people I met had a mobile and it wasn’t email which people swapped on their business card, but their phone number.
This is exactly why I’m so interested in how common sense technology which utilises existing tools and structures can offer appropriate and simple solutions. With over 5 billion global mobile phone connections and a mobile phone penetration rate of 52% across Africa (Source Wireless Intelligence) , the tools are already in peoples’ hands. FrontlineSMS helps people to manage and organise text messages in their own projects to facilitate communication and interaction with their communities.
Meanwhile, 90% of African households own a radio, and the medium is widely accessible. With an explosion of wind-up radios which negate the need for electricity, farmers can listen while they are in the field, meanwhile drivers can tune into in-car radios. Barriers of illiteracy are mitigated as people don’t need to read significant amounts of text to understand key messages. FrontlineSMS is being used in the context of radio beyond Africa, in countries including Mongolia, Uruguay, Indonesia, Cambodia and Australia.
It is exciting to see how FrontlineSMS:Radio will be used and I can’t wait to see its potential develop. Our new website will become a central place for community radio stations to meet and share experiences and resources, particularly regarding the interaction with audiences. For the most recent information, check out our new website – http://radio.frontlinesms.com - where you can read blog posts and quotes, see a user map and learn more about the status of the software."
To read this post in full, please click here
FrontlineSMS:Radio. Giving Radio Listeners a Voice. ~/
We're delighted to announce the publication of the first in our series of in-depth case studies of FrontlineSMS implementations, from Plan International, documenting their work in Benin to develop and pilot a Violence Against Children SMS helpline. Linda Raftree, who many of you will know as @meowtree on Twitter, has written extensively about the programme on her blog, but the case study tries to pull out a bit more of the institutional processes and the technical pitfalls they overcame in the process.
About the programme
In early 2009, Plan was working to strengthen both local and national reporting of trafficking and violence in Benin, West Africa. They were looking for a way to lower children’s and community members’ barriers to reporting, including the risk of reprisals and stigma, communications challenges, and access to places where violence could be reported. The Plan team theorised that collecting reports via SMS, which is anonymous and low-cost, would encourage reporting and allow for a better understanding of the nature and the quantity of violence that was happening.
This in turn could be used to raise awareness around the severity of the problem, advocate for the necessary resources to prevent it, and develop better and more targeted response and follow-up mechanisms. The ability to visualise the data on a map could also have an impact on decision makers and might be a tool that children and youth could use to generate dialogue and advocate an end to cultural practices that allow for violence against them.
The case study covers the training and piloting process, combining Ushahidi and FrontlineSMS, results and key learning to date, and some of the challenges they faced - such as finding appropriate modems, and getting people to SMS, rather than calling, the helpline number.
Seeking new case studies
We hope to produce many such case studies, which are aimed at staff looking to implement SMS or FrontlineSMS in their work, but also can be passed on to managers and donors to help them understand the concepts and challenges involved - if you would like to be one of them, get in touch!
To read more about the programme, download the case study here: Plan International VAC case study, [pdf 1MB].
The African Great Lakes Initiative (AGLI) strengthens, supports, and promotes peace activities at the grassroots level in the Great Lakes region of Africa (Burundi, Congo, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda). Here, in our twenty-ninth guest blog post, AGLI Coordinator, David Zarembka, discusses how FrontlineSMS proved a valuable tool for supporting and coordinating peace building efforts during recent election violence prevention in program in Burundi. AGLI long ago learned that elections, rather than being a time of assessment, change and optimism, can, in the Great Lakes Region of Africa, often be a time of fear, unrest, and violence. Burundi is no exception. A traumatic civil war (1993-2006), instigated in part by the assassination of then president Melchoir Ndadaye, tore Burundian communities apart along “ethnic” lines and traumatized citizens on all sides. Tensions remain high, especially during election times. With this in mind as the 2010 Burundi elections approached, AGLI worked with the Healing and Rebuilding Our Communities (HROC) program in Burundi to develop the Burundi Election Violence Prevention Program.
With a grant from the United States Institute of Peace, the project ran from May 2009 until October 2010 in nine communities across Burundi. The Program involved participatory community workshops to help heal trauma and encourage reconciliation. The 720 workshop participants were then organized into eighteen Democracy and Peace groups, two in each community to serve as the basis for observing the elections and preventing election violence in their local community.
While not part of the original proposal and based in part on the example set by the use of cell phones in Kenya in response to the 2008 post-election violence, staff decided that the program would benefit from taking advantage of recently developed technologies for networking via cell phones. The program staff decided to make use of FrontlineSMS, because it is an open source software program that allows people to send a single text message that is then rebroadcast to other members of a pre-defined set of users. In this case those users were citizen reporters who were part of the Democracy and Peace Groups as well as HROC staff.
Various technical delays and the lack of timely funding meant that the program did not get completely up and running as quickly as we would have liked. One of the challenges was that funding was not available to purchase the phones, and collecting 42 used phones which were donated from the UK and the US was time consuming. In early June 2010 additional funding was secured from Change Agents for Peace, International and used to buy a number of very cheap phones that provided a greater degree of standardization and allowed the inclusion of more participants.
There were 160 citizen reporters who participated in the system. They were organized into nine groups, one for each community, as well as groups for HROC facilitators and staff. Training for the citizen reporters – to explain the basics of how to use the cell phones, how the phones would be used to promote the goals of the project, and how the phones would function with the FrontlineSMS system – were held in each of the nine communities.
The skill level of the participants varied, ranging from people who were already familiar with using phones and sending text messages to people who had never used a phone, were barely literate, and had difficulty seeing the letters on the buttons and pressing the small buttons. Another minor challenge was that the FrontlineSMS system was occasionally overwhelmed with text messages, particularly on Election Day, which occasionally created delays.
Based on the record of the texts that were sent between June 25, 2010 and July 24, 2010, there were 735 text messages received from participants; about 12 messages per day. These were then re-distributed, and the system sent out 7,449 messages; about 124 per day.
The most frequent messages were those reassuring people that things were calm, followed by messages reporting incidents such as grenade attacks on polling stations, arrests, or other concerns. They were also used to share ideas with observers about possible irregularities for which they should be alert.
One particularly interesting series of text messages were explained by a participant during the evaluation interviews:
“On the eve of the presidential elections, everything was very tense, the bars were all closed, and the police were on high alert. Then I heard that three people were arrested that evening who we knew were not actually engaged in illegal activities. I texted [another member of the Democracy and Peace Group,], who agreed to follow up on the case with the police. From there, the two of us communicated by cell phones to coordinate our efforts to speak with various local officials and administrators. Eventually we heard from the Commune administrator that if one of us came the next morning we would see that they will be released. Later we heard from one of those arrested that one of the police officers was asking him, “Who are you that you have these administrators suddenly concerned about your status?” So it was really our coordination through the SMS network that helped these innocent people be released without harm.”
This indicates the type of coordination that was achieved through the FrontlineSMS network.
Participants suggested that there were in fact good reasons for having the option of text messaging. One advantage they mentioned was the possibility of privacy. For example, if one is witnessing an event first-hand it may not be possible to inform others by a traditional cell-phone call since people in the vicinity might overhear and might misunderstand the reasons why other people are being alerted, putting the observer at risk.
As with other communication tools, while the FrontlineSMS network enhanced the ways people were able to work together, ultimately the effectiveness of the network was a product of more traditional skills and relationships. The ease of communicating, and the ability to do so in a discrete way may have engaged citizens who would not otherwise have played an active role.
The group networks formed were functional and added to the overall program. Participants found the network useful for sharing information and keeping each other up-to-date. In this way the project set an important precedent for how similar networks might be used in the future.
For further information on how the Burundi Election Violence Prevention Program was organised, using FrontlineSMS as a tool, please see the AGLI Manual for Creating Democracy and Peace Groups to Prevent Election Violence.