media

SFCG Nigeria uses FrontlineSMS to create a conflict Early Warning System

SFCG Nigeria uses FrontlineSMS to create a conflict Early Warning System

After successfully using FrontlineSMS in the Tomorrow is a New Day (TND) project to monitor and improve radio dramas in the Niger Delta, SFCG Nigeria chose to use the platform in a completely different capacity in Jos, a city in Northern Nigeria.  SFCG Nigeria is part of Search for Common Ground, one of the first and largest conflict resolution focused NGOs. 

FrontlineSMS transforms Community Radio in Malawi

FrontlineSMS transforms Community Radio in Malawi

Nkhotakota Community Radio Station, along Lake Malawi, is a Malawi Communication Regulatory Authority (MACRA) recognized broadcaster and has been in operation for eleven years. More than 500,000 people live within our coverage area- transmissions reach Nkhotakota and Ntchisi districts and parts of Nkhatabay, Salima, Dowa, Mzimbaand Kasungu.

SFCG Nigeria uses FrontlineSMS to Improve Radio Dramas

SFCG Nigeria uses FrontlineSMS to Improve Radio Dramas

SFCG Nigeria is part of Search for Common Ground, one of the first and largest conflict resolution focused NGOs.  To support the reconciliation and reintegration of ex-militants in the Niger Delta, the Tomorrow is a New Day (TND) project was implemented with the support of the European Union from December 2011- June 2013.  The project was carried out with five local partners,[1] who were instrumental in SFCG Nigeria’s ability to work directly with seven local communities in the Delta.

News That is Node-Worthy: An Idea For Connecting Community Radio Stations in Indonesia

News That is Node-Worthy: An Idea For Connecting Community Radio Stations in Indonesia

Worldwide, media outlets are increasingly mastering two-way communications channels. Radio and television stations are equipped to receive text messages, phone calls, and social media inputs. Staff can then decide to respond over broadcast, or back through the incoming channel. Yet these communications are often restricted to a single node; one community radio station, or a single television outlet, connecting to its own audience. There are often gaps in transmitting that information to other outlets who might also find that information relevant.

FrontlineSMS Named #1 Tech NGO in the World by the Global Journal

FrontlineSMS Named #1 Tech NGO in the World by the Global Journal

On the same day that the Global Journal announced us as their pick for “#1 Tech NGO in the world”, my laptop died.  As my coworkers celebrated our newly-bestowed honor, I relished the irony of my technological failure and felt what has come to define my time working in the non-profit world: humility.

7 Ways Newsrooms Can Boost Citizen Reporting

7 Ways Newsrooms Can Boost Citizen Reporting

In my previous post, I argued that established, traditional newsrooms tend to be most comfortable accepting citizen reporting or user-generated content during a large-scale, widespread emergency event. In these circumstances, newsrooms often accept photo and video submissions from the public, or even seek them out on Instagram, Vine or Twitter. Professional journalists or editors may curate tweets or blog posts to summarize the experience of citizens. They may also make a public request for input from those affected, or to clarify incoming information.

FIRST Response Radio - Life Saving Information in Disaster

FIRST Response Radio - Life Saving Information in Disaster

A big thank you to Mike Adams, the INTL Coordinator, for sharing his experiences with FrontlineSMS and further schooling us on how radio can facilitate in saving lives!  In times of disaster radio not only saves lives, it can also bring hope and critical information to the affected community. When the 2004 tsunami struck Banda Aceh, Indonesia, all the radio and TV stations went off air. Similarly, during the 2005 South Asian earthquake, the only radio station near the epicentre lost its tower and went off air. In times like these, people are in desperate need of news and information on how to get to safety and how to survive. However, the unfortunate trend seen recently is that when radio is so important, many times it goes off the air and does not come back until well after the emergency is over.

Can Citizen Journalism Move Beyond Crisis Reporting in Traditional Newsrooms?

Can Citizen Journalism Move Beyond Crisis Reporting in Traditional Newsrooms?

Citizen reporters broke much of the news, though they still needed broadcast media to help spread it. In some cases, citizens were able to capture iconic photos of events. Others were able to tell compelling stories about how the emergency affected their lives, including obeying the "stay in place" request by government officials during the manhunt. It has been widely reported how quickly social communities also got information wrong, including falsely accusing suspects. But I've seen a nearly equal number of reports showing how quickly these communities were able to self-correct their own misinformation.

FrontlineSMS case study featured in new Rockefeller Foundation report: Learning from experimentation

The Rockefeller Foundation recently launched a new website, Capacity to Innovate.org, which examines lessons from a number of organizations including Ushahidi and Internews, and encapsulates them in three short reports which are well worth a read. FrontlineSMS is featured in the 'Learning From Experimentation' report, available from the website. Here's an excerpt, but we really recommend the whole report as a very readable and thought-provoking set of examples.

FrontlineSMS at 7: Al Jazeera gives a voice to the people of Uganda via SMS

In the third of our seven blog posts celebrating the month that FrontlineSMS turns 7, Trevor Knoblich, our Media Project Manager reflects on how Al Jazeera, the media house, gave the people of Uganda a voice, via SMS, in response to the controversial Kony 2012 video which went viral a few months ago. 

"As the media project manager at FrontlineSMS, I've heard many inspiring stories of journalists and media organizations deploying the software in creative ways. One of my favorites is relatively recent: the FrontlineSMS component of Al Jazeera's Uganda Speaks program. Members of Al Jazeera's New Media team felt Ugandan voices were lacking from the global debate around the controversial Kony 2012 viral video. To help connect Ugandan voices to the debate, Al Jazeera established an awareness-raising campaign, which consisted of showing the video and then inviting Ugandans to post their reactions to the debate via Twitter, e-mail and SMS. They even connected the responses to a map, allowing people from around the world to see where respondents were located.

"I had the pleasure of meeting one of Al Jazeera's New Media team, Soud Hyder, pictured here, and asked him about the project. Specifically, I was curious about the value of SMS in such a campaign. He told me that SMS allowed Al Jazeera to reach people who had no other option for participating in the debate - a voiceless population. 'Text is an equalizer that allows us to elevate more voices, which amplifies the conversation,' Hyder said.

"I've heard similar reactions about our software globally. Many people worldwide have an increasing ability to share and participate in news, but millions more are left out of this conversation. FrontlineSMS, combined with the proliferation of mobile phones around the globe, opens new possibilities for citizen engagement."

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

The Unheard Millions: A New Audience Joins Global News Conversations

On Friday, August 31st 2012 PBS featured a blog post written by Trevor Knoblich, our Media Project Manager. The post focused on our plans to integrate journalism tools into FrontlineSMS, enabling news-gatherers all over the world to integrate SMS more easily into their work. Thanks to PBS for allowing us to repost the piece here - you can find the original on the PBS Media Shift website. If you are interested in hearing more about our work, please email services@frontlineSMS.com to get in touch with the team.

By Trevor Knoblich, Media Project Manager

The field of journalism has faced a number of technology-driven changes in the past decade, including the advent of blogs, the generating and sharing of news via social media, and the tentative move by many governments to provide open data.

So many elements of news have evolved that many experts think we're on the verge of a revolution in digital journalism, including Google's director of news and social products, Richard Gingras. "The media landscape is in the process of being completely transformed, tossed upside down; reinvented and restructured in ways we know, and in ways we do not yet know," Gingras argued recently during a keynote address at the annual conference of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass and Communication. "The process of change is far from over. Indeed, it will never be over."

NEWS AS A PARTICIPATORY PROCESS

When thinking about all of these changes, I find one shift particularly inspiring: the growing concept of news as a participatory process. In the past, news was produced largely by media outlets and consumed by readers, viewers, or listeners -- a passive audience. Of course, now we view news as a lively and active discussion, in which former "consumers" participate in sharing stories, providing news tips, raising questions, and adding depth and context to stories.

Chris Lehmann, former chief of Yahoo News, recently told the New York Times' David Carr, "News is an activity, a verb really." He was primarily referring to the editorial room, but I think this now equally applies to all people who regularly read, share, write, and contribute to news. We live in an active news culture, in which stories are rarely static, breaking news reaches the world in a matter of seconds, and average citizens have access to many tools to provide news tips, content, and context nearly instantaneously.

This access has been described as public, participatory or citizen journalism, with varying definitions for each -- and no definition that everyone can agree on. That said, regardless of the title we give to this shift in news culture, the combination of ways in which people can contribute to news is encouraging. The more people are seeking, discussing, and shaping information, the closer we may get to a common understanding of the issues and challenges we face in our community, region, nation, or planet. This shift also allows information to spread quickly, and reach more people.

EXPANDING GLOBAL PARTICIPATION

With this in mind, I accepted my role at FrontlineSMS with a specific purpose: to extend global participation in news to people who otherwise would be left out of this shift, meaning those with no or infrequent access to the Internet. Lack of Internet access should not exclude people from receiving, discussing, and shaping the news that affects their lives. And while many people still lack Internet access, nearly everyone has access to a mobile phone, and by extension SMS.

SMS is the most pervasive digital communications platform in existence. As such, news outlets can use SMS to invite more people to participate in news in a variety of ways. Participants may be trained citizen journalists, eyewitnesses sharing news tips or photos, or even commentators on important stories.

Yes, this brings with it the challenge of vetting information, verifying senders, and devising clever mechanisms for being inclusive of a variety of different voices. But I believe we can meet those challenges, and the result will be a more robust audience participating in news in a more informed way. In fact, I've already seen inspiring examples of this from our user base at FrontlineSMS.

In one example, Al Jazeera noticed that while many people around the world were discussing the viral, controversial Kony 2012 video, there was a glaring gap in input from people in Uganda, where much of the discussion is focused. In response, Al Jazeera established the Uganda Speaks program, allowing people in Uganda to join the conversation in a variety of formats, including SMS, e-mail, Twitter and Facebook. For those without Internet access, SMS became a critical channel to weigh in on the global dialogue.

In another example, Indonesian television station RuaiTV trained citizen journalists in a method for texting information on illicit activities by palm oil companies. Citizen journalists would text or call with information about suspected wrongdoings, and RuaiTV would follow up on the news tips. In this manner, citizens were actively working to hold companies and governments accountable to the local legal framework.

At FrontlineSMS, we are motivated by these and similar user stories. These organizations are working to lower the barriers for participating in news debates, whether they are local or global. Via SMS, we can now invite many more people to receive news, share new ideas, and foster discussion around topics that are important to them. In many cases, people have this type of access for the first time in their lives. Thanks to the creativity of our users, potentially millions of new voices are now invited to participate in news. It will be thrilling to hear what they have to say.

Trevor Knoblich works as Project Manager for FrontlineSMS, a 2011 Knight News Challenge winner. He began his career as a federal policy reporter in Washington, DC,then spent 5 years working as a humanitarian specialist. He currently works on issues at the intersection of journalism, technology and developing countries. At FrontlineSMS, he is building tools to help journalists and media outlets around the world improve their ability to gather, track and share news.

"Making Our Own News" - Sharing Women's Social Knowledge in Sri Lanka

FrontlineSMS has huge potential as a tool for news-sharing, and this user guest post shows an example of this from a womens news network in Sri Lanka.

By Ananda Galappatti, Minmini News

Minmini News is a local SMS news service for women in the Batticaloa District of Eastern Sri Lanka. Batticaloa is the poorest district of Sri Lanka, still slowly emerging from the destruction of a three-decade-long civil war that ended in 2009. Throughout the war, and following the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that struck Batticaloa's coastline, women played a crucial role in responding to the difficult circumstances that their families and communities had to endure. The same is true now, during the difficult recovery after the war. However, the important concerns and remarkable experiences of women in Batticaloa are rarely reflected in the mainstream media that reaches their towns and villages. The news they receive, it seems, is not produced with them in mind.

The Model

In mid-2010, a small informal collective associated with women's groups in Batticaloa decided to trial a model for sourcing, producing and sharing news relevant to women of the area. The small founding group decided to field test the model through two pilot-testing phases in 2011, with small groups of 15-30 readers, who also served as the sources of news. There was initially some scepticism from colleagues and friends about the added value of providing women's news by SMS. However, the data from the pilot phase showed that not only were readers overwhelming positive about the service, but that it exposed them to novel and useful information, and had some influence on their perspectives.  Minmini Seithihal (translation: Firefly News) went public in August 2011.

The model tested continues to be used, and is directly based around sourcing news from the strong network of women community workers in different parts of the district. News information is collected fact-checked and written-up in text messages by a central 'news team' of one or two women. The prepared news messages can then be reviewed by an editor, and between one and three messages are sent out to readers (who subscribe to the service via text message) through FrontlineSMS each day.

Content

Minmini News delivers a broad range of content to its readers.  It provides information about public services relevant to women, including: details on government health clinics, special mobile services for basic official documentation or land registration, services for migrant workers and their families, or information about government schemes for persons with disability. Minmini News also covers local crises, such as floods or local conflicts between neighbouring communities. It also reports on services for gender-based violence and challenges faced by women in post-conflict recovery.

In addition, Minmini News  hashighlighted women's achievements, both large and small; within Batticaloa and beyond.  It covered issues related to livelihoods, costs of living and accessibility of markets for women's products. It drew attention to local cultural activities and social interventions by women. Minmini News represented a series of life-histories of women whose lives illustrated the diversity of experience within the district.

In all its coverage, Minmini News has tried to highlight the meaning that the events or processes have for the lives of women - often drawing attention to individual stories to convey this. However, rather than provide explicit editorial commentary on issues, SMS stories are used to provide a series of factual reports for readers to interpret themselves. The stories themselves are sourced from the team of volunteer 'reporters', and also from readers.

Impact

Independent interviews with readers and women contributors to Minmini News showed that the service was appreciated, and that it had changed their relationships to consumption of and sharing of news and information. One reader said, "it is difficult for me or others to go out and get news in our environment. Now we all have mobile phones in our hands, so it is good to get news from where we are [located]. Without any expense, I am getting news [on things happening] around me."  Another said she felt that women often found it socially more difficult than men to share their views or information publicly, and therefore, "were treated as second class [citizens]." Minmini News and its content, she felt, offered an opportunity for women's abilities to be highlighted and their views to be taken seriously.

In another  remarkable case, after hearing a news story via Minmini News, a community worker assisted a family to file a report on a woman who had been missing in the Middle East for over a year. When she was traced, it was found that she had been severely maltreated, and she was repatriated for care and recovery at home. Many of the effects of Minmini News are more subtle, but it is clear women who are subscribing to the service feel that the way they are engaged with mainstream media has changed, and they are now more sensitive to issues related to women's lives and rights.

Financing Ethos

Minmini News seeks to operate at a minimal cost. The start-up equipment (an old laptop and 3G dongle) was donated by members of the news team, who also collectively paid for the cost of messages during the pilot phase. Since its public launch, the policy of Minmini News has been to finance the service through small voluntary or in-kind contributions from its readers. Whilst the news team donate their time and personal resources to support the minimal operating infrastructure, Minmini News readers contribute to the cost of SMS messages by 'reloading' (ie. topping up) the pay-as-you-go number used by the service.  These contributions are effectively pooled so that all readers may benefit from what is paid. Those who can afford more, pay more so that others can receive the service. Others pay when or what they can.

Scaling Up

Minmini News is now entering a new phase, with active recruitment of women readers in rural communities in Batticaloa. This brings new opportunities in terms of prospects for broader sources of news, but also challenges in terms of verification. Plus, the financing model that has worked very well with a 100+ readers in the first phase of the service will also be tested as the service scales up. Minmini News is will be looking to expand in future, fostering similar networks in other districts of Sri Lanka, through which relevant news from local women in other areas can be exchanged bilaterally between 'sister' services.

- - -

Here at FrontlineSMS we really look forward to staying in touch with Ananda and all those at Minmini News, and hearing how this innovative news service develops! o/

About the author of this post:

Ananda Galappatti is a medical anthropologist and a practitioner in the field of Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in situations of emergency and chronic adversity. He is a co-founder of the journal Intervention, the online network mhpss.net and the social business The Good Practice Group.  Ananda lives in the town of Batticaloa on the East coast of Sri Lanka, where he volunteers as an editor for Minmini News.

SMS Builds the Radio Star

FrontlineSMS:Radio was recently featured on PBS Idea Lab - a group weblog by innovators who are reinventing community news for the Digital Age. Authors are winners of the Knight News Challenge that focuses on reshaping community news and Participation. The post by Amy O'Donnell, Radio Project Manager, is republished below or you can read the original post here.

Radio's history has spanned over 100 years and it continues to reach billions -- even in remote and underserved regions. So when UNESCO announced that the inaugural World Radio Day was to be celebrated on February 13, one question on many people's lips was: Why now?

A diverse World Radio Day panel gathered in London last month to demonstrate that, if anything, radio is growing in importance. Discussions about radio are more relevant than ever because innovations are rejuvenating radio programming, particularly in opening up channels for participation. Technology to spark this change need not be on the cutting edge either; it's just as exciting to realize how radio stations around the world are employing existing tools in new and ingenious ways.

Sixty-five percent of the world's population is not online, according to an ITU report. But people are demonstrating that they need not have an Internet connection to have a voice in the discussions that affect them. By using their mobile phones, audiences are increasingly able to contribute opinions to discussions or news tip-offs for reporters, making radio programming responsive, relevant and appropriate.

This reinvention of radio sparks recognition of the fundamental importance listeners place on radio as a participatory and localized platform. While voice calls bring richness to a show, the number of contributors is limited by time. SMS, on the other hand, has almost no limit, allowing space for engagement which represents more people. Crucially, incorporatingSMS feedback allows radio to reflect local debate and concerns.

In an era where every revolution has a hashtag, we must remind ourselves that community radio has been a forum for collective dialogue for more than 100 years. By a generous estimate, Twitter has 500 million users. Juxtapose this with the 6 billion active mobile subscriptions and 95 percent of people who have access to the radio.

Radio is particularly important for those who aren't online or able to get a newspaper delivered. Radio requires minimal electricity (a negligible amount with a windup or solar radio) and tuning in is free. Applications using SMS with radio -- two of the world's most used platforms -- is proving that mobile technology has the power to create new possibilities by transforming radio from a one-way broadcast to a two-way dialogue with listeners.

FrontlineSMS's free, open-source software, which assists with the management of text messages without need for the Internet, is being used in radio contexts in more than 80 countries.FrontlineSMS:Radio is a tailored version of the software developed with this in mind. The tools we've built are designed to assist with the analysis of aggregating of text message data so that DJs can relay opinions to audiences while live on air. We now have 20 stations across Africa taking part in the trial, and one of them has received 16,000 messages in just three months. The large regional, cultural and economic variation in platform adoption is why at FrontlineSMS we're focusing on the ways that traditional platforms can be used to complement each other.

At the World Radio Day panel in London, speakers stressed the importance of the decentralization of radio: a need to ensure that ownership of programming is in the hands of communities. The penetration of mobile coupled with innovative applications of FrontlineSMS allow radio managers to incorporate audience feedback and lean on listeners' insights to shape audio content.

Another theme identified on World Radio Day was that for many, radio is the most trusted information source -- second only to word of mouth -- and this is based on the personal connections people feel with radio presenters by interacting with them. As communities themselves are able to determine topics up for discussion, these can lead to actions that dramatically change lives. The change in relationship between radio stations and their communities is fostering an evolution in even traditional (or institutional) broadcast environments. It is this need for local dialogue which underlies the motivation of FrontlineSMS to support radio stations that engage with listeners.

It's great that radio gets one day a year to enter into a global conversation. But for me, it's important these discussions happen more often to build momentum in people interested in sharing and innovating around the radio -- in particular, how to make radio interactive and preserve space for locally appropriate discussions to thrive. Neither video nor social media have killed the radio star. In fact in many places -- when coupled with SMS -- locally representative radio is taking central stage.

How Journalists Are Using FrontlineSMS to Innovate Around the World

This post was originally shared here on Media Shift's Idea Lab blog. By Flo Scialom, FrontlineSMS Community Support Coordinator

So much can be said in 160 characters. As we've started to look at tailoring FrontlineSMS software for journalists, we've realized just how much potential there is to use text messaging as a news source.

As FrontlineSMS's community support coordinator, I interact every day with people and organizations that are using SMS in innovative ways. Increasingly, I've come across uses of FrontlineSMS as a journalistic tool, and this is particularly exciting for us as we embark on building new mobile tools to help increase media participation in hard-to-reach communities.

FrontlineSMS is a free and open-source tool, so its most interesting uses have always come from motivated, engaged users who discover and experiment with ways to use SMS to improve what they do. When we talk about using SMS for journalism, some people immediately jump into thinking about how they could cram an entire newspaper into 160 characters. Obviously, that would be a bit tight. What our users have found, however, is that there are lots of ways to use shorter communication to enable effective journalism.

In fact, FrontlineSMS users regularly demonstrate how a wealth of information can fit into 160 characters. It's through the creative ingenuity of our users that the impact of using SMS as a news sharing tool really comes to life. The following are some examples of our users that answer the question: What difference can SMS make for the media? Read More

TEXTING INTO RADIO SHOWS

Equal Access is an innovative organization focused on using media and technology to help support development. In Chad and Niger, Equal Access runs interactive community radio shows that feature topics such as politics and religion and discuss how to overcome community tensions. With listeners keen to discuss these topics, Equal Access needs an accessible way to manage regular audience interaction. FrontlineSMS enables users to manage large numbers of incoming and outgoing SMS, providing the ability to view multiple messages on-screen, set up auto-replies, and divide contacts into groups depending on their interests. Using these functions, Equal Access sets up a way for audiences to text into its radio shows, and is able to effectively manage incoming audience text messages while on-air.

The Equal Access team talked about the value of this in a guest post on our blog, saying, "We use FrontlineSMS to create interaction ... and this shows listeners that they are being heard. In closed communities, or those struggling with violence or intolerance, the act of engaging in an interactive dialogue ... can help people feel engaged and included."

Equal Access' use of SMS demonstrates that 160 characters can be enough to enable audience engagement. And it's not just radio audiences that engage in this way (although the combination of radio and SMS is prominent, as seen through our work on FrontlineSMS:Radio).

RAISING AIDS AWARENESS

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, SMS has been used to engage opinions from audiences of a television drama broadcast called "Rien que la Vérité" (meaning "Nothing but the Truth"). One of the aims of this broadcast, which isn't just your standard entertaining drama, is to raise awareness and challenge stereotypes on HIV/AIDS. Viewers of "Rien que la Vérité" were given the option to interact with the show's producers via text message. In this case, hearing from the audience via SMS helped demonstrate whether opinions on HIV/AIDs are being affected by the show's content.

For both Equal Access and "Rien que la Vérité," using FrontlineSMS software enables more efficient audience interaction, making text messages easier to manage, respond to, and analyze.

Ongoing audience interaction is clearly important, and in today's changing media landscape the audience is now a major news provider, too. Even in areas where there's no Internet connection -- where the power of social media has yet to reach -- citizen journalists are still playing a key role in the production of media content.

BREAKING NEWS IN 160 CHARACTERS

Harry Surjadi, a Knight International Journalism fellow, is enabling citizen journalists from remote offline communities in Indonesia to break news in 160 characters. Surjadi has used FrontlineSMS to set up a system in which incoming reports from citizen journalists can be forwarded via SMS to groups of subscribers who would not necessarily have access to news from other sources; the result is a truly innovative and powerful SMS news service which is proving successful already.

The system is run with Ruai Citizen Journalism Training Center, part of a local television station in Indonesia called RuaiTV, and was set up with support from Internews. Surjadi's motivation in setting this system up was to enable remote indigenous communities to actively engage in producing media content, and due to the accessibility of SMS, he is achieving his news-sharing goals.

It's exciting to see how FrontlineSMS is allowing people to engage at a wider community level. Our users have demonstrated the wealth of potential uses of SMS in the media. Through our community, I've seen that 160 characters can speak volumes -- facilitating dialogues, providing a voice to isolated communities, and, ultimately, providing access to information that can help improve lives.

Image courtesy of Ken Banks of kiwanja.net.

New radio documentary shows how FrontlineSMS connects farmers in Kenya

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.

Click here to listen to John, of  The Organic Farmer, speak about his use of FrontlineSMS.

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/

A Powerful Combination: Radio and SMS promote open social dialogue in Chad and Niger

Guest post by the Equal Access Team

"In the age of Twitter, the blogosphere, iPhones and Androids, it is often difficult for people in more developed nations to imagine what it is like to have no voice. Yet for populations not served by broadband Internet and WiFi connections, exclusion from national dialogue and debate continues, leaving many communities and people out of the conversation on social and political issues.

Equal Access International (EA) works to address this problem with the help of FrontlineSMS’ groundbreaking technology. EA specializes in educating and empowering people in some of the world’s most remote regions through media and community mobilization. With millions of regular listeners, our media programs leverage radio dramas and chat shows, mobile theatre, television shows, listening discussion groups, leadership training and community actions to foster positive change. Linking our innovative methodology with technology like FrontlineSMS, we have been able to convert a traditionally one-way information flow into an open dialogue, allowing listeners to express their ideas, perspectives, questions and feedback, sometimes for the first time in their lives.

EA has been using FrontlineSMS in Chad and Niger since late 2009. We produce six radio programs in these two countries and, for each show, listeners can send text messages to a dedicated telephone number, which is toll-free in Niger. The radio stations receive messages from thousands of listeners, some in response to questions posed on the radio program and others sharing their views and  commentary on the programs. During an 18-month period, 1,119 messages were received in Chad and 2,330 messages were received in Niger.

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:

“Chabab Al Haye” (Youth Alive) (MP3)

Gwadaben Matasa (Youth Boulevard) (MP3)

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

Online Discussion: Using Mobile Phones for Citizen Media

img class="alignright" title="Newtactics2" src="http://www.frontlinesms.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/Newtactics2.png" alt="" width="213" height="70" />New opportunities are increasingly opening up for citizens to actively share information, produce media and participate in journalism. Later this week, from 27th July to 2nd August, FrontlineSMS will be taking part in an online dialogue hosted by the New Tactics in Human Rights project on the subject of “Using Mobile Phones for Citizen Media.”  We would particularly encourage any FrontlineSMS users interested or active in this field of citizen media to participate in the discussion during the week to share your insightful contributions. FrontlineSMS team members, Amy and Sean, are looking forward to taking part in this discussion as they join a plethora of resource practitioners to share ideas about how to open opportunities for citizens to actively participate in journalism. In particular, FrontlineSMS are interested in how citizens are able to contribute to the media by utilising tools which are likely to be already in their hands: their mobile phone. We hope to draw on the experiences from the many FrontlineSMS users who operate in the media sector in order to share examples and case studies with the forum. Examples we have heard of include collection of SMS news tips at BreezeFM radio station in Zambia, journalists already reporting via SMS in Indonesia and the use of SMS to contribute to a TV series which tackles HIV in the Democratic Republic of Congo in a project called Rien que la Vérité (Nothing but the Truth).

This discussion is very timely, given the recent announcement that FrontlineSMS will soon be developing tools to enable digital news gathering using mobile phones, made possible by a $250,000 grant awarded through the Knight Foundation's News Challenge. Over the next two years we will be developing two key products for journalists and broadcasters: one to facilitate participatory journalism, interaction and collaboration from community members and audiences, and one to enable journalists to use their simple mobile phones as powerful reporting tools. As this new and exciting project takes off, we hope to utilise the opportunity of this week’s online dialogue to collect ideas and lessons learnt from other actors in the field. This will help us to gain perspective as we shape a customised tool which we hope will assist journalists and broadcasters to harness the power of their mobile phones.

Other participating resource practitioners:

  • Melissa Ulbricht (co-facilitator) - MobileActive's staff writer, United States
  • Becky Hurwitz - Project Manager at MobileActive and currently working on the SaferMobile project, United States
  • Rich Jones of the Open Watch Project
  • Mong Palatino - one of the founding conveners of TXTpower, Philippines
  • Brian Conley and others of Small World News
  • Sean McDonald and Amy O'Donnell of FrontlineSMS
  • Alix Dunn - applied researcher in the role of digital tools in activism, Egypt
  • John (Kipp) Kipchumbah of InfoNet, Kenya
  • Sam duPont - Field Fellow for Dimagi, author of Global Mobile blog at at DC think tank NDN, Thailand and Philippines
  • Patita Tingoi and others from Fahamu, Kenya
  • Boukary Konaté and Eddie Avila from Rising Voices, Mali and Bolivia

You can follow and contribute to the discussion here from 27th July

FrontlineSMS to bring new mobile tools to journalists around the world with $250,000 Knight News Challenge grant

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FrontlineSMS will develop new tools to enable digital news gathering anywhere there’s a mobile signal with $250,000 awarded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The support is part of the Knight News Challenge, an annual media innovation contest founded and run by Knight Foundation, and supported this year by Google. You can read the Knight Foundation's page about the announcement here.

With the award, FrontlineSMS, an initiative of the Kiwanja Foundation, will build two key products for journalists and broadcasters: one to facilitate participatory journalism, interaction and collaboration from community members and audiences, and one to enable journalists to use their simple mobile phones as powerful reporting tools. Throughout the project, the FrontlineSMS team will benefit not only from Knight’s financial support, but also its extensive global network of journalists and media innovators, people whose insights and experience will help shape the development and deployment of these tools.

According to Ken Banks, the creator of FrontlineSMS, “Working with our user community, we've seen the challenges that last-mile populations face in sending and receiving critical information.  Thanks to an incredible group of innovative journalists and other partners, we've also seen the potential of mobile technologies to improve the quality and quantity of news all over the world.  With the generous support of Knight Foundation, FrontlineSMS will build tools that bridge the gap between challenge and opportunity, engaging previously under-served communities in the news and conversations that affect their lives."

“FrontlineSMS has been a trail blazer for the creative application of mobile technology in low-bandwidth rural areas,” said John Bracken, director of digital media, Knight Foundation. “We’re excited to help them to apply their knowledge and tools towards addressing the information needs of rural communities.”

The award itself was presented during a ceremony at the 2011 Knight-MIT Civic Media Conference on Wednesday, June 22, at 2:30pm EDT. Sean McDonald, FrontlineSMS’ Director of Operations: Americas, accepted the award. You'll hear more from Sean about the event in an upcoming blog post.

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. We believe that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged.

For more, visit www.knightfoundation.org

Internship Opportunities: Do you have what it takes to be a FrontlineSMS Hero?

• Current opportunities: Community Project Assistant and Media Project Assistant (please note these internship opportunities will be based in London, UK)• New FrontlineSMS Heroes page to acknowledge our interns and volunteers

Many successful social change projects across the world rely on dedicated and passionate interns and volunteers. FrontlineSMS is privileged to have many individuals willing to contribute their time to our organisation, because they feel passionately about the work we do. As interest in FrontlineSMS grows, we continue to build our team – and capacity – and we’re now looking to fill two exciting new internship positions in our London office.

We are in need of two enthusiastic and self motivated individuals to take on the roles of Community Project Assistant and Media Project Assistant. The Community Project Assistant will be helping us to build our online resources, and strengthen our global community of FrontlineSMS users. The Media Project Assistant will be working on research for FrontlineSMS:Radio, and helping manage contacts and project timelines for re-design of the FrontlineSMS software. For more information on these roles, and how to apply visit our Jobs and Internships page.

As we advertise for these new positions we would like to take the opportunity to announce the launch of a new page on our website for FrontlineSMS Heroes; those committed interns and volunteers who provide invaluable help to FrontlineSMS. If you are thinking of applying for one of our internships you too could become a FrontlineSMS Hero!

This is what our intern, Adam, had to say about working with us:

“FrontlineSMS is an exciting and dynamic organisation. The diversity of projects which this small organisation is involved in makes working here fascinating.”

This is an exciting time to join FrontlineSMS, because our growing team is currently implementing a new strategy. In the coming year there are plans afoot to update the core software platform, expand our consultancy services to find new sustainable streams of income, and build up FrontlineSMS’s exciting range of sector specific sister organisations. If you would like to join FrontlineSMS and help us to take these plans forward then apply for an internship with us today!

Mobiles for media empowerment

Today, all eyes are on the United States with one of the most anticipated Presidential elections in decades. Amidst the excitement lurks the ever-present concern over potential election day chaos, and fears of a repeat of what happened in Florida eight years ago. Once again, mobile technology is also being touted as one way of smoothing election day progress and how it's reported, as it has been in almost every election around the world in recent years. The proposed use of Twitter is perhaps the one key addition in USA'08.

In the coming months three West African countries also go to the polls - Ghana, Guinea and Cote d'Ivoire. Sadly, access to balanced and unbiased election information is often a key problem in these countries. The logistical challenges of running nationwide elections is often compounded by a lack of election-specific knowledge among local media, which can often lead to misreporting, misinformation and - in worse-case scenarios - civil unrest. Availability of ICT tools for local journalists can also be problematic, compounding the problem yet further.

To address some of these challenges, the International Institute for ICT Journalism, in partnership with the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA), are embarking on the "West African Elections Information and Knowledge Project".

The project seeks to strengthen the role of the media in election reporting through the training of senior editors, journalists and reporters; developing and disseminating an 'Election Reporting Guide for the Media'; the use of text messaging in election coverage and monitoring with FrontlineSMS; and the creation of a Knowledge Online Portal.

The use of mobile technology in election monitoring may be nothing new, although promoting the use of text messaging specifically as a media enabler represents something of a departure from its usual use by official election monitor groups. The choice of FrontlineSMS is also significant. The software has already been successfully implemented in Nigeria to enable what is widely believed to be Africa's first citizen election monitoring project, and it was used in the last Philippine elections to help organise official monitoring teams around the country. In recent weeks it has also been lined up to help register 135,000 overseas Filipino workers in advance of the upcoming 2010 elections.

Further details on the West African election project are available via the Africa Election Portal website, and updates will also be posted on the kiwanja.net blog as the project moves forward.