Legal aid in the United States is broken. Legal Services Corporation (LSC), the country's primary funder of legal aid organizations, estimates that about half of eligible clients are turned away from the organizations it funds, and about eighty percent of the civil legal needs of low-income Americans remain unmet.
The University of Alberta, MARS lab and the Centre to End All Sexual Exploitation (CEASE) have been using FrontlineSMS in a ground-breaking pilot to assess the impact of using SMS to engage women who are trafficked and exploited in Edmonton, Canada. They have very kindly collaborated with us on an in-depth case study, looking at how the system was designed and set up, its impact, and what's happening next.
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.
FrontlineCloud has been out in beta for just over a month, and we’re proud to have over 450 users signed up already, sending and receiving thousands of messages. The newest addition to the Frontline product set has had an incredibly warm and supportive reception on social media and in the many lovely emails we’ve received from friends, users and donors. To everyone who has retweeted, liked, emailed and signed up to look around, a huge thank you.
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.
Here at FrontlineSMS, we’ve been making software for a long time. When we first released Version 2 of our software, a little over a year ago, we were one of a few SMS management platforms available- one of even fewer that was free and open source. At the time, we were proud to have around 25,000 downloads and an active user community. You can imagine our surprise when we checked our download numbers last week and learned that FrontlineSMS has been downloaded more than 100,000 times- more than 75,000 times in a little over a year. We were so excited, we got a cake. You have to understand, when things get serious at FrontlineSMS, we get serious about getting a cake.
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.
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.
With shiny apps hogging the mobile spotlight these days, one could be forgiven for forgetting about SMS (“Short Message Service” or text messaging). But although apps often disguise themselves as universally useful, their data and hardware requirements preclude their widespread use in poor countries. Amongst the world’s poor, SMS is still king. Given the World Bank’s mandate to serve the exactly that population, and in response to demand from staff, I recently attended a 2-day Frontline SMS training here in DC.
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.
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.
SMS remains the most popular two-way communications platform on the planet. In most cases, it's inexpensive, casual, and discreet for users. It also represents one of the more profitable features offered by mobile network operators. And while SMS does face an increasingly fractured market, largely from the growth of messaging apps, it’s not going anywhere anytime soon. Here are 5 reasons why:
Behavior change campaigning is inherently interactive. In order to encourage positive behavior change it is important to not only push campaign messages out to people, but to listen to the responses. To run a campaign which has a real impact, you need to listen to ensure you’re being heard. This is one of the main reasons why SMS - as a widely accessible and inherently interactive communications channel - is an ideal tool for campaigning.
This is the topic explored in a new resource which FrontlineSMS is releasing with Text to Change today; best practices when using SMS as a behavior change campaigning tool. This resource has been put together collaboratively to provide an introductory guide, suggesting some key points which can usefully be considered if you are planning to use SMS as a campaign tool. The resource is by no means exhaustive, but it outlines some key considerations which can hopefully serve to help guide discussions around best practices in SMS campaigning.
Mobile phones are now everywhere. As we mention in this resource, global penetration of mobile phones now reaches 87%, with 79% penetration in the economically developing world.[i] There are 5.9 billion mobile-cellular subscriptions worldwide, and the total number of SMS sent globally tripled between 2007 and 2010, from an estimated 1.8 to 6.1 trillion[ii]. It is the ubiquity of mobile that makes it such a useful tool for campaigning.
However, using mobile phones for campaigning is by no means simple. In this resource we cover suggestions on effective context analysis, tailoring SMS content for your campaigns, creating a sustainable change with SMS and measuring impact. Through outlining best practices it becomes clear that the right content, delivered at the right time in the right context, is critical to a successful SMS campaign.
The case study examples within this resource demonstrate how text messages can help encourage people to change behaviors and attitudes toward issues as diverse as HIV/AIDS and reproductive rights. The case study examples come from both Uganda and India. These are completely diverse geographic regions, but in both locations, SMS behavior change campaigning proved to be a success.
FrontlineSMS has worked with Text to Change to create this resource. Both FrontlineSMS and Text to Change use mobile technologies to address a range of vital needs in the non-profit sector. It has been fantastic to work together on collating some advice on how to make the most of mobile technology specifically for campaigning.
The resource will be launched at ‘The world in the palm of your hand: SMS and mobile communications’, an event in London at which both Text to Change Founder, Hajo van Beijma, and FrontlineSMS Founder, Ken Banks will be speaking. Presentations at the event will explore the power of SMS and mobile in the third sector.
Check out the resource itself: Communications for change: How to use text messaging as an effectivebehavior change campaigning tool. We welcome your thoughts and feedback on this resource, and we'd love to hear about your experiences of using SMS as a campaigning tool. Please feel free to connect with us through our community forum or get directly in contact.
Many thanks to Megan Goldshine for her hard work on the graphic design of this resource.
FrontlineSMS was featured in an article from The Guardian which advocates that successful social solutions are achieved by generating active problem solvers and changemakers in society rather than co-dependents. You can find an extract of the article below, and the full article can be found here.
"After many battles, the green movement has come up with such a principle that underpins even the most complex measurements and certifications. Every child learns that we must not use more resources than the planet can provide and regenerate. Sustainability is the gold standard of green. Can there be anything remotely as simple for social impact?
Yes. In the same way that we must preserve nature's capacity to sustain itself in the face of growing resource demands, we must also reinforce our communities' ability to solve the inevitable social challenges that come with ever faster change. And solving more problems requires more active problem solvers.
Like an ecosystem in a downward spiral, any group that does not manage to generate changemakers for the good of all is going to be left behind, regardless of how much money it may throw at its problems. Because, after all, money is not a renewable resource like changemaking is.
It is this ability to inspire, empower and multiply active problem solvers that lies at the heart of the success of every great social solution from the Grameen Bank to FrontlineSMS, from TeachFirst to Roots of Empathy (or many other leading social entrepreneurs in Ashoka's network). Whether the challenge is lifting people out of poverty or empowering young people, a true social solution breeds more co-creators to propel itself forward, not more dependants."
To read the ful article, please visit The Guardian here.
FrontlineSMS is excited and honoured to be featured in The Global Journal's list of Top 100 Best NGOs, which was announced earlier this week. It is fantastic to receive this acknowledgement for the important role FrontlineSMS is playing in leveraging mobile technology to support social change across the world. We have lots planned for 2012, and so this announcement is a great start to what is going to be a big year! For more information on this announcement please see below or you can visit the Global Journal webpage, too. Here is how the Global Journal announced their 'Top 100 Best NGOs' list:
"The Global Journal is proud to announce the release of its inaugural ‘Top 100 Best NGOs’ list. The first international ranking of its kind, this exclusive in-depth feature will no doubt stimulate debate, while providing academics, diplomats, policymakers, international organizations and the private sector an insight into the ever changing dynamics and innovative approaches of the non-profit world and its 100 leading actors.
This is what they said of FrontlineSMS, and the reason why we are in the list:
"In 2005, Ken Banks [FrontlineSMS Founder] was working to help authorities engage and communicate with the public on wildlife conservation efforts in South Africa without relying on the Internet. Realizing he needed a system that could send, receive, and organize SMS text messages through a mobile device and laptop, the original concept of FrontlineSMS was born.
For remote areas in developing countries where individuals can at best access a mobile phone signal, the simplicity of FrontlineSMS is central to its appeal. A free, open-source software platform that works without an Internet connection by connecting a device such as a cell phone or GSM modem with a local phone number, FrontlineSMS has been downloaded 20,000 times and is being used in 70 countries worldwide. From facilitating the real-time dissemination of market data to coffee farmers in Aceh, to supporting Iraq’s first independent news agency and being used to monitor elections and prevent vote rigging in the Philippines, Afghanistan and Nigeria, users have driven the development of new features to support positive social change in over 20 sectors.
As the FrontlineSMS community has expanded, so too has the ‘family’ of sector specific projects the organization has, which are adapting and extending the software for specialized use in finance, education delivery, healthcare, community radio and legal services."
You can read more about this announcement on the Global Journal website here.