FrontlineSMS Guest Posts

MfarmerSMS service links farmers to better markets in Nakaseke- Uganda

MfarmerSMS service links farmers to better markets in Nakaseke- Uganda

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.

ChatSalud Aims to Empower Rural Nicaraguans to Advocate for their Sexual and Reproductive Health.

ChatSalud Aims to Empower Rural Nicaraguans to Advocate for their Sexual and Reproductive Health.

In Nicaragua, sex is embarrassing.  Yet in a country where approximately 50 percent of the population is below the age of 18, and where 1 in 3 adolescent girls will become pregnant before they reach the age of 18, it’s clear that people are having sex—they’re just not talking about it due to pena—a wonderfully ambiguous word located somewhere between shame, embarrassment, and awkwardness.

Star FM in Zimbabwe ensure Young People are the Stars

Star FM in Zimbabwe ensure Young People are the Stars

As with other community radio models, the Star FM community owns, manages and determines the content for programs – and in this case it is a community of young people. It is important for Bulawayo Youth Broadcasting to encourage youth participation because, as Philani explained, “They are the future leaders. The youth are encouraged to participate as they know that these issues affect them directly.”

FrontlineSMSat7: Mobile Money made easy and accessible

In the sixth of our seven blog posts celebrating the month that FrontlineSMS turns 7, Enock Musyoka, our FrontlineSMS: Credit Project Assistant, shares the impact FrontlineSMS:Credit's PaymentView has on Nunguni Financial Service Association and its members. The power of owning a mobile phone is beyond SMS messages; PaymentView makes it easier to manage payment plans.

 

FrontlineSMSat7: KOFAVIV Supporting Haitian Women

In the fourth of our seven blog posts celebrating the month that FrontlineSMS turns 7, Sean Martin McDonald, CEO of our social enterprise, reflects on howKOFAVIV, a women's organization in Port-Au-Prince, supports women affected by rape and domestic violence via SMS, in the aftermath of the 2010 Haitian Earthquake. 

KOFAVIV

KOFAVIV

"My favorite thing about working at FrontlineSMS is just how commonly we’re exposed to people doing inspirational things to make their communities stronger. I don’t know that I’ve ever been to a community that has needed more strength than Port-Au-Prince in the aftermath of the Haitian earthquake.

Amidst crushed concrete and the desperation of the tent camps, there’s an organization called KOFAVIV that has built a haven amidst the chaos. KOFAVIV is a network of women and men who reach into the often dangerous, neglected neighborhoods of Port-Au-Prince to extend a helping hand to victims of sexual violence in the moments when they need it most.  KOFAVIV connects victims to healthcare, legal representation, and, most importantly, community, giving them a voice and a way forward.  KOFAVIV was started by victims of rape who are now changing what it means to be a victim.

"In Spring of 2011, the women of KOFAVIV allowed me to stay with them for a few days, observing their work and contributing a few ideas about how FrontlineSMS could be used to improve coordination.  The organization has used FrontlineSMS to organize gatherings, send urgent security alerts, and manage their network of agents.

"It’s easy to talk about communication; it’s hard and dangerous to see it done so well.  When I celebrate FrontlineSMS and think of the things that we’ve accomplished over the last 7 years, my proudest moments are when I get to see how we’ve contributed, in the tiniest way possible, to the incredible feats of human courage and compassion enacted every single day by the women of KOFAVIV and the organizations like them."

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

FrontlineSMS at 7: Nigerian Mobile Election Monitors, 2007, from our Founder, Ken Banks

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.

Nigerian Mobile Election Monitors

Nigerian Mobile Election Monitors

"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

FrontlineSMS:Credit takes on Kisumu

By Enock Musyoka, Project Assistant, FrontlineSMS: Credit

A few weeks ago, the FrontlineSMS:Credit team and FrontlineSMS M&E Intern Juliana embarked on a trip to Kisumu to meet FrontlineSMS users and potential PaymentView users. After an early morning flight, we met Joseph Achola, head teacher at Lake Primary School, and one of the leaders of the local primary school head teachers’ association. Joseph arranged for us to meet head teachers from three local schools to discuss the potential of using PaymentView to enable parents to pay for school fees with mobile money. Schools using PaymentViewwould enable easy management of incoming school fee payments and would allow schools to manage installment payment plans for school fees.

The meeting with the four head teachers was very successful. All were positive about the impact that PaymentView could have on their operations and we scheduled follow-up meetings with Josana Academy and Aga Khan Primary School for Tuesday.

To read more please click here.

Planning and assessment of mobile phone use: effective SMS in Cambodia from World Vision UK

Assessing whether to use SMS is even more important than figuring out how to do it, as Joshua Pepall, World Vision’s United Kingdom Senior Accountability Advisor in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, reports in a special guest blog post. Improved accountability to communities and value for money are hot topics for World Vision and for the UK Department for International Development (DFID), which funds the accountability for development pilot that l support in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

Accountability and quality assurance guidelines like the Humanitarian Accountability Project (HAP) and INGO (International NGO) Accountability Charters highlight the need for agencies to effectively provide accurate and timely information to communities on project plans and activities. Doing this is not always easy.

World Vision development projects work through area development programmes (ADPs).  ADP Catchment areas can be made up of dozens of villages, hundreds of households and thousands of people. A real challenge for World Vision staff is how to effectively communicate programme information to community members quickly, cheaply and effectively. Organising a meeting can take days and may not the best use of people’s time, or represent good value for money. Using SMS to provide basic information on project activities and to coordinate community engagement events seemed like one solution.

Mobile phone usage in Cambodia is remarkably high - everyone seems to have a phone. Judging by the number of people that own two or three, owning multiple phones is somewhat of a status symbol as well. Phones are relatively affordable here - a Chinese 3G phone can cost as little as $60 while a basic Nokia is as little as $18. Some estimates put the number of mobile phones registered in Cambodia at 13 million (BubbleCom, 2012). Nine mobile phone operators have invested heavily in mobile phone infrastructure and there is almost total coverage across the country.

It’s easy to get excited by new technology like FrontlineSMS, and start using it before listening to the people who will receive the information and give them the opportunity to decide if SMS is their preferred communications channel.

Effective information provision to communities of project information requires careful planning - you need to identify who your community audience is, and target your approach to that audience. Luckily, we had the flexibility and time to do this.

Our national and World Vision UK teams developed a simple community assessment questionnaire designed to learn more about  community mobile phone usage, the cost of SMS and cell cards, phone ownership and the kind of information people wanted from World Vision.

We learnt a lot. Some of our assumptions were also challenged. Age did not seem to be the  big obstacle to mobile phone use as we had anticipated and even the poorest village community members had phones and used SMS. People also wanted to use SMS to report issues of domestic violence in the communities to World Vision staff. Potentially, Frontline SMS might be able to be used for a variety of applications and not only to send information.

Rather than compile a big report about the assessment we set ourselves the challenge of communicating the results in one page - the  infographic on the left.

So what next? We’re still SMS novices and learning as we go. We will be trialling the use of  Frontline SMS in one village to send SMS to households on the date and time of community meetings and project information. By starting small we hope to learn what works and does not. By getting some wins under our belt we hope to then roll it out to other ADPs.

Stop Stockouts: Accountability of Health Services Improved by FrontlineSMS

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/

Mobile Networks and Citizen Journalists Empower Communities

The below post and videos are were originally produced by Internews, and based on projects done in collaboration with the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) and RuaiTV. In Indonesia, rural farmers and environmental advocates are using mobiles to report, connect, and raise awareness of their issues. Two videos show how networks of citizens can mobilize through communication and collaborate with local media outlets to change the practices of palm oil corporations, which dominate industry in West Kalimantan, Indonesia.

“When I face conflict while negotiating with the company, I send an SMS to encourage the people to support me. ‘Let’s go to the company altogether, let’s push them,’” says Hendrik, the leader of a palm oil farmers’ cooperative, who uses FrontlineSMS to communicate with the cooperative after participating in a citizen journalism training. “Every time there is a problem, I just inform the farmers and have their backup. I feel so courageous with their support,” he said.

Ruai TV, a television station, has engaged rural farmers to send reports to them, which the station can verify and add as a news crawl to their broadcasts, or expand into full video news reports.

“The impact of the citizen journalism is extraordinary,” said Alim, a Ruai TV producer, who explained that the citizen reporters allow the TV station to cover the issues, even though they have limited staff, and that in turn the station helps the rural farmers have a stronger voice.

The reporting has had results. Following one story produced by Ruai TV, the local palm oil company agreed to repair a road that had long been a source of contention with the community.

Internews worked closely with Knight International Journalism Fellow Harry Surjadi, RuaiTV and the International Centre for Journalists (ICFJ) to deliver technical workshops, provide infrastructure support and conduct research on the FrontlineSMS-based citizen journalist SMS news wire.

Internews also worked with Surjadi and local technical partner AirPutih to introduce interactive voice response technologies to West Kalimantan’s rural farmers and environmental advocates. Internews facilitated a technical collaboration between AirPutih and SwaraIVR – an open source IVR system that was developed in India by another Knight International Journalism Fellow, Shubhranshu Choudhary.

The IVR workshop held in the provincial capital Pontianak and attended by local citizen journalists, farmers and NGO representatives demonstrated how the mobile phone’s keypad could be used to leave messages and access voice-based information, providing another channel for increasing local voices and improving information flows in remote Indonesia.

The Internews Center for Innovation & Learning experiments with, captures and shares innovative approaches to communication from around the world.

Thank you to Internews for giving us permission to re-post this content on our blog. The original post can be found here.

Data Collected via FrontlineSMS is used by Ministry of Agriculture in Cambodia

In this guest post new FrontlineSMS user, Sophie Baron, shares how she is currently using FrontlineSMS in a pilot study to monitor and contain the spread of animal diseases in Cambodia. This pilot was initiated by Dr. Flavie Goutard and Dr. Sebastien Le Bel from the Centre de Coopération Internationale en Recherche Agronomique pour le Développement (CIRAD) and the Institut Pasteur du Cambodge (IPC). It is now providing valuable information to the Cambodian Ministry of Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries, through their National Veterinary Research Institute (NaVRI) at the Department of Animal Health and Production. In this post Sophie explains how the pilot has been set-up to overcome communications challenges, and discusses how FrontlineSMS is helping enable successful tracking and containment of animal diseases. By Sophie Baron

Infectious animal diseases are a major threat for the agricultural community in Cambodia. If levels of animal diseases are not monitored and contained effectively, this can have a negative impact on farmer’s livelihoods. I am working through the CIRAD, alongside IPC and NaVRI, to implement a targeted monitoring and surveillance system for animals. A pilot study is currently being implemented in two rural Cambodian provinces - Kampong Cham and Takeo. The sample for this pilot study is made up of 10 villages from each of 3 districts in both provinces; making a total of 60 villages. From each of the 60 villages, we asked the village chief and a selected village animal health worker (VAHW) to report the number of dead cattle, chickens, ducks and pigs in their village on a weekly basis. They were also asked to report the number of cattle infected by Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) and Hemorrhagic Septicemia (HS); and the number of cattle that died from these infections.

The data reported via SMS by village chiefs and VAHWs helps to provide a more accurate baseline of animal mortality, and serves to alert NaVRI when mortality is higher than usual. If the reports being sent indicate that mortality is high, someone from NaVRI is sent to the relevant village to take samples from the animals, which are used to diagnose the condition. Based on this diagnosis appropriate actions are taken which curb the potential for an outbreak. Receiving regular data via SMS - and being able to manage this data within FrontlineSMS - helps enable NaVRI to adopt more timely and effective response mechanisms to breakouts of animal diseases.

When we were designing the pilot study, there were some interesting challenges that we had to consider. The pilot was targeting rural areas where access to internet is slow, so we had to build a solution that was accessible. Luckily, most people have mobile phones in these rural areas, but there is also a low usage rate of SMS in Cambodia. This is partly because phones do not support Khmer characters – which is the official language in Cambodia - making texting very difficult, and in some cases impossible. In addition, a phone call costs approximately the same as an SMS in Cambodia, thus reducing the incentive to communicate via SMS.

However, the high access to mobile phones means that SMS still offers a viable solution and enables effective data collection; we just had to be aware to design our use of SMS to suit the context. To get around the language challenge, we implemented a numbering system so that users just had to submit reports via SMS using numerical values as opposed to sending fully written text messages. We went to the villages and offered personal training to those who would be submitting reports via SMS, and further explained and documented the numbering system. In order to incentivize people to send their SMS reports the cost of SMS is reimbursed. On a monthly basis, VAHWs and village chiefs are given sufficient mobile top-up to be able to send SMS reports throughout the month.

The way we have designed the pilot seems to be working well. In the first few weeks, there was a 90% rate of response from the VAHWs. We have experienced some initial errors in the report format, but Ms. Kunthy Nguon, research assistant at IPC was able to call to follow up and clarify any incorrect reports, and to inform those reporting of the correct way to structure the content.

Since the pilot has proved efficient in helping us to receive timely and accurate reports so far, I have recently installed FrontlineSMS at NaVRI, where reports will continue to be monitored. The pilot started in February 2012 and will continue as a pilot study until June 2012. Following this point, we will evaluate the success of our use of FrontlineSMS and we will be looking for funding to continue the project from June 2012 and to expand into additional provinces.

Under the supervision of Dr. Arnaud Tarantola, head of the Epidemiology and Public Health unit at IPC, we are also currently reviewing ways that FrontlineSMS can be used in some other IPC projects, for tasks such as monitoring success of patient vaccination and collecting patient feedback. It has been really valuable to investigate the different potential uses of FrontlineSMS across public and animal healthcare, and we hope to expand use of the software moving forward. Sophie Baron is a veterinarian doing a Masters in Public Health, and specializing on epidemiologic surveillance of human and animal diseases. Thanks to a Fondation Pierre Ledoux scholarship, Sophie is doing a six month internship based at Institut Pasteur du Cambodge (IPC) as part of her studies.

"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.

FrontlineSMS User Community Connecting Across the World: Next User Meet-Up in Cambodia

Here at FrontlineSMS we are often inspired by the power of our user community. It is amazing to see the diverse ways people and organizations make use of our software, and we are always happy to support users in sharing their experiences with the wider community.

Over the past few months we have been excited to see the growing trend of FrontlineSMS user meet-ups; users meetings in different parts of the world, keen to discuss the use of FrontlineSMS software for positive social change. Thus far there have been user meet-ups in Haiti, Uganda and Cambodia, and just yesterday there was a successful user meet-up in Nairobi, too. If you would like to find out more about these user meet-ups, and perhaps even organize one yourself, visit our community forum today!

In the below post Sophie Baron, new FrontlineSMS user, reports on the first FrontlineSMS user meet-up in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

When you start out using a new software, it is great to have the support of a wider community. When I first started using FrontlineSMS I was keen to learn as much as possible, and meet others using FrontlineSMS too. This is how I got involved with the first user meet-up in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, which brought together a diverse range of social change organizations including PACT, Equal Access, BBC Media Action, CIRAD (Centre de Coopération Internationale en Recherche Agronomique pour le Développement) and Institut Pasteur du Cambodge (IPC).

The goal of this first meeting was for FrontlineSMS users in Cambodia to gather in order to talk about their use of FrontlineSMS, discuss any common successes and challenges encountered whilst using the software, and generally share experiences. The meeting was made up of nine participants and was held at the Cambodian office of PACT, an NGO working on capacity building of local populations.

The meet-up kicked off with people introducing themselves and their projects. Everyone was using FrontlineSMS for different purposes, some for wider media campaigning (Equal access and BBC Media Action), and others for more focused monitoring projects (PACT, CIRAD, IPC). There were different levels of experience within the group.  Equal Access had been using FrontlineSMS since 2008 and PACT since 2011, whereas BBC Media Action had only been using FrontlineSMS in Cambodia for one month and at the time of the meeting CIRAD and IPC had not started using the software yet.

During the discussions we were able to share potential solutions to challenges faced when using FrontlineSMS in Cambodia. Common interests were explored, such as the potential of improved collaboration with local mobile service providers. In addition, PACT shared how they have used Khmer script, explaining the opportunities provided as well as the challenges faced.

Personally, this meeting was very helpful for me because I had many questions answered regarding the use of FrontlineSMS. I was also able to email the group to ask for follow up advice when I started actively using FrontlineSMS. It’s so useful to have a local support network to help out with the software.

We hope to welcome new participants to the next meeting in Phnom Penh, which will be held on 30th April at 2pm and will take place at the PACT Office (Address: 3rd Floor, Building A, Phnom Penh Center, Corner of Sothearos and Sihanouk Boulevards, Phnom Penh). If you are interested please join this discussion on the community forum to connect with others in the group.

o/ Here at FrontlineSMS we look forward to hearing how the next meet-up in Phnom Penh goes! o/

About the author of this post:

Sophie Baron is a veterinarian doing a Master in Public Health specializing on epidemiologic surveillance of human and animal diseases. Thanks to a Foundation Pierre Ledoux scholarship Sophie is doing a 6 month internship as part of her studies at Institut Pasteur du Cambodge, under the supervision of Dr Flavie Goutard (CIRAD) and Dr Arnaud Tarantola (Head of Epidemiology and Public Health unit at IPC).

Coordinating FrontlineSMS Use in the Upcoming Kenyan Elections

By Dave Algoso

Kenya’s upcoming elections will mark a pivotal moment in the country’s history. As in many countries, elections in Kenya become boiling points for interethnic conflict. The last presidential election, in December 2007, led to the worst violence the country has seen in recent history: over 1,300 Kenyans died and hundreds of thousands were displaced.

Although calm was restored within a few months, the country still faces several obstacles on its road to peace. The International Criminal Court will soon move to trials for four political elites accused of instigating the post-election violence. This increase in accountability may dampen future violence, but it also stokes tensions: two of the four intend to run for president, and their supporters smell politics behind the court’s process.

Another complicating factor is Kenya's new constitution, approved in a contentious but peaceful vote in August 2010. The new constitution decentralizes the government and puts more constraints on executive power. This lowers the stakes of winning the presidency, which should reduce the incentive for violence. However, decentralization also brings a potentially bewildering array of new offices to vote for, throwing a monkey wrench into political allegiances as well as election administration.

With the next general election now set to occur in March 2013, peacebuilders and democracy advocates in Kenya are looking for innovative ways to monitor election results and violence. Kenya’s high levels of mobile penetration and literacy create ideal conditions for a platform like FrontlineSMS.

One peacebuilding group, the African Great Lakes Initiative (AGLI), is building on its experience using FrontlineSMS to monitor Burundi’s 2010 elections. Working with its Democracy and Peace Groups in Burundi, AGLI provided cell phones and training to 160 citizen reporters in 9 communities. The citizen groups used the phones to report on election irregularities and violence, and used FrontlineSMS software to redistribute their reports to a larger group of community members.

AGLI plans to replicate and expand on this model in Kenya. The organization plans on recruiting and training one thousand citizen reporters in western Kenya. AGLI is also partnering with local government officials and other organizations to ensure effective responses to the information gathered. These types of relationships were critical to the system’s success in Burundi, as described by AGLI’s David Zarembka.

FrontlineSMS has been working to promote partnerships that make good use of the platform in Kenya’s elections. This has included hosting an online discussion where AGLI was joined in discussion by Konrad-Adenauer Foundation (KAS) and KAS’s partner Nyanza Partners for Peace Alliance, who are both part of the Partnerships for Peace project. The groups discussed effective ways to engage citizen reporters, as well as the benefits of open versus closed networks of reporters. Dave (AGLI) made the point that even a small-scale system can have a large impact. Hanna Carlsson of KAS and Joseph Owuondo of Nyanza Partners for Peace Alliance discussed the potential of pairing Crowdmap and FrontlineSMS together, and how this can create a powerful tool for advocacy, particularly at the international level.

To promote more collaboration, FrontlineSMS will host a meet-up in its Nairobi office (FF16 Bishop Magua Centre, Ngong Road, Kilimani) on 4 April, 1-2pm EAT. Representatives from various groups will be able to share ideas and coordinate action in the lead up to the elections. The ultimate aim of these efforts is to provide Kenyan and international actors with the information they need to ensure honest elections, combat political manipulation, and resolve conflicts before they turn violent. Given the negative impacts that further violence would have on Kenya and the region, this moment calls for creative ideas and dedicated implementation.

If you’re interested in this topic and/ or in attending the upcoming meet-up in Kenya please email info@frontlinesms.com to let us know. You can also join this forum discussion about the meet-up and the use of FrontlineSMS in the Kenyan elections.

This post was written by Dave Algoso, who is a development professional and writer based in Nairobi, Kenya. Dave normally blogs at Find What Works.

Sending a Message of Accountability: SMS Helps Improve Services After Pakistan Floods

In this guest post, Alex Gilchrist explains how the Popular Engagement Policy Lab (PEPL) used SMS to communicate with affected communities during the humanitarian response to the floods in Pakistan in 2011. Using FrontlineSMS to set up a Complaints and Response Mechanism, people were able to share their experiences of accessing food and shelter. Co-authored by Syed Azhar Shah from Raabta Consultants, this post demonstrates how it is through the effective use of communications technology that people can be connected to the services they need the most. Guest Post by Alex Gilchrist, Popular Engagement Policy Lab and Syed Azhar Shah, Raabta Consultants

The 2011 monsoon flooding in Sindh, Pakistan’s southernmost province, affected an estimated 5.5 million people. The floods compounded the damage caused by flooding in 2010 and the lack of clean drinking water, food, healthcare and shelter resulted in communicable and non-communicable diseases across the province. It also caused loss of livelihoods through damage to agricultural land and death of livestock that will continue to affect the lives of the people of Sindh for years to come.

In the aftermath of the recent flooding, a large Pakistani NGO called Strengthening Participatory Organisation (SPO), which manages a network of organizations across Sindh province started a new project in Mirpur Khas district, distributing food items and shelter to those worse affected. Following an assessment process for one of its smaller projects, SPO selected a total of 475 beneficiaries across 24 villages.

A concern of SPO’s head office in Islamabad was that complaints and feedback from beneficiaries in previous projects had not been documented or dealt with effectively and they wanted to monitor the distribution process. This is when the Popular Engagement Policy Lab (PEPL) and Raabta Consultants were asked to help.

We were asked to set up a mechanism through which people could register issues they encountered during the flood relief distribution project in order to improve accountability and transparency before, during and after the distribution had taken place. PEPL develop research methodologies, specializing in innovative uses of low- and high-tech information systems, and for this project we collaborated with Raabta Consultants, who help communities in Pakistan to access the valuable social services provided by governments, NGOs, charities and the private sector. Using FrontlineSMS, we developed a system to handle SMS-based feedback from affected communities as part of their new Complaints and Response Mechanism (CRM).

Although less than half of Pakistan’s population owns a mobile handset, recent research indicates that more than 70 percent of people have regular access to a mobile phone. Amongst phone owners in the poorest 60 percent of Pakistan’s population, 51 percent of men and 33 percent of women used SMS, according to a survey by LIRNEasi in 2009. We wanted to test whether we could harness the prevalence of mobiles and the use of SMS for improved accountability.

Beneficiaries of the project were selected in virtue of being the most disadvantaged in each village: often those with disabilities; child-headed households; or female-headed households, and literacy rates among them were low. We realized it would be a challenge to design a system that would be accessible and useful across the board. To put these concerns to the test, we conducted a questionnaire involving participants of both genders on mobile phone usage. To the surprise of the project team the overwhelming response was that access to mobile phones was widespread, and if someone did not own a mobile phone then they could borrow one from a family member, friend or even village council member and even ask someone to write a message on their behalf.  Through this evidence about the culture of using mobile, we gained overwhelming support for a system to base the CRM on a combination of text messages and voice calls.

The next step was to configure a system using FrontlineSMS so that people could text us requesting a call back. Sindhi is largely written in Arabic text, but not all handsets can recognize the Unicode in which it appears. So, following the conversations with villagers, the team devised a numbering system for complaints ranging from 1-0. The code was as follows: 1 = Food items, 2 = Shelter, 3 = Conflict 4 = Corruption, 5 = Issues with SPO staff, 6 = Issues with Partner Organisation staff, 7 = Issues with Village Council, 8 = Issues affecting women and children, 9 = Issues affecting those with disabilities, and 0 as a means of saying “thank you”. This numbering system allowed for automatic replies through FrontlineSMS tailored to the complaint, as well as a response time.

The numbering system was printed on cards with corresponding pictures, and the SMS and feedback system was also explained through diagrams. On the cards we included telephone numbers for verbal complaints and instructions for written complaints. Having printed out leaflets, posters and cards the teams went to every village and explained the process to beneficiaries and non-beneficiaries alike. During this process, field workers documented all beneficiary phone numbers or relatives’ and friends’ phone numbers, which were then saved in FrontlineSMS. This meant that every message received in FrontlineSMS would also have a name attached to it, and the system was set up so that every auto reply contained the name of the sender.  We believe that the in-person relationship is a critical step that makes the difference in the popular uptake of a communications system.

Through the groups feature on FrontlineSMS, we created lists for village and Union Council members so that before each aid distribution process SPO could send messages alerting the beneficiaries about its arrival, and following the distribution process we could actively solicit feedback via SMS. When a message was received, the response manager would call back, ask for more information and then follow the internal complaints procedure.

Over the three-month aid distribution project we received 725 messages, 456 of which followed the numbering system. The awareness of this system amongst partner organizations and project staff meant that they knew they were being held to account for their actions, so it ensured the quality of their work.  It was especially important that the system protected the identity and data of participants in a way that could not be tampered with. Fundamentally, we learnt that giving people a direct means with which to register a complaint or feedback empowered the beneficiaries of the relief effort to have a say in the way they were treated and furthermore to be connected with organizations who could offer further support.

To read PEPL's Guide to SMS Engagement in Pakistan, "A Practical Guide for Civil Society, the Humanitarian Sector, and Government," please click here.

Talking with Texts: How Cellphones Empower Deaf Children in Uganda

FrontlineSMS Founder, Ken Banks, produces a blog series with National Geographic called Mobile Message. This series is about how mobile phones and appropriate technologies are being used throughout the world to improve, enrich, and empower billions of lives. This week, Mobile Message featured a post from an inspiring FrontlineSMS use case, as you can read in the re-post below. Kids text all the time – at school, on the bus, even when you’re trying to talk to them. It can be annoying. But imagine if a child couldn’t communicate at all – that’s when a mobile can become a lifeline. In some developing countries, children who are deaf don’t have access to special education, technology or even sign language teaching.

In this edition of “Mobile Message”, Cambridge to Africa’s Sacha DeVelle, explains how her organisation has been using mobile phones in specially designed education programmes to help deaf children in Uganda communicate. By getting everyone in their schools to help out, the projects also happen to be making them the coolest kids in school.

By Sacha DeVelle

Kato and Kakuru are deaf twins. They have just arrived at the Child Africa International School in Kabale, Uganda. I am running a teacher training course at the school, and spend my lunch hours in the playground with all the children. But I am perplexed by the twins. They have fallen asleep in a far corner of the grounds, lying uncomfortably on some old wheat pallets, joined at the hip but completely isolated from the other children. This is a self-imposed exile, one they have lived in for years. For a week I watch them. They do not move from the pallets. Their clothes are dirty and ripped. They have no shoes and have not washed for a long time. Kakuru cries a lot, however the look on her face says she’s not someone who cries for attention, but out of frustration.

The girls are very different heights. It’s hard to believe they are twins. I ask the other teachers why they are so difficult to reach psychologically, why they are crying. “They have lice, they can’t sign, have no language skills, they have come down from the mountains and don’t understand this environment. They only have each other” explains one teacher.

There are nine other deaf children at the school, although they have had time to adapt and integrate. Dodi is a real character – he has a mother, loves to dance and has some sign language skills. The one deaf teacher working at the school provides a lifeline to these children. By the time I leave, the twins have joined the class, they are starry eyed and excited about their new uniforms.

Back in the UK I think a lot about Kato and Kakuru. What it’s like to be deaf in East Africa. Without a voice deaf females face a triple stigma: gender, poverty and disability. Many girls are violated because they cannot speak out. They may learn to use a pidgin signing system from the village, but are not fluent in any language (tribal, signed or English). Deaf girls are often abandoned. Their disability is seen as a curse on the family. Others are locked up in back rooms to hide the family shame. Those that make it to a school setting are the lucky ones.

One of our trustees tells me about a presentation she has just seen, using FrontlineSMS in developing contexts. It was this conversation that gave me the idea to run a mobile phone social inclusion project in Kabale: integrating deaf children into the mainstream environment.

We launched our pilot study in 2010. The wider challenges of carrying out such a scheme are complex. The management of existing prejudice and communication barriers must be factored into the design.

We have a methodology. Six deaf children have a hearing buddy, with a total of 12 students contributing to the study. We provide separate training to both groups for three days. Then they are brought together, with the hearing children playing a buddy role. We learn that the hearing children’s sign language skills and patience are far superior than we realised. We also learn that deaf children do not have much patience with their deaf counterparts! Our six pairs are given written instructions on scraps of paper. They must text messages to another pair somewhere in the playground, and wait for a response. They love this game. The deaf children are very vocal, a lot of frantic signing and suggestions for written responses.

Kakuru is one of the deaf participants. She is in awe of her new mobile phone, how messages fly in from nowhere. She likes to receive them, but is not too keen on writing – it’s hard for her. We learn that their written skills are very low – they are used to rote learning, straight from the blackboard. Now they must produce authentic, instantaneous text on a range of different topics.

Our preliminary findings are very exciting. The SMS social inclusion project has united the school, developed the children’s confidence, and highlighted the need for more communicative literacy skills in the classroom. Most importantly, it has raised the status of the deaf children as Caroline explains:

I can now visualise a bright future because I am far better than what I was when I was still shabby in the village four years ago. Those who used to laugh at me in the village now see me as a star because most of the rural community members do not know how to use sign language or mobile phone SMS facility

Phase 3 of our SMS social inclusion project will be launched in 2012. We will work with new schools in Kampala that integrate deaf children into the Ugandan primary school curriculum. Self empowerment, social cohesion and improved literacy skills were all key outcomes from our previous phases. However, there is still much work to be done to further integrate deaf girls into the community. As Docus clearly states: “All my village mates used to laugh at me because I could not hear what they could say and also I did not have any way to speak to them. Can you imagine an orphan like me using a mobile phone SMS facility at the age of ten to communicate to educated people like you? God is great”.

Sacha DeVelle is the founder and managing director of Cambridge to Africa, a UK registered charity that provides funding and educational expertise for projects in East Africa. Sacha has a PhD in Linguistics from the University of Queensland, Australia and currently lives in London where she works as an international education consultant.

This post was originally published as part of the Mobile Message series on the National Geographic blog. You can view the original post here.

Faster Channels of Communication: A Radio and SMS Initiative in NE Kenya

Infoasaid has recently shared some news about an initiative with Save the Children in Wajir, Kenya, which is using FrontlineSMS to communicate with field workers and community representatives. Meanwhile, the radio is being used to share information about health, education and food security.

The objective of Infoasaid - a consortium of Internews and the BBC World Service Trust - is to improve how aid agencies communicate with disaster-affected communities. The emphasis is on the need to deliver information, as aid itself, through the most appropriate channels. You can read more about Infoasaid's work on their website http://infoasaid.org/

The article is republished below with permission, or read the original post here.

Infoasaid has helped Save the Children to improve its two-way communication with half a million drought-affected people in Northeast Kenya.

The project uses mobile telecommunications and community radio to establish new and faster channels of communication between the aid agency and remote rural communities.It was launched in Wajir County, close to the Somali border, in the fourth quarter of 2011 and will run during the first six months of 2012.

Save the Children runs vital health, nutrition and food security projects in Wajir County, a semi-arid region which has been devastated by three years of drought and serious food shortages. Its operational centres in Wajir and Habaswein will use SMS messages to exchange information with health workers, relief committee members and community representatives in outlying areas.

Save the Children will also sponsor special programmes on Wajir Community Radio, the local radio station. The radio station broadcasts in Somali, the main language spoken by local people. It commands a large and loyal audience within 150 km radius of Wajir town.

Most people in Northeast Kenya are semi-nomadic pastoralists. They depend on their herds of camels, cows, sheep and goats to feed their families and generate a small cash income. Infoasaid therefore set up weekly radio programmes that will inform local people about the latest animal prices and market trends in the area’s two main livestock markets; Wajir and Habaswein.

It also helped Save the Children to design a weekly magazine programme on Wajir Community Radio. This will focus on key issues related to the aid agency’s emergency aid programmes in the area. The radio programmes, which include a phone-in segment, will focus on issues such as health, education and food security and alternative livelihoods.

The mobile phone element of the project will establish FrontlineSMS hubs at the Save the Children offices in Wajir and Habaswein. FrontlineSMS is free open source software that turns an ordinary computer into a text messaging exchange.It will enable Save the Children to broadcast SMS messages simultaneously from the computer to a variety of different contact groups in the field.

Each message is drafted on the computer, which then uses the FrontlineSMS software to send it by SMS to a large group of recipients.In this way, the same short message can be sent rapidly to a group of 50 or more people through a simple operation that takes less than two minutes to perform.

Previously, Save the Children staff would have had to telephone or visit each of the targeted individuals personally to deliver the same message. That process could have taken several days to complete

The FrontlineSMS hubs in Wajir and Habaswein will not only send out vital information. They will also capture and record incoming messages from people in the field. Each incoming message will be evaluated immediately and passed on to the appropriate person for a timely response.

Infoasaid supplied 240 basic mobile handsets and solar chargers to facilitate the establishment of these two SMS messaging networks. The equipment is being distributed to collaborators and community representatives in every location where Save the Children provides local services.

To read the original article please click here.

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.

Supporting Education through SMS in Kyrgyzstan

IREX is an international non-profit organization working on education, independent media and civil society development. Recently, they have been using FrontlineSMS as a tool for efficient management of their Global Connections and Exchange (GCE) and Digital Youth Dialogue (DYD) programs in Kyrgyzstan. In this guest post IREX's Myahriban Karyagdyyeva and Tynchtyk Zhanadylov explain how their use of FrontlineSMS is making a difference in their work on these programs:

IREX has been implementing our Global Connections and Exchange (GCE) and Digital Youth Dialogue (DYD) programs in 22 schools and 3 librariesthroughout Kyrgyzstan. The GCE and DYD programs aim to equip students and the teachers with technology and training, in order to enhance classroom learning. In each school or library IREX has an appointed teacher who is responsible for coordination of activities between IREX and the institution. This set up requires IREX and teachers to have constant communication, in order to be able to keep up with dynamic program activities.

However, efficient communications on these programs initially proved challenging. Every day, the IREX team based in Bishkek need to send out different announcements and instructions to teachers, and at first we were doing this via email only. Yet  we soon found that teachers often aren't able to check their emails during the day, therefore relying on email to communicate was resulting in delays. Our team often had to call each teacher individually in order to ask them to check their email. This took up a significant amount of staff time, and was also an inconvenience to teachers. In addition, we also have a need to receive information from teachers every day, and so there was a clear need for a quick and interactive communications channel which could make this process more convenient all round.

The teachers and students we’re working with are attached to their cell phones, and therefore our team decided to experiment with text messaging as a method of communication. FrontlineSMS software enabled us to use mass text messaging, which streamlined our communication and allowed us to use time more efficiently. It only takes about a minute to send out text messages to all of our teachers through FrontlineSMS, whereas in the past staff were making individual calls which took a lot longer.

Currently FrontlineSMS is used in many different ways to help us administer daily tasks in our programs. This includes sending reminders to check emails or prepare for upcoming deadlines, as well as interaction between our team and teachers on any urgent questions. Using FrontlineSMS helps to improve the speed of communication, which in turn ensures that program deadlines are met and results in less time being needed for coordination of activities in different regions.

We have found that there are many other advantages to using FrontlineSMS, too. Internet speed is low outside of in Kyrgyzstan’s urban centers and connection problems are a constant challenge. Few people have internet in their homes, yet everyone has mobile phones and so using SMS makes regular communication accessible to more of those we work with. When we ask teachers how they like working with SMS, they say that they find it very convenient, useful and flexible. It helps them to implement tasks faster, and helps them stay always informed in areas which are offline. When working with different communities who don’t have regular access to internet or email, SMS is clearly a useful solution for ensuring fast two-way communication.

Moving forward we plan to continue using FrontlineSMS for communication with teachers, and we will also be using FrontlineSMS in new ways too. We plan to collect SMS feedback reports from our program participants on how often they attend IREX trainings and where trainings are being held. We will then map these reports using online mapping tool Ushahidi, and this will allow us to visualize our impact. In addition, the GCE program is also planning to use FrontlineSMS to conduct polling and short surveys among students and teachers, which will help us to further understand the value of our program and the needs that program participants have. We’re really excited about all we have planned, and will continue to build up the use of FrontlineSMS in our work.

To find out more about IREX visit http://www.irex.org

Communication for social change: How to turn a stone into a sponge (it’s not magic, it’s design!)

Earlier this year we heard from Equal Access about their radio project in Chad and Niger. Dr. Karen Greiner conducted 3 months of field research over a two-year period as an external evaluator of the radio programs, producing an evaluation report as a result. Drawing on this work in the below post, Dr. Greiner shares her reflections on projects which invite interaction and promote dialogue. In the world of communication for social change, design matters. The strengths and limitations of communication program design, and

of the chosen medium or form of communication, can affect the reception and use of content. For example, let’s say that a communication intervention is designed to disseminate information to community members about the importance of hand washing to avoid illness, and the medium used to convey this information is a written billboard message next to a crowded marketplace. The location might be well chosen but the form limits reception to those who can read, understand the chosen language, and happen to see that particular billboard. There is also no way to engage in dialogue with a billboard; a billboard, by design, is to be passively consumed.

What if we had chosen, instead, the medium of radio? With radio we can reach even those who cannot read, and we can also reach those who live beyond the marketplace, provided they own or have access to a radio. We still have to carefully consider language. For example, if we want to reach the urban teens in Dakar one would have to consider whether content be in French, Wolof, or both (budget permitting). And one might also translate content into additional languages for regional broadcasts. Whichever decision is made on choice of language, radio can clearly improve access and reach. The medium of radio, however, does not necessarily engage listeners in dialogue - radio is still often used for the disseminating messages.

The billboard and the traditional radio broadcast are one-way forms of communication – they are to be received and not responded to. I call one-way forms of communication “stones.” Stones are closed, impenetrable and finalized; we cannot “talk back” to stones. A stone can be converted into a “sponge,” however, when the form of communication is designed to invite response – to invite dialogue. A sponge is porous; it has holes - entry points - that allow liquid (or in this case audience members) to enter and exit. In this instance, the analogy of communication intervention-as-sponge is provided as the open alternative to the closed-form stone.

A radio broadcast converts from stone to sponge when it invites interaction; and one way to do this is to offer interaction through SMS. When an SMS number is embedded in the radio broadcast, along with an invitation to listeners to respond to the broadcast, audience members are given the opportunity to react and to share their opinions and ideas. Sponge designs invite dialogue.

An example of this type of engagement is provided by radio shows in Chad and Niger. From 2008 onwards, the San Francisco-based non-profit organization, Equal Access has been running several radio shows designed to promote democracy and encourage civic participation in community life as part of the Peace through Development project (PDEV). They recruited a talented team of local journalists and media professionals to produce and broadcast radio programs on topics ranging from civic engagement to community health and sanitation.

The design of the radio programs is very innovative, and very porous. Each radio program had several “sponge”-like features. Early designs of the program included an embedded text message number so that listeners could respond to radio content using their cell phones. PDEV staff-members used FrontlineSMS software and systems to track and organize audience member messages. In some cases the content of text messages inspired program producers as they wrote new scripts. In other cases the message senders were called and asked if they would be interested in forming a local listening club. Towards the end of the project, program producers began including the content of audience member text messages in new broadcasts. So, for example, messages received in response to broadcast #37 were included in broadcast #40.

This inclusion of audience-produced content is the difference between two-way dialogue and one-way monologue. Designs that invite audience input still face limitations of cost, literacy, language and access to technology. Some of these limitations can be addressed. For example, to offset the cost of sending messages, PDEV project staff was eventually able to obtain a toll-free phone number for the SMS in Niger. Mindful that literacy can be a barrier to text messaging, project staff – the last time I visited the project – were experimenting with an open source, interactive voice response (IVR) telephone software called FreedomFone. The combination of FrontlineSMS with FreedomFone enables more radio listeners to enter the dialogue – or enter the “sponge.” In this sense we can see that the design of our invitations for input to listeners also has implications for inclusion; the more we can reduce cost, language, literacy and technology barriers the more likely we are to hear from a wide and diverse range of listeners.

The design our communication interventions reveals our worldview: do we see a world populated by passive, ill-informed “targets”? Or a world made up of active, thoughtful community members with ideas and opinions worth reading and hearing? In short, should we be “monologic,” by continuing to disseminate and broadcast messages, or might we aspire to be “dialogic,” by trusting in the capacity of community members, engaging with them and inviting them to consider our ideas and then also share their own?

The good news is that it’s possible to convert an inventory full of one-way stones into two-way sponges. Add a phone number to your billboard. Use FrontlineSMS software not just to send messages but to receive them as well. Add an email address, phone number or office address to your brochure and invite community members to get in touch and, even better, to suggest improvements to what you have created. It’s not impossible – and never too late - to turn a stone into a sponge. A new design, based on faith in the agency and creativity of community members, is all it takes.

Of course, all analogies have limitations. The “sponge” analogy does not quite capture the dynamic potential unleashed by porous designs. The creative contributions of listeners may need a different organic analogy, and I would be grateful for suggestions. Thus to practice what I am preaching with this blog-post, I invite you to help me convert monologue to dialogue by responding and adding to what I have offered here. What do YOU think? Can you help me improve the line of thinking I have just put forward? Or contribute a more “dynamic” analogy to supplement the “stone” and the “sponge”? Let us declare blog post officially porous. Even critics are invited! So, if you would like to comment on (or improve!) this post, you are invited to do so below.

By Karen Greiner, Ph.D. Post Doctoral Scholar, University of South Florida, Tampa, Florida. Email: kgreiner [at] gmail [dot] com.

Visit the Equal Access website here to read more about Dr. Karen Greiner's evaluation and access her full report on 'Applying Local Solutions to Local Problems'.

To learn more about our work combining our FrontlineSMS software with radio, visit the FrontlineSMS:Radio website: http://radio.frontlinesms.com/