Christine Mwangi, Community Project Assistant Intern. I recently joined FrontlineSMS on an internship, as Community Project Assistant. I'm a recent graduate in Computer Science, so I'm very passionate about technology and the great impact it has on social change. I am working closely with Sila Kisoso, the community support manager to support user engagement. This internship with FrontlineSMS is a great opportunity for me to learn more about user experience, a key consideration when building an application.
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. FrontlineSMS supports the utility of text messaging as a communications platform, and we hold workshops from time to time to educate our users on how to maximize the use of FrontlineSMS as an SMS platform. As an intern, I was excited to be part of one such workshop, the Community Engagement with SMS Workshop, held this past January. The workshop got off to a great start, with Laura Walker Hudson, CEO of our Foundation, starting us off with group introductions and also requested participants to share their expectations of the workshop. It was clear within the next few minutes how eager everyone was to make the day a great learning experience.
The sessions were interactive, actively engaging those in attendance, something I found truly enjoyable. Laura tackled questions from the participants, using previous case studies detailing how various organisations are using the software to engage the communities they work with. We had a great turnout of participants from a range of international organizations such as World Vision International, Danish Demining Group among others.
There was also a one-on-one session explaining how to set-up FrontlineSMS; we learnt how to troubleshoot mobile connection (a popular FAQ among our users) with FrontlineSMS using a modem. We launched v2.2 that morning and our participants had the opportunity to test it first-hand. Laura explained some of the new features that had been introduced to the new release, 2.2.0 which included Subscriptions, which enables users to enable people to sign up for messages that interest them. For example, someone could join a group for farmers by sending in a keyword; all the updates sent to the farmers group would then go to them. You can even auto-reply to confirm your subscription. Web connection is another great activity which allows one to send SMS up to a web server or service such as Ushahidi or even Twitter. Other new improvements in the software include Basic Authentication, where a user can be able to set up a password for their platform across the network so at improve on security.
Towards the end of the programme, we went into groups of four where each group was expected to come up with a communication strategy illustrating how the software may be deployed, taking security, sustainability, accountability, and monitoring and evaluation into consideration. The winning team project was proposing to use FrontlineSMS to report sensitive cases of sexual abuse in the community. They effectively outlined how the software can help reduce the occurrence of these incidences by providing a platform where one can report without fear of prejudice or stigma. The group clearly explained how they would deal with data security issues were clearly outlined in this project, which was an important factor to consider. Each of the members of the winning team was honoured with a FrontlineSMS badge as a token of appreciation for their efforts in simulating that project.
The sessions were well paced and time allocated for each item on the agenda was adequate; though there was so much discussion and people were so interested that we think the next training is going to have to be two days so as to cover the functionality of the software more exhaustively as well as give more time for Q&A.
All in all, it was a day well spent.