Plan International

New In-Depth Case Study: FrontlineSMS Used for Rapid Prototype of mHealth Service

One of the major strengths of FrontlineSMS is the wealth of knowledge and experience existent in our vibrant community of users. In order to enable our community to share lessons learned from deploying FrontlineSMS, we are in the process of building up a collection of in-depth user case studies. Acting as a guide for those who aim to use FrontlineSMS in their own programs, these case studies can be used by practitioners as well as be passed on to managers, donors and others seeking to learn more about using mobiles for social change.

The latest of these case studies is out today, and is based on Georgetown University’s Institute for Reproductive Health (IRH) using FrontlineSMS to provide a rapid prototype of a new mHealth service. This service — called CycleTel™ — empowers women by providing them with accessible reproductive health information through SMS. You can find a guest blog post about this project here, and you can find out more and read the full case study here.

Each of the case studies is produced in partnership with an organization using our software to enable positive social change. The case studies provide analysis of the need for FrontlineSMS in different contexts, show the preparation required for using our software, demonstrate lessons learned by different users and the impact FrontlineSMS can have towards enabling positive social change.

The new case study we have made available today accompanies another case study released last year in partnership with Plan International, which is based upon their use of FrontlineSMS to track incidences of violence against children in Benin. Both case studies are available on our newly styled Case Studies webpage. Previously this webpage showed the wealth of guest blog posts we have from FrontlineSMS users, and these are still linked to directly from the same webpage. However, moving forward, this webpage will also be used to house the small but growing library of more in-depth FrontlineSMS case studies.

If you are using FrontlineSMS for your work and think your program would make a great case study, then please do feel free to get in touch. If you would like to share ideas and feedback on our newly released case study, please visit our community forum here to share your views. Your input is always welcome!

We would like to take this opportunity to thank Georgetown University’s Institute for Reproductive Health (IRH) and Plan International for working on these case studies with us. In addition, many thanks goes to Tim Howe for his ongoing website support, Jessica Lo for her graphic design work, and to FrontlineSMS Hero Megan Goldshine for her graphic design support, too!

FrontlineSMS introduced to youth group in Kenya

The FrontlineSMS team is always keen to engage with those using FrontlineSMS for social change projects across the world. It is really valuable for us to hear user’s stories, and find out the advantages and challenges of using our software in action. This summer, Tufts University student and FrontlineSMS intern Emily Wyner visited Nairobi, with support from Groupshot and the Institute for Global Leadership, to find out more about FrontlineSMS users in this buzzing city. Here she shares her experiences of helping a youth project get started using FrontlineSMS software.

Throughout my time with FrontlineSMS, one thing has become very clear: effective program design is crucial to successfully integrating mobile software into social change initiatives. I was delighted when given the opportunity to help Plan Kenya (part of Plan International) in piloting their use of FrontlineSMS to help support their local partners.  This was my chance to observe and assist the process of getting started with FrontlineSMS from initial thoughts, plans, and assumptions to final implementation. I have discovered some interesting things along the way, and it’s great to be able to share the beginning of this journey.

My initial visit with Plan Kenya was really exciting. I first spoke with Aggrey and Irumu, members of the Plan team, to give them a thorough run-down of what FrontlineSMS software is and does. They asked some brilliant questions about cost and requirements, and were keen to lay the groundwork for a sustainable project. We brainstormed smart ways to pilot the software on a small scale, such as using it for internal office communication and management or setting up one Nairobi-based youth group with FrontlineSMS to determine if it improves relations with their members.  Soon enough, I was sent onward to meet with Purity and Bernard,  Plan Kenya’s ICT experts. They too were very enthusiastic about the software, and promised to be in touch regarding some of the pilot prospects.

Following this they arranged for me to meet with some representatives from Jipange, an umbrella organization of 16 youth groups in the Embakasi area, and one of the organizations Plan Kenya supports. I went to meet with Jipange accompanied by Purity and Aggrey, as well as Adam from Groupshot and Jordan from TechChange, too. Plan Kenya had set up the meeting in order to discuss and arrange for Jipange to pilot FrontlineSMS in their programming.

Jordan, Adam and I began by giving the members of Jipange an overview of FrontlineSMS.  Along the way, there were certain reactions that really stood out and some really insightful  questions. I particularly remember a young woman named Wanjiru, founder of The Change Initiative, asking whether or not FrontlineSMS would allow her to send text messages to certain groups of people at a time, such as all the leaders of the 16 groups or all the members of one particular group. This led us to explain the suitability of the FrontlineSMS contact groups function for this project. This is the kind of question that is great to hear when introducing a new technology tool.  It asks if FrontlineSMS has the capacity to do what Jipange already does (or needs to do) in a cleaner, faster, and easier way.

This is key;  when a preexisting organization adopts the use of FrontlineSMS, the software should not necessarily fundamentally alter their programming; rather, it is a tool by which the programming can be made more efficient and effective.  For all new users of FrontlineSMS it is necessary to know your target audience, why you are going to reach them, and how you intend on presenting yourself as a reliable, trustworthy communicator.

One eye on technology and the other on program design, the discussion with Jipange continued on with both eyes focused.  More and more Jipange members joined in with questions and comments. People were chiming in with ideas about how FrontlineSMS could be used in good governance initiatives or the formation of a Jipange-run business. It became clear that everyone was set on starting to use the software.

Going forward, Jipange members (and the Plan Kenya staff who work with them) will now be in control of when and how they begin to use FrontlineSMS. They know the basics, there is support from FrontlineSMS if needed,  yet most importantly they have a clear vision of how they intend on using FrontlineSMS for fundamental communication that is essential to their programming.

It will be great to keep in touch with Jipange and their progress with integrating FrontlineSMS into their daily activities. The members I met were enthusiastic and innovative, and it will be exciting to hear about the ways they go on to use FrontlineSMS in future.

Good luck, Jipange and all new FrontlineSMS users out there!  Don’t forget to keep in touch.  One of the best resources we have is each others’ stories.

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If you're interested in using FrontlineSMS for your work:

You can download FrontlineSMS for free here on our website.

You can connect with other FrontlineSMS users and the team by joining our community forum here.

Find out how others are using the software by reading user guest posts on our blog here.

Future proofing child protection in Benin

em>Regular readers of the FrontlineSMS blog may remember the FrontlineSMS case study we published last year, documenting Plan International's project on SMS Reporting and Tracking of Violence against Children (VAC) in Benin. In this re-post, from Linda Raftree's blog Wait... What, Paul Goodman talks about the tools he is using to support Plan Benin for more effective and sustainable programme management. There is more on the overall project and process via the links at the end of this post.

"Future proofing? Wishful thinking! There is of course no way to “future proof” an ICTD project. There are ways, however, to ensure that an ICT project has a fighting chance at sustainability. Here in Benin we’re revisiting the entire VAC Benin workflow in an effort to document the non-technical aspects of the project so that each person that touches this system fully understands the way that information moves through it. In addition to supporting training, this small but critical step will help drive consensus around how the project should and can work well into the future.

A succinct overview of this project:

The beginning of any development initiative is often marked by energetic optimism. At the onset, when a project enjoys the attention and enthusiasm of its creators and supporters, it is easy to forget that over time this attention will wane, priorities will shift, and critical personnel will undoubtedly take on new responsibilities or even different jobs. Purposeful problem definition and documentation can minimize the impact of these eventualities and only with a thorough understanding of the problem is it possible to discuss appropriate technology-enabled responses. And yes, in the real world, the problem often shifts over time as the situation changes or new information comes to light. But with a well-defined problem you have clarity around your intent and can face new challenges head-on.

Once defined, the problem and corresponding solution must be documented so that others may benefit from the insight gained during this process and apply that insight systematically. This seems elementary, of course, but in years of ICTD work I’ve found that the documentation of both technical systems and non-technical processes is often neglected in the rush to deploy or as a result of over-reliance on a few knowledgable individuals. Furthermore, in international development, documentation sometimes plays second fiddle to the production of reports and case studies.

Now I’ll happily get off my soap box and get back to business in Benin.

After sketching out the various aspects of the information flow with my colleague Elsie, I documented the workflow in a way that can be used to inform, train, and guide others as they interact with this project. I’m working on reference materials of different shapes and sizes including a number of graphics. Several of the graphics appear below; these are drafts and will be revised with Elsie, translated, distributed to the team, and revised again. These graphics represent the way we would like the system to work and are intended to be living documents."

In this graphic I included all the critical actors and their key responsibilities:

In this flow chart, I illustrated the way that messages should be processed:

In this graphic, I illustrated the way that reports should be created:

Finally, this flow chart will support report approval and verification:

Many thanks to Paul Goodman for allowing us to share his post here. Thanks also to Plan's Linda Raftree, whose personal blog 'Wait... What' is where the below was first published.

To read more posts by Paul Goodman you can visit his blog:

To read more from Linda Raftree visit her blog:

Related posts from Linda Raftree's blog:

Update from Benin: charting a course forward (also by Paul)

Revisiting the SMS violence reporting project in Benin

Tracking violence against children in Benin video

Community-based child protection

Tweaking: SMS violence reporting system in Benin

Finding some ICT answers in Benin

7 (or more) questions to ask before adding ICTs

Fostering a New Political Consciousness on Violence against Children

Related links:

Text messages to help protect children against violence

Plan International case study: Helping children report abuse in Benin

We Magazine: Technology for Transparency – SMS Helping Protect Children Against Violence

Here Linda Raftree, of Plan International, is interviewed about a project which uses FrontlineSMS and Ushahidi to improve reporting on violence against children in Benin and Togo:

The Violence Against Children (VAC) project is an initiative co-implemented by PLAN and Save the Children in West Africa and takes place over 4 years (2008-2011) in seven countries: Togo, Ghana, Benin, Guinea, Mali, Côte d’Ivoire and Gambia. The VAC project trains and engages children and youth themselves as advocates and agents of change to end violence, together with adult community allies. A comprehensive UN report proposes recommendations for action to prevent and respond to violence against children around the world. Earlier this year, the project explored the idea of setting up a text message based system [using FrontlineSMS] that will collect and map out [via Ushahidi] reports of violence against children in communities in Benin and Togo.

...It started off really as a youth project funded by our office in Finland and an effort to break down the UN recommendations from the Violence against Children (VAC) study into a more mainstream language. The idea was to make specific areas of the study more palatable to the general population. The original VAC study was conducted over about 3 years in consultation with hundreds of children, and the goal of the broader VAC project is to increase awareness amongst children and adults, to get them to learn about the effects of violence and how to prevent it and to share the knowledge with their peers. We (Plan) organized a conference in Kenya on social change through new media in December 2008, where my colleague Anastasie Koudoh in Dakar heard of FrontlineSMS and Ushahidi. She started wondering whether such a system could be set up to track violence via cell phone messages...

Read the full interview on the We Magazine website

Plan International case study: helping children report abuse in Benin

We're delighted to announce the publication of the first in our series of in-depth case studies of FrontlineSMS implementations, from Plan International, documenting their work in Benin to develop and pilot a Violence Against Children SMS helpline. Linda Raftree, who many of you will know as @meowtree on Twitter, has written extensively about the programme on her blog, but the case study tries to pull out a bit more of the institutional processes and the technical pitfalls they overcame in the process.

About the programme

In early 2009, Plan was working to strengthen both local and national reporting of trafficking and violence in Benin, West Africa. They were looking for a way to lower children’s and community members’ barriers to reporting, including the risk of reprisals and stigma, communications challenges, and access to places where violence could be reported. The Plan team theorised that collecting reports via SMS, which is anonymous and low-cost, would encourage reporting and allow for a better understanding of the nature and the quantity of violence that was happening.

This in turn could be used to raise awareness around the severity of the problem, advocate for the necessary resources to prevent it, and develop better and more targeted response and follow-up mechanisms. The ability to visualise the data on a map could also have an impact on decision makers and might be a tool that children and youth could use to generate dialogue and advocate an end to cultural practices that allow for violence against them.

The case study covers the training and piloting process, combining Ushahidi and FrontlineSMS, results and key learning to date, and some of the challenges they faced - such as finding appropriate modems, and getting people to SMS, rather than calling, the helpline number.

Seeking new case studies

We hope to produce many such case studies, which are aimed at staff looking to implement SMS or FrontlineSMS in their work, but also can be passed on to managers and donors to help them understand the concepts and challenges involved - if you would like to be one of them, get in touch!

To read more about the programme, download the case study here: Plan International VAC case study, [pdf 1MB].