Tomorrow has arrived, but not for everyone. A digital divide persists, even in seemingly connected countries like the United States, where some twenty percent of the population, or sixty million people, don’t have Internet access at home. Those on the wrong side of the divide—the poor, the elderly, the geographically dispersed— are already marginalized, and tend to have a more critical need for specialized legal services, whether to resolve a conflict, acquire a land title, seek asylum, or escape an abusive situation.
Starting today, we’re making it even easier to engage, everywhere. We’d like to introduce you to FrontlineSync, our first, free Android app, available now on the Google Play Store. FrontlineSync turns any Android phone into a gateway - meaning that users can now use local phone numbers to send, receive, and manage SMS, and - for the first time - missed calls using FrontlineCloud and FrontlineSMS.
The University of Alberta, MARS lab and the Centre to End All Sexual Exploitation (CEASE) have been using FrontlineSMS in a ground-breaking pilot to assess the impact of using SMS to engage women who are trafficked and exploited in Edmonton, Canada. They have very kindly collaborated with us on an in-depth case study, looking at how the system was designed and set up, its impact, and what's happening next.
FrontlineCloud has been out in beta for just over a month, and we’re proud to have over 450 users signed up already, sending and receiving thousands of messages. The newest addition to the Frontline product set has had an incredibly warm and supportive reception on social media and in the many lovely emails we’ve received from friends, users and donors. To everyone who has retweeted, liked, emailed and signed up to look around, a huge thank you.
Here at FrontlineSMS, we’ve been making software for a long time. When we first released Version 2 of our software, a little over a year ago, we were one of a few SMS management platforms available- one of even fewer that was free and open source. At the time, we were proud to have around 25,000 downloads and an active user community. You can imagine our surprise when we checked our download numbers last week and learned that FrontlineSMS has been downloaded more than 100,000 times- more than 75,000 times in a little over a year. We were so excited, we got a cake. You have to understand, when things get serious at FrontlineSMS, we get serious about getting a cake.
Here at FrontlineSMS, we love data. Like, a lot. If data had its own Facebook page, we’d ‘like’ it and if we took a picture with data out one night, we’d probably make it our profile picture. Data empowers, and we’re all about empowerment o/. In fact, to empower people is the why for the what we do. One thing we’re always wanting to know, of course, is how we are doing. Well we SMSed our friend data to find out – Welcome to the 2013 FrontlineSMS survey results post!
A big thank you to Mike Adams, the INTL Coordinator, for sharing his experiences with FrontlineSMS and further schooling us on how radio can facilitate in saving lives! In times of disaster radio not only saves lives, it can also bring hope and critical information to the affected community. When the 2004 tsunami struck Banda Aceh, Indonesia, all the radio and TV stations went off air. Similarly, during the 2005 South Asian earthquake, the only radio station near the epicentre lost its tower and went off air. In times like these, people are in desperate need of news and information on how to get to safety and how to survive. However, the unfortunate trend seen recently is that when radio is so important, many times it goes off the air and does not come back until well after the emergency is over.
Citizen reporters broke much of the news, though they still needed broadcast media to help spread it. In some cases, citizens were able to capture iconic photos of events. Others were able to tell compelling stories about how the emergency affected their lives, including obeying the "stay in place" request by government officials during the manhunt. It has been widely reported how quickly social communities also got information wrong, including falsely accusing suspects. But I've seen a nearly equal number of reports showing how quickly these communities were able to self-correct their own misinformation.
SMS remains the most popular two-way communications platform on the planet. In most cases, it's inexpensive, casual, and discreet for users. It also represents one of the more profitable features offered by mobile network operators. And while SMS does face an increasingly fractured market, largely from the growth of messaging apps, it’s not going anywhere anytime soon. Here are 5 reasons why:
The FrontlineSMS team is pleased to announce a new level of premium support and consultancy services to help users design mobile engagement strategies, build capacity for professional adoption and automate communication workflows. Engaging people on new platforms can be a complex process and it can be a challenge to find a recipe for success. New technologies mean new communication patterns which are inherently personal and constantly changing.
For the past month, I’ve been in Sudan working to set up the information flows and tech that will support SUDIA’s Community Communications System. From the tech and information management perspective, SUDIA’s System is interesting because it adapts to a low tech environment by integrating SMS and radio, and processing information largely offline. The System collects and disseminates information useful to communities that live along the migratory routes in Blue Nile State. It focuses on information that communities themselves can use to make their livelihoods more sustainable and more peaceful. In other words, the System is not aimed at organizations (Government or non-Government) that can use information to provide services or design interventions. Rather, it is aimed at communities helping themselves, and provides information that is useful to community leaders in organizing local community responses to livelihood challenges.
Seemingly every major news event worldwide is heightening participation in news. People are eager to share updates and photos of an unfolding news event, ask questions of media outlets, and share important information. But there are two important aspects to this type of participation: (1) people are most interested in sharing news about the community around them, specifically with others in their community and (2) the mechanism by which they choose to share information is dependent upon personal habits and access. In other words, people write about their immediate world using their 'home' or go-to platform.
In the third of our seven blog posts celebrating the month that FrontlineSMS turns 7, Trevor Knoblich, our Media Project Manager reflects on how Al Jazeera, the media house, gave the people of Uganda a voice, via SMS, in response to the controversial Kony 2012 video which went viral a few months ago.
"As the media project manager at FrontlineSMS, I've heard many inspiring stories of journalists and media organizations deploying the software in creative ways. One of my favorites is relatively recent: the FrontlineSMS component of Al Jazeera's Uganda Speaks program. Members of Al Jazeera's New Media team felt Ugandan voices were lacking from the global debate around the controversial Kony 2012 viral video. To help connect Ugandan voices to the debate, Al Jazeera established an awareness-raising campaign, which consisted of showing the video and then inviting Ugandans to post their reactions to the debate via Twitter, e-mail and SMS. They even connected the responses to a map, allowing people from around the world to see where respondents were located.
"I had the pleasure of meeting one of Al Jazeera's New Media team, Soud Hyder, pictured here, and asked him about the project. Specifically, I was curious about the value of SMS in such a campaign. He told me that SMS allowed Al Jazeera to reach people who had no other option for participating in the debate - a voiceless population. 'Text is an equalizer that allows us to elevate more voices, which amplifies the conversation,' Hyder said.
"I've heard similar reactions about our software globally. Many people worldwide have an increasing ability to share and participate in news, but millions more are left out of this conversation. FrontlineSMS, combined with the proliferation of mobile phones around the globe, opens new possibilities for citizen engagement."
We’re collecting photos of our users telling the world how they use FrontlineSMS. If you want to get in on the act, take a photo of yourself or your team holding a piece of paper or a whiteboard telling the world what you do with FrontlineSMS. For example: ‘I monitor elections’, ‘I safeguard children’ or ‘I make art’. You can see a slideshow of the photos we’ve had so far on our Flickr page.
It doesn’t matter what language it’s in as long as it’s legible and if possible you should be able to see from the photo where it was taken, so, if you can, get out of the office!
You can: - post to Twitter or Instagram with the hashtag #FrontlineSMSat7 - email the picture and we’ll post them - post the picture on our Ning network and we’ll post them - post them on Flickr or any other web service and let us know where they are
On September 7th 2012, our founder Ken Banks contributed a guest article to BBC Future, their website on technology, science, the environment and health, on the impact technology has on poverty eradication.
"Twenty years ago, if you were information technology-literate and interested in international development, your options were limited.
That’s how things were for me when, in 1993, armed with ten years programming and networking experience I began turning my attention to the developing world.
My efforts didn’t get me far. The information technology revolution we see today had barely started at home, let alone in many of the developing nations. If you weren’t an English teacher, a doctor, a policy maker, an economist or a dam builder, careers in development seemed somewhat limited.
How things have changed. Driven largely by the spread of the world wide web and the burgeoning mobile phone sector, opportunities to develop solutions to many of the world’s social and environmental problems have reached almost every bedroom and garden shed in the land.
The irony today is that arguably the greatest developmental tool we have in our hands isn’t a product of the tens of billons of developmental aid spent over the years, but a by-product of private sector investment. Putting the debate around costs and coverage to one side, the development sector has a lot to thank the mobile industry for.
In 1993 the number of mobile subscribers in Africa numbered in the hundreds of thousands. By 1998 that had crept to four million. Today there are an estimated 735 million with penetration running at around the 70% mark. Not bad in less than 20 years."
As TV and radio broadcast markets intensify across several liberalized African countries, broadcasters need to find solutions to create more interactive communication with their audiences and build loyalty among them. SMS is one of those. There are a few SMS management software available out there butFrontlineSMS, a rather discreet solution provider has already been in the front line to support several African broadcasters. Sylvain Beletre, Senior Analyst, Balacing Act talked to Amy O'Donnell, Project Manager at FrontlineSMS on how SMS can be a very powerful media tool.
Looking at recent audience surveys across the African market, it is obvious that local audience want local content. Indeed, radio and TV operators have responded by increasingly shifting from a one-way broadcast to media that reach audiences by integrating interaction with listeners into programming.
But the lack of communication with the audience and the lack of finances are often major barriers for broadcast organizations working in African countries. Not knowing exactly what people want to watch and listen and not being able to check facts on the field, broadcasters have to find alternative solutions to make their job easier if they want to avoid being eaten up by more powerful competitors. And if broadcasters do not know their audience's program needs, they lose market share together with potential advertisers' revenues.
To read more, please click here.
A joint guest blog by FrontlineSMS and CRS manager Peter Mureith Climate change has severely affected the growth and production of crops on a global scale. Food security is a serious concern in many parts of Africa and Asia, and with a lower-than-expected yield in the US, unusually high rainfall in Europe and drought in the Horn of Africa, global food prices are expected to spike again in the coming year.
Catholic Relief Service (CRS) has long been using FrontlineSMS to work with communities in Eastern Africa – Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Congo, Rwanda and Burundi - to support alternative ways to improve cassava farming. Cassava is a staple food in the region, with its stem, leaves and root all being put to use. In Congo, the average family consumes 5kg of cassava flour and 3kg of its leaves every day.
In the past, with higher rainfall and fewer destructive crop diseases, cassava farming was profitable and fed farmers' families. In fact, it took only 3 months to plant and harvest the cassava tubal and its leaves. Today, farming has become more challenging and costly. Lower than average rainfall and new crop diseases have reduced crop yields. Many peasant farmers have changed professions to labor-intensive and dangerous jobs such as mining, exacerbating food shortages. With lower incomes, families struggle to send their children to school and provide sufficient food, suitable housing and basic health care.
CRS began working with communities to address these problems and help alleviate food insecurity in the region. The Great Lakes Cassava Initiative (GLCI) works with 1.15 million farmers, researching best practices on curbing cassava crop diseases and working to create a seed tolerant to diseases and drought. GLCI worked through partners in each district to distribute seeds which would thrive in that specific area. Through research, GLCI discovered that isolating a cassava plant which has been affected with the new crop diseases wasn’t the solution – the problem would return if its seeds were replanted and would affect other neighboring farms. GLCI worked to build awareness and provide tools and skills that would lead to positive action among communities.
58 partners and 250 staff with 250 laptops were an essential part of the GLCI implementation strategy. CRS used FrontlineSMS to enhance their communication, ICT strategy and data collection, and assist communication with partners. Many were in very remote areas where Internet access would be unpractical, unreliable and expensive. CRS used FrontlineSMS to send reminders, schedules on training opportunities, deadlines, announcements and collect data. CRS also applied a troubleshooting solution to handle computer errors partners would encounter. Staff would simply SMS their problem to CRS and CRS would respond with a solution, via SMS.
Through GLCI, farmers increased their yield, increased their income and improved their livelihood; a positive impact that had a ripple effect to the region's economy and its food security. In one instance, a GLCI farmer* in Tanzania was able to improve his yield and income and as a result, was able to increase contributions to his saving scheme, which afforded him financial freedom to increase his farm from 0.25 acres in 2003 to 30 acres now. He is also the main distributor of cassava seeds in three main districts.
*name withheld due to confidentiality and third party rights
Late last week, ActionAid won a Technology4Good Innovation Award for their work using FrontlineSMS to communicate with staff and communities in Isiolo, Kenya, during the response to the recent drought in the Horn of Africa. Together with our partners, Infoasaid, who supported the deployment, we are very proud to be associated with their ground-breaking and crucial work. Bravo ActionAid!
Below is an extract from a blog post describing the programme and the impact FrontlineSMS has had - you can read the full post here.
When disasters strike, people need information as much as they need shelter, water and safety. By providing, the right information, at the right time, from the right source, lives and livelihoods can be saved.
At the same time, if people have access to useful information during disasters they can make their own choices and decisions, and become more active participants in the process of their own recovery and claiming their rights. They can feed back, complain, voice their opinions and, in doing so, hold agencies like ActionAid - and other bodies like local and national government - to account.
Since May 2011, ActionAid has been partnering with a consortium called infoasaid to mainstream communications with disaster-affected communities in our emergency preparedness and response.
As part of the partnership, ActionAid is implementing a pilot project in Isiolo, Kenya, where ActionAid (in collaboration with the World Food Programme) provides vital food rations to over 80,000 people every month. Distribution of the supplies is handled by community members themselves through self-organised “Relief Committees”, and overseen by Food Monitors employed by ActionAid.
Broadly, the project aims to help combat food insecurity amongst communities affected by last year’s drought. It uses innovative technology – FrontlineSMS and Freedom Fone – to transmit information simultaneously to multiple recipients from a laptop computer, and to provide a channel for communities to feed back to ActionAid staff.
The project provided basic mobile phone and solar chargers to 250 Relief Committee members, and 30 Jave-enabled mobile phones to ActionAid Food Monitors, regional office staff and others including warehouse owners and food truck drivers.
A recent review of the project found that it had brought benefits for both drought-affected communities and ActionAid, by;
Boosting household income
Edward, Relief Committee Secretary: “A man asked ‘how is the livestock price in Isiolo?’ I told him it is lower, he immediately called people in Nanyuki so that they could go to buy [in Isiolo] and sell in other towns. He bought so he could sell at higher price.”
Improving relations between communities and ActionAid
Fatumah, ActionAid Food Monitor: “We used to argue. The community wanted to know why I had not told them about the distribution dates. Now they have time to prepare. Within 30 minutes we are done. Before we had to ask neighbouring villages to help with off-loading - that could take 2-3 hours.”
Increasing the speed and efficiency of food distribution
Community member in Oldonyiro: "There is a big change now. Long before, food used to stay overnight because there was no communication. Now we get information immediately even when the trucks are still in Isiolo. We are aware that food is arriving tomorrow, and we go ready for distribution."
Food Monitors also report that the use of Frontline SMS has reduced the need for frequent travel to rural communities for face-to-face meetings – in one case from 24 per month to just 12 – saving time and money.
Enabling community members to better plan their time
Halima, community member: “In the past we saw the [food] trucks arriving and we might have gone to attend to other works. Now, we get [information] one or two days before, we can put off our jobs and come to collect food.”
Providing information on when food distributions will arrive means children no longer have to leave school to tell parents the trucks are on the way, as was the case previously.
Enabling communities to link with the outside world
Salesa, community member: “When one [child] was bitten by the snake we used the phone to call the vehicle to help take them to hospital.”
Improving the speed and efficiency of data collection
Thomas, Food Monitor: “The Frontline SMS forms are very easy to fill. They do not consume even 10 minutes. The information goes to the hub and…it is secure. Before, I gave the information on paper which can disappear.”