According to the report, with support from the Foundation to Promote Open Society, Developing Radio Partners (DRP) launched the one year pilot project, working with three local radio stations in each country. The primary aim of Zachilengedwe Tsogolo Lathu, as the participants named it ("Our Environment, Our Future"), was to empower rural Zambians and Malawians to address key climate change issues, especially local deforestation, by improving their access to information on the subject via radio and mobile phones.
Amy O’Donnell, Radio Project Manager at FrontlineSMS:Radio recently spoke to Alessandra Bajec from the European Journalism Centre Magazine about the way FrontlineSMS is used to facilitate dynamic conversations between radio stations and their listeners in Africa and beyond. By enabling the powerful combination of radio broadcasting with SMS, FrontlineSMS:Radio is empowering and engaging communities across the globe. Republished here with permission or you can read the original post here. By Alessandra Bajec
Q. How has FrontlineSMS technology influenced African media?
Exponential growth in use of mobile technology has meant that many African media outlets are interested in using this technology effectively. By downloading FrontlineSMS and plugging in a mobile phone or GSM modem to a computer, people can use SMS in more sophisticated and professional ways.
We are moving from having contributions fed via SMS into an individual’s phone to a more open way of integrating SMS into content. We’re also supporting citizen journalists with tools for digital news gathering.
In Zambia, for example, Breeze FM radio uses FrontlineSMS to communicate with journalists. After gathering news tips received from the general public, the radio station organizes the evidence, sends SMS to journalists who may be out in the field, encouraging them to verify the facts and report.
Q. What is innovative about the FrontlineSMS software plugin?
With Version 2 recently released, FrontlineSMS has a user-friendly interface making it easier to manage larger volumes of messages, and to customize the software to better meet user needs. Pending messages can be sorted in a more timely fashion.
Earlier this month, Amy and Peter from the FrontlineSMS:Radio team based in London, UK made the short trip north to Cambridge to meet the University’s researchers at the Centre of Governance and Human Rights (CGHR). In this post, we share an update on the trial of FrontlineSMS:Radio and research being carried out with Breeze FM, Zambia and Radio Buddu, Uganda.
In 2012, the Cambridge Centre of Governance and Human Rights (CGHR), as part of its project on 'New communications technologies and citizen-led governance in Africa’ (2010-12), is piloting Africa’s Voices, a collaborative platform aimed at enhancing debate, discussion and knowledge on contemporary issues of public interest in Africa. Designed as an African-wide research initiative, Africa's Voices is aimed at analysing citizens' opinions on a wide range of issues as radio stations all over the continent ask a monthly question and audiences are invited to reply via SMS. Stations are then provided with comparative analysis and can create innovative broadcasts that put their communities’ views in an pan-African perspective. Researchers have recently visited Uganda and Zambia working with local radio stations who are getting ready to ask audience questions. This research will lead to comparative findings on how SMS is used by listeners to discuss issues which affect their community.
Sharath Srinivasan who has been working with presenters in the studio at Breeze FM, Zambia reported that one 45 minute show - based on the role of the police and community in arresting criminal suspects - attracted 60 incoming SMS's and generated a very lively debate. The DJs have been testing FrontlineSMS:Radio’s "shows" function for the first time. Shows are designed to be a space where different presenters can organize their own area within the FrontlineSMS:Radio system. By clicking an “on-air” button, all SMS received from that moment on are fed into the current show, making it easier for DJs to organize messages relevant to them. DJs can click "off-air" when they finish so messages are filtered to the main inbox or another DJ's show. With the awareness that many stations have volunteer staff coming and going, this FrontlineSMS:Radio function is designed to be simple and not restricted to user names or passwords.
Meanwhile, Florence Brisset-Foucault has been at Radio Buddu in Masaka, Uganda, where they receive around 30 text messages per day and are trying to develop their use of SMS. The most popular topics for interaction from the audience seems to be shows on domestic and personal problems. Presenters are enthusiastic about the future for FrontlineSMS:Radio software especially since they previously relied on a premium rate number. A shift to using FrontlineSMS means they can use a local number, reducing the cost for listeners to text the station by 50% or more. Previously people would pay 220 or 250 sh to text the station but now it will be 110 sh or 50 sh if on same network. (1 £ = 3900 sh).
"FrontlineSMS:Radio makes it much cheaper for audiences to interact with us and we hope it will increase access to our debates," Pascal, Radio Buddu's head of news told Florence. Pascal is confident this will enlarge the number of people able to contact the station and share their views.
Another new FrontlineSMS:Radio function is polls, which allows stations to ask listeners to respond to a question using a keyword followed by a letter denominating their answer. When messages are received, FrontlineSMS generates a visual representation in a graph and introduces a system to cope with misspelt keywords through a manual override function. Umar, the programme manager is very excited about the polling activity which he thinks will have great potential particularly in Radio Buddu’s development and health programmes. With a smile, Umar observed that "the polling function will definitely help those of us who are bad at maths, as it displays the results automatically! It will make things easier to announce the results live on air".
You can also hear Hassan Korona of Radio Gbath, Sierra Leone's promotion audio for Africa's Voices here.
For more photos from Radio Buddu see the online album.
By Amy O'Donnell, FrontlineSMS
Reflections on the development of FrontlineSMS:Radio in a post originally published by MediaShift Idea Lab. Read and extract of the post below, and check it out in full here on the MediaShift Idea Lab website.
"Almost everyone who has listened to the radio within the last few years has heard a DJ call for the audience to send in a text message -- whether to request the next song, respond to the latest news or to comment on the needs of their communities. Media outlets everywhere are using SMS to engage audiences in innovative and creative ways, especially as they are increasingly reliant on audiences to be their eyes and ears. The combination of broadcast and interactive, text-driven response is being used to affect a wide range of reporting and audience engagement practices.
FrontlineSMS, which allows people to set up a hub for text messaging to inform and engage rural communities, is in the final stages of pilot testing a version of our software that's customized to meet the needs of radio broadcasters. The FrontlineSMS:Radio project, which serves as the foundation of our Knight News Challenge project, has given us insight into both the priorities and challenges facing community radio stations in low-resource communities."
To read more visit MediaShift Idea Lab's blog here.
This article was originally published on allAfrica.com and is reposted with permission.
There are few greater challenges facing rural farmers in the developing world today than climate change, as the current drought in the Horn of Africa demonstrates so clearly.
In this post, Riedner Mumbi and Polly Ghazi explain how mobile technology is being increasingly used to get crucial information out to poor farmers in Zambia, helping mitigate against climate risks and improving food security.
By Riedner Mumbi and Polly Ghazi
A herder shepherding his animals in Zambia’s Eastern Province winds up a solar-powered radio and crouches down to listen to a local FM station. The news broadcast includes a warning that a severe storm is approaching his village. The herder reacts instantly, finding shelter nearby for his animals, which later emerge from the storm unscathed.
Such a scene may be played out increasingly in the future across Africa, where the livelihoods of rural inhabitants are critically dependent on weather and climate. Most are peasant farmers who depend solely on rain for their crop production. A single extreme event such as a major flood or prolonged drought can not only cause loss of life, but also economic setbacks equivalent to years’ worth of development.
As climate change intensifies, bringing more extreme weather, as well as seasonal and longer-term changes, effective adaptation for rural regions of Africa will depend on timely and accurate advance information. Early warnings will enable farmers to shelter their animals and protect their income and families. In addition, the collection and distribution of local rainfall information can help smallholder farmers to adjust their crop production methods to changing seasonal precipitation patterns.
The Zambian government has been one of the first in Africa to recognize this need. Through its RANET (Radio and Internet for the Communication of Hydro-Meteorological Information) Project, the Zambia Meteorological Department is tapping remote communities across several provinces to collect climate information. In the past four years, some 3,060 farmers have been provided with rain gauges to take rainfall measurements which are then fed back to the meteorological service’s local weather stations through mobile phones. Farmers are also encouraged to report other local weather observations. To motivate farmers taking part, RANET periodically recharges their phones with free airtime, and project managers are now testing the FrontlineSMS software to help minimize the service cost. This would enable rural participants to send SMS – text messages – to the RANET centre free of charge.
The results have been so encouraging that the Zambian Met Office is now considering providing automatic weather stations and rudimentary meteorological training to rural farmer cooperatives across the country.
In order to help remote rural areas receive (as well as collect) timely weather and climate information, the RANET Project sends weather alerts via SMS text and has also been assisting rural areas to establish community FM broadcasting stations. These pick up regional climate information from satellites, translate relevant weather information into local languages and are then used to broadcast timely warnings over extreme weather, such as storms, as well as seasonal climate information.
So far the project has helped launch five stations, with two more in the pipeline, and is cooperating with another nine. Each station can broadcast information to farming communities within a radius of 40-60km. RANET has also installed 49 digital radio satellite receivers to enable the FM stations to access satellite-based weather and climate information.
The project provides communities with solar wind-up radio receivers to access the broadcasts, 3,000 of which have been distributed across rural regions to date. The stations also host programs that help educate citizens on the effects of weather on their crops. Reinforcing these messages, RANET also provides climate information to agricultural extension workers who can interpret it for farmers and help them apply what they learn in their daily farming activities. In Mali, similar weather forecast bulletins, broadcast every 10 days, have helped low income smallholder farmers to increase yields by providing vital information on when and what to plant, depending on the climatic conditions.
While community radio broadcasting struggles to survive commercially, and therefore depends on government and non-governmental organizations to sponsor their programs, this is worthwhile investment. Quite simply, radio broadcasting is the most cost-effective and cheapest way for information dissemination and education, and can play a valuable role in societies facing climatic extremes.
Not content with radio and cell phone networks, RANET, with support from the USAID Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance, is also piloting the deployment of an innovative communication device called Chatty Beetle. The device is both a terminal and a system designed to provide emergency weather alerts and instructions to remote locations with limited means of communication with the outside world. It sends messages and short status reports (of 160 characters or less) via a small screen between emergency managers and warning authorities, as well as notifying communities of potential hazards. Since speed is critical when warning vulnerable communities of the onset of disasters such as cyclones or major floods, the Chatty Beetle, which transmits even faster than the Internet, shows much promise.
With more than three quarters of the world’s population now served by mobile networks, and additional efforts underway to reach the rest, the RANET approach to climate and emergency preparedness information has huge potential for scale up.
Current RANET funding and technical partners include the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), National Meteorological Services, First Voice International (formerly World Space Corporation), Free Play Foundation, UNDP, SNV, GTZ, DFID, World Vision, Africare, the Red Cross, and many others.
The World Resources Report 2010-2011 will be published in August and can be read here.
Riedner Mumbi is a consultant on the RANET system. Polly Ghazi is a writer and editor at the World Resources Institute (WRI).
allAfrica.com has published a guest post today, by Riedner Mumbi and Polly Ghazi, about the work of RANET (Radio and Internet for the Communication of Hydro-Meteorological Information), who are considering use of FrontlineSMS in Zambia.
Below is an extract of the post. To read the full post visit allAfrica.com.
"As climate change intensifies, bringing more extreme weather, as well as seasonal and longer-term changes, effective adaptation for rural regions of Africa will depend on timely and accurate advance information. Early warnings will enable farmers to shelter their animals and protect their income and families. In addition, the collection and distribution of local rainfall information can help smallholder farmers to adjust their crop production methods to changing seasonal precipitation patterns.
The Zambian government has been one of the first in Africa to recognize this need. Through its RANET (Radio and Internet for the Communication of Hydro-Meteorological Information) Project, the Zambia Meteorological Department is tapping remote communities across several provinces to collect climate information. In the past four years, some 3,060 farmers have been provided with rain gauges to take rainfall measurements which are then fed back to the meteorological service's local weather stations through mobile phones. Farmers are also encouraged to report other local weather observations. To motivate farmers taking part, RANET periodically recharges their phones with free airtime, and project managers are now testing the FrontLine SMS software to help minimize the service cost."
Read the full post at allAfrica.com.
Kelly Sponberg from RANET has previously written a guest post for the FrontlineSMS blog, about RANET using FrontlineSMS in their work. Click here to read this post.
Medicine stock-outs are a potentially lethal problem in a number of African countries, yet governments insist they don't occur. What could be more powerful than a map which contradicts this claim? Last week activists in Kenya, Uganda, Malawi and Zambia started surveying clinics in their respective countries, checking stock levels of essential medicines, including:
- First-line anti-malarials
- Zinc 20mg tablet
- First-line ARVs
- Metronidazole 200mg tablet
- Amoxicillin suspension
- Cotrimoxazole suspension
- ORS - Diarrhea
Each of these are seen as essential in varying degrees to fighting disease and illness, and are widely used when available.
Armed with the data, activists report their results via structured, coded SMS - "x,y,z" - where the first number represents their country code (Kenya, Malawi, Uganda or Zambia), the second their district or city, and the third the medicine which they found to be out of stock. These messages are received by a phone connected to a computer running FrontlineSMS, which then runs an automatic script which validates the data before it is sent over the internet to a Ushahidi-powered website.
From there the results are automatically displayed on a map, below (click to visit the live site).
As of today, there have been over 250 stock-outs of these essential medicines.
Since the data is automatically populated, the map represents an almost real-time picture of stock-outs in the four target countries. After a successful launch and a week piloting the service, the "stock-out hub number" will now be distributed to medicine users throughout each country so that anyone with a mobile phone can send in a stock-out report. Unlike reports from official, known data collectors, these messages will firstly be checked by staff at Health Action International (HAI Africa) before being posted up on the map.
The technological portion of the campaign was implemented by Michael Ballard and Claudio Midolo, both Open Society Fellows from the Department of Design + Technology at Parsons the New School for Design in New York. Ndesanjo Macha also helped in getting FrontlineSMS up and running in Uganda and Malawi.
For further background information and up-to-date news, visit the "Stop Stock-Outs" website.