Nkhotakota Community Radio Station, along Lake Malawi, is a Malawi Communication Regulatory Authority (MACRA) recognized broadcaster and has been in operation for eleven years. More than 500,000 people live within our coverage area- transmissions reach Nkhotakota and Ntchisi districts and parts of Nkhatabay, Salima, Dowa, Mzimbaand Kasungu.
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.
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.
Njenga Kahiro, Kinship Conservation Fellow and member of the Zeitz Foundation, started the Laikipia Unity Cup in 2010 when he decided to combine environmental education and a football tournament. Laikipia is a countyin central Kenya where conflict between warring communities and stripping of natural resources are both fairly common. Njenga, with the help of his foundation, put together football teams from each region , usually combining young citizens of quarreling communities, and host a tournament that included matches, educational theater, and local conservation projects.
The Busara Center for Behavioral Economics is a research laboratory in Nairobi, Kenya focused onproviding researchers around the world with an opportunity to conduct studies in a variety of behavioral sciences with a strongly under-represented subject pool. Headed by Johannes Haushofer, a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University and the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL), the Busara Center strives to replicate the controlled lab settings in a novel environment. Busara is housed under the Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA), a non-profit organization focused on developing and evaluating poverty alleviation programs around the world.
We are using Frontline SMS in Papua New Guinea (PNG) to send stories and lesson plans every day to elementary teachers in rural areas. The SMS story team includes international volunteers working with Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) and the research project is funded by the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) through the Economic and Public Sector Program (EPSP).
On the same day that the Global Journal announced us as their pick for “#1 Tech NGO in the world”, my laptop died. As my coworkers celebrated our newly-bestowed honor, I relished the irony of my technological failure and felt what has come to define my time working in the non-profit world: humility.
Congratulations to Jimmie Ssena for being recognized as a finalist of the VNI Service Awards for his work with rural farmers using FrontlineSMS! Since its founding in 1997, the Nakaseke Telecentre has served as a knowledge portal for poor rural farmers in their district, working to use ICTs “for rural development, reduction of poverty and... a better livelihood of the rural poor.”
Congratulations to Pierre Omadjela for being recognized as a finalist for Cisco’s VNI Service Awards for his work in healthcare awareness using FrontlineSMS! The World Health Organization estimates 80,000 citizens of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) died in 2010 from Malaria. The mosquito-transmitted disease is responsible for 40% of the mortality in Congolese children under five, and in a country where a quarter of the population lack access to healthcare facilities, promoting prevention has proven to be more effective than only treating infected patients. The President’s Malaria Initiative, launched in 2005 through USAID, provides malaria prevention and treatment in five provinces, which make up 26% of the DRC’s health zones.
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.
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.
"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
Yesterday, our Founder Ken announced some exciting changes to the way we’re doing things at FrontlineSMS. Today, we’d like to tell you just a little bit more. It’s a tremendous and exciting honor to be a part of FrontlineSMS. The FrontlineSMS team and community are growing at an unprecedented rate, driving innovation in mobile technology all over the world. Over the course of the last year and a half, our team has grown by 400 percent, started four new projects, and completely redesigned the core software. The FrontlineSMS community has grown to include thousands of users, finding innovative applications of the software to drive social change in more than 80 countries. Today’s team covers three continents and supports 2,500 forum members, hundreds of active users, and partners all over the world.
Although our team and organization are growing and changing, our mission remains the same: FrontlineSMS uses mobile technology to facilitate social change. While our evolution reflects the growth of SMS as a communications platform and its increasing professionalization, we’re guided by Ken’s focus on last-mile communities, locally appropriate technology, and easy-to-use tools. We’ve built a hybrid organizational structure that will continue to distribute free and open-source software to thousands of users, while building new, more sophisticated tools that meet growingly complex needs.
One of the major lessons we’ve learned from FrontlineSMS users has been how many barriers to communication are human, as opposed to technological. Effective mobile engagement depends on program design, professional capacity, infrastructure, culture and any number of other factors. To help users overcome these challenges, we’ve developed a wide range of consulting and support services that help connect industries to the communities they value most.
Since Ken invited us to join his senior management team in 2010, we have worked together to bring our core values and focus on the last mile into a larger vision and more ambitious approach for our organization. In 2012, we’ll be releasing four new FrontlineSMS products, including Version 2 of the core platform, a completely redesigned application that’s faster, easier to use, and more capable of handling complex tasks. Our users will be able to do more with larger volumes of SMS data, as we add automated data processing and visualization tools, and customize the application for specific sectors. We will continue to grow our library of free, accessible, field-focused resources on the best ways to use our mobile technologies to foster social change.
On a personal note, we’d like to thank Ken, the FrontlineSMS community, and our growing team for their innovative leadership and dedication. Ken has been a visionary mentor to both of us as we’ve grown into these roles over the last 18 months. There’s no question that he’s built more than software and a community - Ken has helped drive the way that we think about communicating. The FrontlineSMS community is, and has always been, comprised of organizations and problem-solvers who are inventing the future of mobile, one idea at a time. We couldn't be more excited to lead FrontlineSMS into its next stage of growth or more fortunate to have such inspirational guidance. More than anything, we look forward to what comes next and discovering it together.
Thanks and Best Wishes
Laura and Sean
- An incredible 97% of people said they would recommend our software to others.*
- People are using or testing FrontlineSMS in over 80 countries across the world. Most of those using or testing the software are working in Africa - 46% of respondents - but an increasing number – 29% are working in Asia, compared to 23% of users having impact in Asia shown in last year's survey.
- The top countries in which survey respondents are using and testing FrontlineSMS are, in order: Kenya, the Philippines, Malawi, India and Pakistan.
- This year 78% of respondents reported working for local, national or international NGOs, with the remainder being academics (22%), independent researchers and testers (8%), governments (8%) and for-profit organizations (17%).*
- 40% of respondents said they were using FrontlineSMS to communicate with project participants or beneficiaries; 39% with staff and volunteers; 30% with the general public; and 5% other organizations *
- 79% of users found FrontlineSMS easy or somewhat easy to set up, and only 1% found it difficult (around 20% of respondents did not answer this particular question).
More detailed analysis
Between this year and last year’s survey the types of organizations responding have remained predominantly non-profit actors – NGOs and INGOs – and the largest percentage of those using and testing the software are still working in Africa. However, there is a growth of our user base in Asia, which is exciting to see. Kenya remains the most common country where FrontlineSMS is being used and tested, with the Philippines close behind at second highest.
In this year’s results we can also see that our software continues to be used in a wide range of sectors, the most popular being education and healthcare. This mirrors last year’s results - but there is also increasing interest shown this year in using FrontlineSMS in emergency response and preparedness, activism and campaigning, mobile finance, and the media. We are particularly excited to see the growth in areas where we have sector-specific projects.
We asked people about how the software is helping them to communicate. We found that nearly half of users are using FrontlineSMS to connect with project participants and beneficiaries, which is perhaps to be expected. Interestingly, though, nearly as many users are using the software to engage with staff and volunteers. In many cases we have seen SMS used in the same way that you might use email – to organize programs, coordinate meetings and appointments, send out alerts, even to submit monitoring and evaluation reports. Its clear FrontlineSMS is now being used as a professional communications tool in many contexts.
We’re aware that there is still plenty of room for improvement. There were many suggestions for our software and user support in survey responses. Users suggested new features, such as integration with more internet SMS aggregators, easier importing of bulk contacts, and a more adaptable plug-in interface for faster, easier use of our software with other tools - happily this fits brilliantly with our upcoming release, FrontlineSMS Version 2 (watch this space for more news on this in coming weeks!). Respondents also proposed new ways for us to support users, including more help with devices and more user resources including case studies, practical guides on using the software, and guides on specific challenges (such as data integrity). These are all ideas we will build upon in our strategic planning moving forward.
Despite challenges and constructive criticism, an astounding 97% of people said they would recommend our software to others. One respondent said;
“in my experience the software is easy to use and has an active community who are passionate about the work they're doing and eager to help. And it's free”.
It’s great to get this kind of positive feedback from our users, so thank you to everyone who contributed to the survey! o/
As those who regularly read this blog will know, here at FrontlineSMS we’re always looking to increase understanding of our user community. Listening to the experiences of those using our software helps us to find out if we are effectively meeting their needs, and enables us to identify the most important improvements needed in our software and user support. Crucially, hearing from our users also helps us to measure the impact of our own work in terms of how our software is being used and the difference it is making in the real world. If you’d be interested in telling the FrontlineSMS team how you are using FrontlineSMS then please do feel free to contact us and connect with our team and other users on our community forum, too!
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Huge thanks to FrontlineSMS Hero Matthias Ambruster for his help in analysing our survey responses.
*All data is based on 129 survey responses. Not all questions in the survey were mandatory. Percentages at times total over 100% for questions where users could give more than one answer.
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).
When people first encounter FrontlineSMS software, a number of questions come up again and again, both in person and on our community forum; 'how do I access the software?' 'What does it cost to send and receive messages?' 'What can FrontlineSMS be used for?' We’ve collated the answers to these and many more Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) on FrontlineSMS in a brand new user resource.
In keeping with our ethos of user-driven innovation, our community forum (a key source of inspiration for the FAQ) is a place where FrontlineSMS deployers both get help, and help each other. Members also contribute their own 'tips and tricks' on how to overcome certain challenges with our software, and so we have included them in a special section in the FAQ. We hope that by collating the FAQ we will help empower and encourage more users to reach out and support each other in the community.
This resource is by no means exhaustive; it is an organic resource which we will continue to add to with input from our user community. Your feedback and suggested additions are very welcome, and we look forward to continuing to build up this resource over time. Please do take a read through the FAQ, and let us know what you think and if it’s helpful for you!
We would like to take this opportunity to offer huge thanks to our previous Community Project Assistant, Lisa LaRochelle, for her amazing work in pulling this FAQ together, and also to Jordan Hosmer-Henner at TechChange for helping initiate the idea.
This resource would of course not have been possible without the input of our fantastic FrontlineSMS user community, so huge thanks to all of you! o/
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.
“Focus on the user and all else will follow,” has been one of our main mottos here at FrontlineSMS ever since the original version of our software was built in 2005. Yet it is undeniable that, as we gear up for a big year in 2012, the face of the FrontlineSMS user is more diverse than it was when we first started out. Ken Banks, the Founder of FrontlineSMS, has often said to the team here that he was excited when one person downloaded FrontlineSMS back when he first made the software available; at the end of 2011 the number of people who had downloaded FrontlineSMS passed the 20,000 mark.
As our user base continues to grow, our user-focused ethos is more important to us than ever. We strongly believe that our direction should continue to be guided by our passionate, innovative, and richly varied user community. That is why we would love to hear your views in our latest FrontlineSMS user survey. We want to hear your feedback on our user resources and our software, so that we can feed your opinions into our planning for 2012. Even if you aren’t using FrontlineSMS actively at the moment, your opinions still matter to us, and we’d love to hear any views and experiences you’d like to share about FrontlineSMS in our survey.
We have seen our software used in so many different ways – election monitoring, maternal health support, citizen engagement, education, coordination of humanitarian response, to name just a few – and in so many places – Kenya, Nigeria, the Philippines, Kyrgyzstan, Cote d’Ivoire, Canada, the UK are just some of the locations we’ve documented use of FrontlineSMS in within the last year. This is both very exciting and somewhat challenging for us; we would like to ensure that FrontlineSMS software and user support continues to meet the needs of our users, whatever those users now look like. The fact that our user community is growing makes it even more important for us to hear feedback, so we can serve increasingly varied and changing user needs.
And we’d like to say thank you - fill in the survey, and you’ll be in with a chance of winning a limited-edition FrontlineSMS T-shirt. For the next four weeks we will also be choosing one lucky survey respondent each week to win an unlocked, FrontlineSMS-compatible USB GSM modem. In addition, we will choose another lucky prize winner to get a copy of the well-known book, SMS Uprising, signed by our very own Ken Banks. (All those who have filled out the survey already will also be in with a chance of winning these prizes). So, as well as the opportunity to feed in to our 2012 strategy you could win some very exciting prizes! All this for just 5 minutes of your time - what have you got to lose?
There are many faces we see regularly in our user community. Those who are part of a small community based group, seeking to keep people informed about valuable yet hard to access information. Those who are part of a large NGO seeking coordinate communication with disparate staff, monitor the effectiveness of their work, and hear feedback from the communities they serve. Those starting a sustainable business in a developing economy, and wanting a way to keep in touch with all key stakeholders in areas where there is little or no internet access available. And even those in economically developed countries, who are working to engage vulnerable communities via the accessibility of SMS.
Do any of these descriptions sound like you? If so it would be great to hear your views and experiences with our software and resources. If you don’t feel you are represented in the above list (which is certainly not exhaustive), then we need to hear from you too! If you’re using or have thought about using FrontlineSMS then please fill out our survey and let us know who you are!
Last year’s survey results helped us to shape the major release of our software due out in 2012 – FrontlineSMS Version 2 – and it also helped us to understand that our users want to connect with each other more, and learn from each others’ use cases. Hence we worked throughout 2011 to document more use cases on our blog and have engaged members of our community to volunteer with us as FrontlineSMS Heroes, too. Recently one of our Heroes, Tom Marentette, has helped start an exciting trend of user meet-ups, certainly something we will seek to continue to build upon in 2012.
Now the team here is wondering, what will this year’s survey tell us? You can shape the answer to this question by filling out our survey, and helping us better understand the diverse face of our FrontlineSMS user community! o/
a href="http://infoasaid.org/" target="_blank">infoasaid is a consortium of Internews and the BBC World Service Trust. The objective is to improve how aid agencies communicate with disaster-affected communities - the focus is on providing humanitarian information. The emphasis is on the need to deliver information, as aid itself, through the most appropriate channels. In this guest blog post first published on their website, infoasaid highlight some of the innovating approaches they are piloting to using FrontlineSMS in communicating with communities affected by crisis. ** This use of FrontlineSMS has also been reported on by ActionAid, the BBC World Service Trust and ReliefWeb. In addition, we included it in our National Geographic blog series, Mobile Message. **
Targeted, reliable information can help save lives in crisis-affected communities. As famine is declared in neighbouring Somalia, we’re helping ActionAid to improve vital communication with drought-affected populations in northern Kenya.
Open source mobile solutions such as FrontlineSMS and Freedom Fone are enabling two-way communication with vulnerable communities.
A chronic problem
Isiolo County in north eastern Kenya suffers from chronic drought and food shortages. A population of about 143,000 mostly semi-nomadic pastoralists rely on their herds of camels, cattle, goats and sheep for daily food and much of their cash income.
Many of the communities in this semi-arid area have been continuously dependent on food aid from the World Food Program (WFP) since 2004. ActionAid has been heavily involved in both long term development and drought-response projects in the Isiolo area for more than 15 years.
It knows that better communication can help save lives.
Livestock information bulletin
Weekly information about livestock and food commodity prices in Isiolo market – the main reference market for the region – is sent through SMS messages (using FrontlineSMS software) to field workers in rural communities, who post the information on local noticeboards.
Given high illiteracy rates in the area, the project is also providing a recorded message service using Freedom Fone that allows people to listen to local Swahili updates.
The bulletins help drought-distressed pastoralists to keep tabs on the price of staple foods such as maize, beans and vegetable oil on which they increasingly depend.The bulletins help drought-distressed pastoralists to keep tabs on the price of staple foods such as maize, beans and vegetable oil on which they increasingly depend. The market information also allows them to achieve better prices for the animals they sell to traders – boosting cash household income.
Local news and information given alongside market prices also contain useful tips on issues affecting the well-being of animals. Items will include updates on rainfall, outbreaks of animal disease and de-stocking programmes.
Together, the two channels allow pastoralists living in isolated communities to access reliable and up to date market information. They also allow ActionAid to keep in closer touch with the village relief committees that handle food distribution to individual families.
250 basic mobile phones and solar chargers purchased as part of the project are also being used by village relief committee members who live in or near locations with network coverage.
The cheap and durable solar chargers are vital in areas without electricity. They can also provide a source of revenue (as they charge other mobile phones for a modest fee) that allow relief committees to purchase vital air time for their phones.
An additional aim of the Isiolo project is to speed up ActionAid’s collection of data from the field.An additional aim of the Isiolo project is to speed up ActionAid’s collection of data from the field.
FrontlineSMS allows ActionAid to transmit electronic forms to field staff in Isiolo County via mobile phone. These are filled in electronically and dispatched immediately to the regional office through SMS messages.
These FrontlineForms are now being used to transmit time-sensitive reports on issues such as food distribution, food for work activity, malnutrition rates and local food prices. The information arrives rapidly in a standard format which is easy to analyse.
In the long term, this will help ActionAid to ensure its humanitarian aid activities in Isiolo are more effective and more responsive to the needs of the local population.
Communication as aid
In any emergency, be it natural disaster or man-made, long- or short-term, people's lives are turned upside down. Knowing what's happening, where to go for assistance and who to call for help is crucial to their survival and recovery.
The goal of the 'infoasaid' project is to help humanitarian organisations integrate two way communications with affected communities into their emergency programmes. This in turn improves the effectiveness of aid delivery.
As the drought and famine crisis in the Horn of Africa deepens, such communication is more important than ever.
A new 'Communication is Aid' animation, produced by infoasaid, demonstrates the positive impact of two way communication with crisis affected populations.
Read more about the work of infoasaid on their website.