Happy 2013: user survey, the release of Version 2.2, and other news!

Happy 2013: user survey, the release of Version 2.2, and other news!

The development and growth of FrontlineSMS has been driven by feedback we receive from our active user community. Each year we give our users the opportunity to share their use and vision of FrontlineSMS through our annual user survey. This year is no different! We would like to hear from you through our 2013 User Survey  - tell us how you're using the software, how we can make it better, and help us show how FrontlineSMS is making a difference. The survey takes less then 10 minutes!

Community Survey Results: Kenya and the Philippines lead the field, and 97% would recommend FrontlineSMS

Towards the end of 2011 we launched our second user survey, which ran until the beginning of 2012 and now, the results are in.

Quick Facts

  • 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.

FrontlineSMS is shaped by our diverse user community: We want to hear from you!

By Florence Scialom, FrontlineSMS Community Support Coordinator

“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 placesKenya, 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 personal message from FrontlineSMS Founder, Ken Banks

As we approach the end of 2011, there is opportunity for us to reflect on a successful year at FrontlineSMS, reveal some news and reach out to you - our users - to share your thoughts through our survey so that we can carry on innovating. Recently we sent out a personal message from FrontlineSMS Founder, Ken Banks, via our e-newsletter list and we wanted to share it again here with readers of our blog: Photo: Karola Riegler Photography


It's been a while since I was last in touch, and much has been happening in the world of FrontlineSMS. As we approach the end of another year I thought now might be a good time to reach out, share some exciting news, and ask you one small favour.

Exciting news!

Organisationally, the past twelve months have seen considerable growth. We now employ a dozen staff across three continents - Africa, Europe and North America - and the number of software downloads has exceeded the 20,000 mark, powering non-profit projects in twenty sectors in over 70 countries around the world. We've also had a successful year redesigning the platform (further news on that in the new year) and have also been working on versions of FrontlineSMS tailor-made for our :Radio and :Credit projects and their users. As the year closes out we've also managed to secure new funding to allow us to continue to develop the platform, and to continue to support you - our users - in the work that you do.

Share your views on FrontlineSMS

That leads me onto my request for a small favour. It would be great if you could share your views and experiences with FrontlineSMS in our 2011 user survey. Our online survey is crucial in helping us understand how FrontlineSMS is being used, problems you may have had, things you like, areas we can improve, and the impact the platform is having on you and your work. We've managed to continue to provide FrontlineSMS (and full technical support) free to everyone because we have been able to share this information with donors and supporters, helping them to be better informed about the positive impact their software is having.

In today's mobile world it's crucial that we understand our impact, and that we're able to communicate that to the people who support us. This is how we're able to support you. To give you an idea of how useful it is for us to know about your experiences, check out the results from the survey we ran earlier this year. This information has been crucial in helping us secure funding to continue operating into 2012, so thank you to everyone who contributed.

It would be great if you could take a few minutes of your time to fill out our 2011 user survey which will help us continue our work, which in turn helps you continue yours.

Win a FrontlineSMS T-shirt and feature in our National Geographic blog series!

As a show of appreciation, if you complete the survey you'll be in with a chance of winning a limited edition FrontlineSMS T-shirt! There may also be the opportunity to have your project featured on our National Geographic Mobile Message blog series, giving you the chance to share your work with a global audience of millions.

So please take a moment to fill out our user survey today!

Thanks so much for your time, and for the work that you do for millions of people in need around the world. We're excited and honoured to be working with you, and look forward to continuing our partnership into the new year.

Wishing you all the very best,
Ken Banks, FrontlineSMS Founder

Learning more about FrontlineSMS users: Results from our first ever survey!

Offering FrontlineSMS as a free software download has proved a successful way to help many non-profits; but it’s an approach that doesn’t come without its challenges. There are many cases of our software having a positive impact on people’s lives which the FrontlineSMS team and other FrontlineSMS users remain oblivious to. At the end of 2010 our software had been downloaded 12,500 times and was being used in 60 countries across the world. Yet the FrontlineSMS team remained aware of only a fraction of what happened to these downloads; who they are and what exciting projects they could be running with the software. Therefore we decided to do our first ever user survey!

Through the survey we were also keen to better understand the needs of those using our software, so that we could then tailor our user support and planned upgrades to our software more effectively to users’ requirements. The nature of FrontlineSMS means that users can download the software and not need to get in touch again. Thus part of the challenge we have is ensuring users have the support they need once they start using our software.  We of course aim to do this in many ongoing ways, for example through our user community, which has nearly 2,000 members. Yet the survey provided us with an in depth user snapshot; comprising of 33 questions and thus providing us with a wealth of valuable information.  We received 174 initial responses and have been given a fantastic insight in to the profile of FrontlineSMS users as a result, so thank you to all those who contributed! We’d now like to share some of those insights with the wider user community.

Quick Facts:

  • Biggest impact of FrontlineSMS use in Africa, at 69%, but software being used across the world in over 70 countries
  • 67% of respondents are from local, national or international NGOs, with the remainder being academics (18%), independent researchers and testers (13%), governments (8%) and for-profit organizations (11%)*
  • 41% of individual respondents are unpaid volunteers, 54% staff, and 5% students or researchers
  • Our software is being used in over 20 different sectors
  • 84% of users found FrontlineSMS easy or somewhat easy to set up

Detailed analysis:

One of the most striking things the survey results demonstrate is the sheer diversity of organizations and projects making use of FrontlineSMS. When asked what sector they were working in respondents answers spanned over twenty different areas of work. Sectors high on the list included health, education, agriculture and humanitarian work.* As we expected well over half of those responding to the survey were working for non-profit organizations, with 49% working for a local or national NGO, and 18% working for international NGOs. The remaining users were made up of academics (18%), independent researchers and testers (13%), governments (8%) and for-profit organizations (11%).* It is great to see the variety of non-profit organizations using SMS technology in their projects.

Nor was this diversity confined to the ways in which FrontlineSMS is being deployed. The geographical spread of use cases was also quite staggering, with respondents doing work in over 70 countries across the world. Countries with the largest numbers of users working in them included Kenya, Nigeria and the Philippines. From the 174 survey respondents we learned that the geographical reach of FrontlineSMS is greater than we previously thought. Interestingly, when it came to analyzing the impact of the work being done with FrontlineSMS the most prominent region the tool is being used in is Africa, as you can see from the below graph of impact in countries worked in.

The results provided a relatively comprehensive idea of the profile of the individual FrontlineSMS user. A massive 41% of those who completed the survey are unpaid volunteers, with the remaining being 5% students or researchers and 54% paid staff. In combination with the statistics on the sectors people are working in, this shows the dedication of many of the individuals out there using FrontlineSMS.

In line with our expectations of individual users, not all of the individuals using our software were the technical specialists within their organizations. Just 32% of users said they worked in the IT department of their organization, whereas 39% stated that they work in management or leadership. This reinforces our assertion that you do not need to be tech savvy in order to use FrontlineSMS; in fact 84% of respondents found the software easy or somewhat easy to use.

Here at FrontlineSMS, being user-focused has always been our ethos. The feedback we received on the way people are using our software and the type of user support needed will help to guide our plans future updates to the software and development of user resources. It was interesting to learn therefore that just under half of FrontlineSMS users currently use keywords functionality of the software. 31% used the software for data collection via Frontline Forms and 21% of people used reminders. This insight in to functionality use was helpful in understanding user priorities for the software.

We did note that many people were keen for new user resources to be developed to help optimize their FrontlineSMS use. Almost half of respondents wanted to see more training on best practices, more task guides and more case studies. This is certainly something we are working on providing more of at FrontlineSMS. It’s great to see that our existing resources are of helpful for users too though; 70% of respondents had used our help files, and over half of respondents had made use of our Forum by either actively starting discussions or reading previous threads to help them with technical difficulties.

We’ll be continuing to engage with our users in a variety of ways to keep in touch with the needs and activities of our user base. We are extremely grateful to everyone who took the time to fill out the survey and help us improve our work here at FrontlineSMS; thank you everyone! A very special thanks is also due to our FrontlineSMS Heroes - Molly Reading and Robin Flanagan - for their valuable help in analyzing this survey data.

*Percentages at times total over 100% for questions where users could give more than one answer