Frontline allowed a Colombian organization to open non-traditional communication channels for different communities in a part of the country with very low connectivity.
From Colombia to Ghana to Canada, communicating with members of parliament, tracking city council spending, and advocating for environmental oversight of extractive industries are among a wide range of governance activities that have become possible for anyone with access to an internet connection, a computer, or a smartphone. That’s a lot of people, but not nearly enough.
The team at Better FM, a radio station in Fort Portal, Uganda, were the most recent testers to install FrontlineSMS:Radio as part of the ongoing trial. Florence Brisset-Foucault, a researcher for the Centre of Governance and Human Rights (CGHR) at Cambridge University in the UK, is currently in Uganda, and helped with the installation, saying “I'm excited to report that it is running perfectly!” Here, Florence shares some updates from the station and the way they engage MPs in dialogues with listeners about public service delivery. By Dr Florence Brisset-Foucault
Better FM was created in 2008. Despite the fact it's a relatively new station here at Fort Portal, it seems very successful in terms of audience and reach. It has a high degree of response from local politicians, who are keen to engage with local citizens and hear their feedback. Honourable Alex Ruhunda, Member of Parliament for Fort Portal Municipality, District councillors and Tooro Kingdom officials regularly frequent the studios. Better FM has several programmes which focus on ensuring more transparency and accountability on public service delivery, especially concerning procurements and the building of infrastructure, particularly road, electricity and water.
One programme is called 'Know your leaders' which offers an opportunity for listeners to interact with their community’s decision makers. Another is called the ‘Listeners’ Forum’ and is sponsored by a local organisation called Tooro Development Network who specialize in empowering grass root organizations with ICTs and promoting transparency. Both shows are hosted by Better FM presenter Wilfred Mukonyezi, and have a heavy emphasis on being interactive with the community. Wilfred takes around 10 calls during each show and usually receives around 50 SMS, some of which are read on air.
For the past two weeks the station had a technical problem with their internet provider meaning they were not able to receive text messages. On 19th April, we installed FrontlineSMS:Radio – which does not rely on internet connection - on the studio's computer, and Wilfred was really excited.
We played with the software for an hour in order to get more familiar with it; sending text messages and testing functionality by creating imaginary polls. Wilfred immediately created "shows" for all his colleagues, a functionality in FrontlineSMS:Radio which allowed him to set up a space for each presenter to manage SMS relevant to them within the same system. After two weeks without SMS, Wilfred is glad he won't have to depend on the internet to receive messages any more. He said "All my workmates will enjoy this software! It's cheaper, it's easier, and [unlike relying on an internet connection] it doesn't give me a headache!"
To find out more about FrontlineSMS:Radio click here
To find out more about the research of Cambridge Centre for Governance and Human Rights click here. Find out about the Africa's Voices project as part of CGHR research on their website or join the conversation on Facebook
To read a recent update on the trial and research in Uganda and Zambia click here
FrontlineSMS recently attended an event called hosted by the Indigo Trust, the Institute for Philanthropy and the Omidyar Network -- called 'The Power of Information: New Technologies for Philanthropy and Development'. Wired wrote a follow up piece on a panel at this event, which featured FrontlineSMS and our founder Ken Banks, who spoke on the panel Wired chose to focus on. Below is an extract from the Wired article, and you can find the piece in full on the Wired website here.
"There is a lack of accountability within philanthropy because the people who provide the resources aren't sufficiently well-connected to the beneficiaries they are supposed to be funding. Technology can change that, according to a panel speaking at an event ... called 'The Power of Information: New Technologies for Philanthropy and Development'.
The panel -- which included the Indigo Trust's Will Perrin; Owen Barder, senior fellow at the Centre for Global Development; MySociety's Tom Steinberg; Kiwanja's Ken Banks and Sodnet's Philip Thigo -- argued that data collected by NGOs tends to only serve to make donors feel better about their philanthropic efforts. That means that the data describes allocation of funds and supplies photogenic case studies, rather than focusing on the quality of the execution of that aid....
Ken Banks from Kiwanja talked about empowering local communities to take action, with systems such as Frontline SMS, a free, open-source piece of software that allows you to distribute and collect information to the masses via SMS with just a mobile phone and a computer. As Banks describes: "The software turns a low end laptop, mobile and dongle into a two-way messaging system."
To read the article in full visit the Wired website here.