user support

Lessons Learned from the FrontlineSMS Community

As anyone who has experienced it will tell you, working at FrontlineSMS is no ordinary job. The ethos and values of the organisation produce a unique work atmosphere, and the many talented and enthusiastic people involved make it an inspiring place to be. I feel very lucky to have been Community Support Coordinator here for the last year and a half. The team asked me if I would like to write something for this blog, for which I’ve written so often, to reflect on what I have learned during my time working with FrontlineSMS.

The many uses of SMS

My role involved managing an increasingly active user community and helping to represent the many ways FrontlineSMS software is being used across the world. By documenting these user cases I have got to know many of the wonderful organisations and individuals in the FrontlineSMS user community. I have been continually struck by how many organisations out there are making a constructive impact despite their limited resources. Knowing that FrontlineSMS helps is incredibly rewarding - supporting election monitoring in Nigeria, providing maternal healthcare information in the Philippines, or sounding the alarm against harassment on the streets of Egypt, real-world demonstrations of the software’s impact are powerful. All this is being made possible by effective management of text message communication through FrontlineSMS.

Technology is only part of the story

Simple in concept yet brilliant in its design and application; FrontlineSMS provides a software that allows users to take advantage of SMS, the world’s most widespread digital platform, to manage communications in diverse – often low infrastructure – environments. Yet, as I quickly discovered, the technology is only a part of a successful implementation. Through working on a range of program-related user resources – such as case studies and an SMS campaigning guide – I learned that program design considerations are central to effectively using communications tools for social change. When planning to use a tool such as FrontlineSMS there is a vital need to consider critical delivery planning – outreach, messaging, integration, translation, verification and impact monitoring – in order to run a successful program. In addition, it is also essential to ensure sensitivity to behavioral and cultural factors in any given context in which a program is run; as we often put it in the FrontlineSMS office, ‘context is king’.

Grass roots change, globally

Many social change organisations are using FrontlineSMS to improve their communications at the grass roots and – as a result – increase the impact of their work. Being able to measure this impact is central to demonstrating the power of the software. An aspect of FrontlineSMS’s work which is simultaneously a strength and a challenge is our lack of ownership over implementations: making the software available as a free and open source download has undoubtedly contributed to FrontlineSMS’s wide usage, yet those who download the software have no obligation to let the FrontlineSMS team know how – even whether – they are using it.

We have tackled this challenge in a number of ways: conducting user surveys and download data analysis, researching in-depth case studies, and, most recently, launching a new monitoring and evaluation (M&E) framework. It was through this kind of analysis and observation of our users that the FrontlineSMS team came to a new perception of the software’s impact.

Photo Credits: Text to Change

Although there are undoubtedly large scale implementations of FrontlineSMS, my work has focussed on supporting the many users who are successfully running programs at the community level; really getting to know their target beneficiary audience and effectively measuring and adapting their work over time.  FrontlineSMS scales horizontally rather than vertically - rather than a few massive implementations, we see thousands of users working at the community level all across the world, having enormous collective impact.

The user still comes first

One of the most amazing things for me to experience during my time at FrontlineSMS is getting to know many passionate people who are prepared to give their time and energy to help others; this includes the amazing team, the strong user community,  and the many FrontlineSMS Heroes who have given their time to help keep things running successfully. It has been a joy to work alongside such a dedicated bunch of people!

I have been particularly impressed by how FrontlineSMS users are willing to help support each other. Through the user community forum and the growing global trend of user meet-ups, there is a clear desire amongst users to see others succeed; to share lessons learned and build valuable connections with others seeking to use FrontlineSMS for positive social change.

Moving forward

I am going to miss a lot of things about working at FrontlineSMS, especially the people. I feel privileged to have been able to work with the community, and observed the amazing work so many people are doing in the mobile for social change space. Moving forward, there is a wonderful new Community Support Manager, Sila Kisoso, taking over from me. I had the pleasure of spending some time with Sila in the FrontlineSMS Nairobi office, and I know she will do an excellent job with supporting the FrontlineSMS community. I am moving on to study for my Masters in Anthropology and Development at Leiden University in the Netherlands, but I will be sure to stay in touch with the FrontlineSMS team and continue to support the community in any way I can.  I would like to thank the FrontlineSMS team, all FrontlineSMS Heroes and the user community for helping make my time working with FrontlineSMS so special!

To stay in touch with Flo you can find her on Twitter via @Flo_Sci. Watch this space for more from our new Community Support Manager, Sila, coming soon! o/

Face-to-Face Help Getting Started with FrontlineSMS

FrontlineSMS software is designed to be accessible and easy to use ‘straight out of the box’ without the need for expert technical support. That said, when getting started with using a new piece of software we know how helpful it can be to have some guidance. To help users get started with our software, and troubleshoot any problems, we currently offer free user support via our community forum and resources online, but from March 2012, we're also opening our doors to you to offer face-to-face help through our new monthly user support drop-in sessions!

Once a month, our offices in Nairobi, Washington DC, and London will be open to users and staffed by our team. There will also be a monthly open chat over Skype for those who can't make it to the physical drop-ins. During these sessions the team will be there to answer your questions, demo FrontlineSMS functionality and generally provide support on using our software. The idea behind the drop-in sessions is to provide an informal opportunity for you to meet our team and ask questions about FrontlineSMS.

For full details on locations, dates and times please click here. Please email if you plan on coming and provide us with some information on your organization and any issues you are experiencing.

FrontlineSMS has chosen the locations of the drop-in sessions based on our staff and office locations If you’re keen to discuss FrontlineSMS at a face-to-face meeting in your own country then you could always suggest a user meet-up via our community forum, too.

We look forward to hearing from you, and hope to see you at one of our drop-in sessions soon! o/

Find answers to Frequently Asked Questions about FrontlineSMS!

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/

Visit the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page. Visit and/or join our community forum.