Frontline Powered by APIs

Frontline Powered by APIs

Here at Frontline, we recognize that each user has specific needs, operating on a wide variety of platforms. That’s why, over the last decade, we’ve tried to makeFrontline as configurable as possible to meet these needs, wherever you are. With our new APIs, you can push messages and information in and out of FrontlineCloud – letting you keep data where it’s most useful to you. To get things started, we’ve preconfigured an integration into one of our favourite digital campaigning and management platforms, Nationbuilder. You can use Nationbuilder and Frontline together to RSVP to events and to update contact records inside your nation.

Sexual Exploitation Outreach with Text Messaging: Introducing Project Backpage

Sexual Exploitation Outreach with Text Messaging: Introducing Project Backpage

The University of AlbertaMARS lab and the Centre to End All Sexual Exploitation (CEASE) have been using FrontlineSMS in a ground-breaking pilot to assess the impact of using SMS to engage women who are trafficked and exploited in Edmonton, Canada. They have very kindly collaborated with us on an in-depth case study, looking at how the system was designed and set up, its impact, and what's happening next.

FrontlineSMS Survey Results: Can we build accessible software? Yes we can, say our users!

FrontlineSMS Survey Results: Can we build accessible software? Yes we can, say our users!

Here at FrontlineSMS, we love data. Like, a lot. If data had its own Facebook page, we’d ‘like’ it and if we took a picture with data out one night, we’d probably make it our profile picture. Data empowers, and we’re all about empowerment o/. In fact, to empower people is the why for the what we do. One thing we’re always wanting to know, of course, is how we are doing. Well we SMSed our friend data to find out – Welcome to the 2013 FrontlineSMS survey results post!

Our brand of ‘agile’

Our brand of ‘agile’

“Our dev team does SCRUM, with user-centric, test-driven development”. We’re proud of that statement, but also very aware of how unsubstantiated that claim can sound. We’ve all heard the stories of the tech companies with 6-month-long ‘iterations’ and 3000-page specification documents that nonetheless brand themselves Agile. These horror stories could push some to follow their agile approach of choice to the letter, for fear of being swept downstream into the dreaded waterfall, but at FrontlineSMS we feel we’ve adapted much of the industry’s best practices and most trusted tools to create a process that gives us confidence in our code, and the ability to create an ever-improving product for our users.

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/

New Resource: Step-by-Step Guide on Using FrontlineSMS with Ushahidi

Here at FrontlineSMS we aim to make our software as accessible and adaptable as possible, and we’re always looking to respond to the needs of our growing user community. Through interaction with many users, we’ve found that some have successfully synched our software with mapping tool, Ushahidi. This set-up allows SMS to be submitted to the Ushahidi platform, enabling people to contribute reports to an online map using just their mobile phone. Combining FrontlineSMS and Ushahidi helps to empower organizations to both collect and share information in innovative ways; improving access, visibility and relevance of data for variety of projects, from election monitoring to mapping availability of health services. Not all users have found the process of synching the tools together straightforward, though, so we’re pleased to announce that FrontlineSMS and Ushahidi been working together to produce a clear step-by-step guide on this process, and this guide is now available.

FrontlineSMS and Ushahidi are both free and open source platforms that have been used across the world to promote social change, improve communications and support the work of non-profit organizations. FrontlineSMS converts a computer, connected to a GSM modem or mobile phone, into a two-way communications system which enables users to send, receive and manage text messages. Ushahidi is a platform that aggregates information coming from different sources (web form, e-mail, SMS, social media) and visualizes this information on a real-time interactive map. Although using FrontlineSMS with Ushahidi requires an Internet connection, those submitting reports via SMS needn’t be online. Using FrontlineSMS enables people to submit reports to a textable number, making it possible for people to contribute content to an online map even if they are not connected to the Internet themselves.

Using the two software tools in combination can have powerful and inspiring results. We have seen FrontlineSMS and Ushahidi used together in Nigeria as an electoral monitoring tool, in Egypt as instruments to map harassment on the streets and in the Democratic Republic of Congo to challenge incidents of human rights abuse. These examples help to demonstrate that SMS – as an ubiquitous and widely accessible communications channel - can help reach people that are otherwise marginalized or vulnerable. By then mapping SMS reports it is possible to show incidences by location; visually sharing information from those that may not otherwise be heard, and, in doing so, creating data that provides a powerful awareness raising and advocacy tool.

The idea for providing an updated accessible resource based on how to synchronize the two platforms was raised at a collaborative event organised by FrontlineSMS and Ushahidi in late 2011. Entitled “SMS to Map: Using FrontlineSMS and Ushahidi to tell your story,”this event was held on the same day in London, UK and Nairobi, Kenya, and it explored how to use the two software tools together. The audience were also encouraged to think about the ways they could use these tools for social change in their own work.

We hope that offering further guidance on the process of using FrontlineSMS together with Ushahidi will help make the combination of SMS with mapping more accessible. We are keen to receive any feedback you have on this resource, or indeed any suggestions and experiences you would like to share based on your own use of FrontlineSMS and Ushahidi.

So, check out the new guide here today in pdf format or on the Ushahidi wiki, and feel free to get in touch with us to share your views via the FrontlineSMS and Ushahidi forums.

Thanks to Laura Walker Hudson, Amy O'Donnell, Stefania Perna and Kavita Rajah at FrontlineSMS for their input into this resource release.

We would also like to take this opportunity to offer many thanks to all others who have helped with this resource, including Linda Kamau, Linda Raftree, Anahi Ayala Iacucci and Megan Goldshine. And a special thanks to Heather Leson at Ushahidi, for all her work on this collaboration!

New Resource: Using SMS as an Effective Behavior Change Campaigning Tool

Photo: Text to Change Behavior change campaigning is inherently interactive. In order to encourage positive behavior change it is important to not only push campaign messages out to people, but to listen to the responses. To run a campaign which has a real impact, you need to listen to ensure you’re being heard. This is one of the main reasons why SMS - as a widely accessible and inherently interactive communications channel  - is an ideal tool for campaigning.

This is the topic explored in a new resource which FrontlineSMS is releasing with Text to Change today; best practices when using SMS as a behavior change campaigning tool. This resource has been put together collaboratively to provide an introductory guide, suggesting some key points which can usefully be considered if you are planning to use SMS as a campaign tool. The resource is by no means exhaustive, but it outlines some key considerations which can hopefully serve to help guide discussions around best practices in SMS campaigning.

Mobile phones are now everywhere. As we mention in this resource, global penetration of mobile phones now reaches 87%, with 79% penetration in the economically developing world.[i] There are 5.9 billion mobile-cellular subscriptions worldwide, and the total number of SMS sent globally tripled between 2007 and 2010, from an estimated 1.8 to 6.1 trillion[ii]. It is the ubiquity of mobile that makes it such a useful tool for campaigning.

However, using mobile phones for campaigning is by no means simple. In this resource we cover suggestions on effective context analysis, tailoring SMS content for your campaigns, creating a sustainable change with SMS and measuring impact. Through outlining best practices it becomes clear that the right content, delivered at the right time in the right context, is critical to a successful SMS campaign.

The case study examples within this resource demonstrate how text messages can help encourage people to change behaviors and attitudes toward issues as diverse as HIV/AIDS and reproductive rights. The case study examples come from both Uganda and India. These are completely diverse geographic regions, but in both locations, SMS behavior change campaigning proved to be a success.

FrontlineSMS has worked with Text to Change to create this resource. Both FrontlineSMS and Text to Change use mobile technologies to address a range of vital needs in the non-profit sector. It has been fantastic to work together on collating some advice on how to make the most of mobile technology specifically for campaigning.

The resource will be launched at ‘The world in the palm of your hand: SMS and mobile communications’, an event in London at which both Text to Change Founder, Hajo van Beijma, and FrontlineSMS Founder, Ken Banks will be speaking. Presentations at the event will explore the power of SMS and mobile in the third sector.

Check out the resource itself: Communications for change: How to use text messaging as an effectivebehavior change campaigning tool. We welcome your thoughts and feedback on this resource, and we'd love to hear about your experiences of using SMS as a campaigning tool. Please feel free to connect with us through our community forum or get directly in contact.

Many thanks to Megan Goldshine for her hard work on the graphic design of this resource.



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.

M4Data: FrontlineSMS Launches Data Integrity User Guide

By Cathryn Paine

We were excited to join colleagues and friends in Washington, DC, on Tuesday 9th August to release the first edition of our User Guide on Data Integrity, a tool that will help FrontlineSMS users around the world better understand the flow of information into and out of the platform, the risks and vulnerabilities to that data, and simple ways they can mitigate those risks.

To kick off the discussion around the new guide, we hosted a panel discussion at Johns Hopkins’ School of Advanced International Studies, where FrontlineSMS' Sean McDonald joined Jon Gosier of metaLayer, Development Seed’s Paul Goodman, and Internews Vice President for New Media Kathleen Reen, who moderated the event. This research effort, based on FrontlineSMS user input and research by Kristina Lugo and Carol Waters, focused not on mobile system security, a critical issue better addressed by others, but more on the ways that contextualized program design and implementation can improve data quality and reduce user risk. Above all, we learned through the process, context is key. Understanding the needs and norms of the target population, and the goals of the project itself, is vital in determining the proper tools and approach to designing a FrontlineSMS workflow that can achieve those goals.

The panel discussion centered on these key points, especially the role that stakeholders play in the reliability and integrity of project data. Issues from misinterpretation, to unconscious bias, to lack of corroboration can creep into an improperly designed data collection effort, polluting the entire dataset in the process. To mitigate these threats, Jon emphasized focusing on localization and usability in project design—understanding the users or beneficiaries of a project is the best way to minimize human error and maximize data integrity.

Paul contextualized these points with insights from mobile projects in Haiti and Benin, focusing on the process of implementing new technologies—from design to training to implementation. Particularly, the panel discussion focused on assuming that program data would be made public, in an effort to design projects that achieve important goals while minimizing risks associated with data sharing or system compromise.

Throughout the conversation, the discussion kept coming back to the importance of user-focused, context-aware approaches and resources in ICT projects. No matter how complicated the technology, an informed and engaged community of project staff and participants is really the best tool for safeguarding quality data. All in all, a great discussion that we hope to keep going through the forum and ongoing interactions!

You can now download the FrontlineSMS User Guide on Data Integrity from our website here.

FrontlineSMS welcome video

We've been planning for some time to create a cool (possibly animated) introductory film for people interested in the FrontlineSMS basics, but haven't managed to get round to it yet. So, as a stop-gap, yesterday I put together this quick eight minute welcome video, which covers most of the more frequently asked questions.

This video, and others, can be found on the FrontlineSMS Community. The "Quick Start Guide" mentioned towards the end can be downloaded from here (PDF, 1Mb).