User Meet-Ups

FrontlineSMS User Meet-up in Nairobi: A Mosaic of Social-Technology

The FrontlineSMS user community has seen a growing number of user meet-ups across the world in recent months. It is exciting to see community members come together and share opinions and experiences on our software. In this post, FrontlineSMS user Joseph Owuondo shares his experience of attending recent meet-up in Nairobi, hosted at the FrontlineSMS offices.

The FrontlineSMS meet-up held in Nairobi at the beginning of April brought together a number of organizations, individuals and experts who focus their work on elections and conflict resolution-related issues; and who all have an interest in the potential use of FrontlineSMS for monitoring Kenya’s upcoming 2013 elections. Over lunch, we talked about how to manage a FrontlineSMS system from both a program-design perspective and a technical perspective.

My attendance at the meet-up was motivated by my own desire to use technology to reshape and reconstruct patterns of social interdependence, and thus have a positive influence on peace and stability. Being a self-made technologist, I have worked to train communities on both FrontlineSMS and the Crowdmap and Ushahidi platforms. I have found great satisfaction in training others to perform important communications tasks with the support of community participation; and all enabled through technology.

It is important to connect with others using technology for social change, because technology does not, in itself, make an enterprise; relationships do! Daudi, of Ushahidi, emphasized that during the meet-up, saying that technology makes up less than 10% of social tech projects; human partnerships and relationships play most significant part in engendering transformational social and economic change in the long-term.

I think it’s true that the most exciting breakthroughs in our time will not occur because of technology as such, but because of our expanding ability to support each other. This can be enabled through technology, but it is the people themselves who make it happen.

FrontlineSMS has created a customized platform, which can be used to connect with and target communications with local people. During the meet-up we explored the need for improved collaboration between those seeking to monitor the Kenyan elections using FrontlineSMS and other open source technology tools. It was highlighted that it’s important for groups to share key information to avoid duplication of efforts. Continued networking and communication is needed between all stakeholders.

To keep this collaborative ethos on track, a few days after the meet-up a Google group for was formed which will help to provide a platform to share information and developments of various organizations working around Kenya electoral issues.  The Google group will help people to stay connected, but as highlighted; technology does not drive change, it enables change. We should all use this and other channels to share details of our own work, if the group will reach its potential.

Meanwhile, the demand for innovative technology grows, and I continue to train community-based organizations. Soon I will be moving from Kenya to the US, where I hope to join FrontlineSMS user community members based there and continue to exchange shared learning!

If you would like to join the Google Group for FrontlineSMS users based in Kenya planning to monitor upcoming elections click here. You can also engage with our use community on our support forum, and if you’d like to suggest a meet-up in your region or find out where other FrontlineSMS user meet-ups are happening across the world then join our Meet-Ups group on the forum today! o/

FrontlineSMS User Community Connecting Across the World: Next User Meet-Up in Cambodia

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).

Coordinating FrontlineSMS Use in the Upcoming Kenyan Elections

By Dave Algoso

Kenya’s upcoming elections will mark a pivotal moment in the country’s history. As in many countries, elections in Kenya become boiling points for interethnic conflict. The last presidential election, in December 2007, led to the worst violence the country has seen in recent history: over 1,300 Kenyans died and hundreds of thousands were displaced.

Although calm was restored within a few months, the country still faces several obstacles on its road to peace. The International Criminal Court will soon move to trials for four political elites accused of instigating the post-election violence. This increase in accountability may dampen future violence, but it also stokes tensions: two of the four intend to run for president, and their supporters smell politics behind the court’s process.

Another complicating factor is Kenya's new constitution, approved in a contentious but peaceful vote in August 2010. The new constitution decentralizes the government and puts more constraints on executive power. This lowers the stakes of winning the presidency, which should reduce the incentive for violence. However, decentralization also brings a potentially bewildering array of new offices to vote for, throwing a monkey wrench into political allegiances as well as election administration.

With the next general election now set to occur in March 2013, peacebuilders and democracy advocates in Kenya are looking for innovative ways to monitor election results and violence. Kenya’s high levels of mobile penetration and literacy create ideal conditions for a platform like FrontlineSMS.

One peacebuilding group, the African Great Lakes Initiative (AGLI), is building on its experience using FrontlineSMS to monitor Burundi’s 2010 elections. Working with its Democracy and Peace Groups in Burundi, AGLI provided cell phones and training to 160 citizen reporters in 9 communities. The citizen groups used the phones to report on election irregularities and violence, and used FrontlineSMS software to redistribute their reports to a larger group of community members.

AGLI plans to replicate and expand on this model in Kenya. The organization plans on recruiting and training one thousand citizen reporters in western Kenya. AGLI is also partnering with local government officials and other organizations to ensure effective responses to the information gathered. These types of relationships were critical to the system’s success in Burundi, as described by AGLI’s David Zarembka.

FrontlineSMS has been working to promote partnerships that make good use of the platform in Kenya’s elections. This has included hosting an online discussion where AGLI was joined in discussion by Konrad-Adenauer Foundation (KAS) and KAS’s partner Nyanza Partners for Peace Alliance, who are both part of the Partnerships for Peace project. The groups discussed effective ways to engage citizen reporters, as well as the benefits of open versus closed networks of reporters. Dave (AGLI) made the point that even a small-scale system can have a large impact. Hanna Carlsson of KAS and Joseph Owuondo of Nyanza Partners for Peace Alliance discussed the potential of pairing Crowdmap and FrontlineSMS together, and how this can create a powerful tool for advocacy, particularly at the international level.

To promote more collaboration, FrontlineSMS will host a meet-up in its Nairobi office (FF16 Bishop Magua Centre, Ngong Road, Kilimani) on 4 April, 1-2pm EAT. Representatives from various groups will be able to share ideas and coordinate action in the lead up to the elections. The ultimate aim of these efforts is to provide Kenyan and international actors with the information they need to ensure honest elections, combat political manipulation, and resolve conflicts before they turn violent. Given the negative impacts that further violence would have on Kenya and the region, this moment calls for creative ideas and dedicated implementation.

If you’re interested in this topic and/ or in attending the upcoming meet-up in Kenya please email to let us know. You can also join this forum discussion about the meet-up and the use of FrontlineSMS in the Kenyan elections.

This post was written by Dave Algoso, who is a development professional and writer based in Nairobi, Kenya. Dave normally blogs at Find What Works.

FrontlineSMS User Meet-up in Haiti: The First of Many Global Meet-Ups!

FrontlineSMS meet-up in Haiti

It is well known that “the whole is more than the sum of its parts,” and this was certainly shown by recent FrontlineSMS user meet-up in Haiti. The meet-up started as three people interested in learning about FrontlineSMS and grew to be a meeting of nearly 20 people, all of whom are involved in social change projects in Haiti and are either actively using or interested in using FrontlineSMS. This meet-up was organized by FrontlineSMS Hero Tom Marentette, who reports on the event below. This will hopefully be the first of many FrontlineSMS organized user meet-ups across the world. If you would like to arrange a FrontlineSMS meet-up in your local area please indicate your interest in this new Meet-Ups Group on our FrontlineSMS user forum!

By Tom Marentette, FrontlineSMS Hero o/

Recently, while working in Haiti on the Notre Dame Haiti Program, I had an opportunity to meet some amazing folks doing great things in aid and development to assist Haitian communities. This group also shared a common interest in the application of FrontlineSMS in their respective work. It's quite an interesting story on how this meeting came together and the resulting benefits.

This all started when I found I'd be travelling to Haiti, and two individuals I met on a TechChange course on Mobiles for Development were already working in the country. We therefore decided to have an informal lunch meeting to discuss mobile tech and more specifically, FrontlineSMS. Our  group moderator on the TechChange course, Flo Scialom (FrontlineSMS Community Support Coordinator), offered to help pull members of the FrontlineSMS community together for the meeting.

Sharing stories on mobile tech and social change

Each day, as we criss-crossed Port-au-Prince and Leogane with meetings at various ISP's and Mobile Network Operators, I'd get an email from Flo, "Tom, do you have room for one more?", "Do you have space for another?"...etc...So what started with three or four for lunch, turned into 17 individuals, representing five continents and eight countries - and a full blown FrontlineSMS user group luncheon at the Babako Restaurant in Port-au-Prince. We had organizations at the table representing public health, microfinance, sexual violence, IDP camp resettlements, human rights abuses, education, and others. It really was inspiring to look around that table and realize how many people in Haiti were benefiting from the work of these individuals and their organizations. A true force multiplier!

After some not-so-brief introductions (remember we had 17), we discussed issues around getting started with the software. This included everything from modem hardware compatibility, to running FrontlineSMS on MacOS, and managing incoming/ outgoing SMS. We also covered local resources within Digicel in Port-au-Prince, that can prove helpful in choosing the right modem, and supporting any possible setup issues. Of those at lunch, there were a couple of groups that had FrontlineSMS instances up and running, and others were interested in using it in their respective work, including us with the Notre Dame Haiti Program.

Sharing stories about FrontlineSMS use in Haiti

Next, the talk revolved around other mobile and open-source tools in the development space, such as RapidSMS, Ushahidi, OpenMRS and more. So this group was not so much about a single software application, but more about affecting change with any technology - a community of practice around the way technology can impact development and social change.

Finally, as we finished lunch (and by the way the food at Babako was as delicious as the conversation), we talked about the importance of working together, sharing our successes and failures, and staying in touch. The big win was looking around the table and realizing that as diverse as our needs and applications are we all shared a common purpose, enthusiasm and a collective knowledge, to affect positive change with mobile technology.

Call it community of practice, collective passion, or human synergy. This was a testimony to The Awesome Power of Connecting People! We are stronger together!

Thanks so much to Tom for his amazing work and enthusiasm in organizing this meet-up! o/ To organize a FrontlineSMS meet-up and / or connect with others using FrontlineSMS in your local area please join the new Meet-Ups Group on the FrontlineSMS forum.