By Timo Luege, TC103: Tech Tools and Skills for Emergency Management facilitator

As Ebola continues to ravage Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, people from all around the world are working together to stop the disease. In addition to the life saving work of medical staff, logisticians and community organizers, information and communication technology (ICT) is also playing a vital part in supporting their work.

After consulting the TechChange Alumni community and other experts in international development and humanitarian assistance, I pulled together a list of different technologies being applied to manage Ebola. Below are six examples showing how ICT is already making a difference in the current crisis.

1. Tracing outbreaks with mapping and geolocation
Aside from isolating patients in a safe environment, one of the biggest challenges in the Ebola response is tracing all contacts that an infected person has been in touch with. While that is difficult enough in developed countries, imagine how much more difficult it is in countries where you don’t know the names of many of the villages. It’s not very helpful if someone tells you “I come from Bendou” if you don’t know how many villages with that name exist nor where they are. The Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team has helped this process through creating maps since the beginning of the response.

See: West Africa Ebola Outbreak – Six months of sustained efforts by the OpenStreetMap community.

Monrovia OSM pre-Ebola
Map of Monrovia in OpenStreetMap before and after volunteers mapped the city in response to the Ebola crisis. (Humanitarian OpenStreetMap)

In addition, the Standby Task Force is supporting the response by helping to collect, clean and verify data about health facilities in the affected countries. The information will then be published on UN OCHA’s new platform for sharing of humanitarian data.

2. Gathering Ebola information with digital data collection forms
Contact tracing involves interviewing a lot of people and in most cases that means writing information down on paper which then has to be entered into a computer. That process is both slow and prone to errors. According to this Forbes article, US based Magpi, who just won a Kopernik award, is helping organizations working in the Ebola response to replace their paper forms with digital forms that enumerators can fill out using their phones.

Digital forms not only save time and prevent errors when transcribing information, well designed digital forms also contain simple error checking routines such as “you can’t be older than 100 years”.

If you are interested in digital forms, check out the free and open source Kobo Toolbox.

3. Connecting the sick with their relatives using local Wi-Fi networks
Elaine Burroughs, a Save the Children staff member who is also TechChange alumna of Mobiles for International Development, shared that they are using their local Wi-Fi network to connect patients in the isolation ward with the relatives through video calls. Both computers have to be within the same network because local internet connections are too slow. In situations where video calls are not possible, they provide patients with cheap mobile phones so that they can talk with their relatives that way. Elaine added: “Several survivors have told us that what kept them going was being able to speak with their family and not feel so isolated when surrounded by people in hazmat suits.”

4. Sharing and receiving Ebola information via SMS text messages
I have heard about a number of different SMS systems that are currently being set up. Some are mainly to share information, others also to receive information.

mHero is an SMS system specifically designed to share information with health workers. It works with UNICEF’s RapidPro system, a white label version of Kigali-based TextIt which is one of the best SMS communication systems I know. RapidPro is also at the heart of a two-way communication system that is currently being set up by UNICEF, Plan International, and the Scouts.

The IFRC is of course using TERA to share SMS, a system that was developed in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake and already used in Sierra Leone during a recent cholera outbreak.

5. Mythbusting for diaspora communities via social media
Social media also has a place, though not as much as some people think. With internet penetration at less than 5 per cent in Liberia and less than 2 per cent in Sierra Leone and Guinea, it is simply not relevant for most people – unlike radio for example. However, all of these countries have huge diasporas. The Liberian diaspora in the US alone is thought to be as many as 450,000 people strong – and they all have access to social media. Experiences from Haiti and the Philippines show that the diaspora is an important information channel for the people living in affected countries. Very often they assume that their relatives in the US or Europe will know more, not least because many don’t trust their own governments to tell the truth.
Social media can play an important role in correcting misinformation and indeed, both the WHO and the CDC are using their social media channels in this way.

6. Supporting translations of Ebola information remotely online
Last but not least, Translators Without Borders is helping NGOs remotely from all over the world to translate posters into local languages.

Low tech does it
As a final word, I’d like to add that while technology can make a real difference we must not forget that very often low tech solutions will be more efficient than high tech solutions – it depends on what is more appropriate for the context. So don’t start an SMS campaign or launch a drone just because you can. It’s not about what you want to do. It’s not about technology. It’s about what’s best for the people we are there to help.

A Summary Infographic

TechChange Ebola Infographic

We will be discussing these technology tools, Ebola, and many similar issues in TC103: Tech Tools and Skills for Emergency Management and TC103: mHealth – Mobiles for Public Health. Register by October 31 and save $50 off each of these courses.

Do you have additional examples of how ICT is helping in the Ebola response? Please share them in the comments!

This post originally appeared in Social Media for Good.

About the TC103 facilitator: Timo Luege

Timo Luege

After nearly ten years of working as a journalist (online, print and radio), Timo worked four years as a Senior Communications Officer for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) in Geneva and Haiti. During this time he also launched the IFRC’s social media activities and wrote the IFRC social media staff guidelines. He then worked as Protection Delegate for International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Liberia before starting to work as a consultant. His clients include UN agencies and NGOs. Among other things, he wrote the UNICEF “Social Media in Emergency Guidelines” and contributed to UNOCHA’s “Humanitarianism in the Network Age”. Over the last year, Timo advised UNHCR- and IFRC-led Shelter Clusters in Myanmar, Mali and most recently the Philippines on Communication and Advocacy. He blogs at Social Media for Good and is the facilitator for the TechChange online course, “Tech Tools & Skills for Emergency Management“.

The field of digital data collection is constantly and rapidly changing, and as we’ve seen in the many iterations of our online courses on Mobiles for International Development and mHealth, Magpi has been a leading innovator in mobile data collection.

That’s why we were not surprised to learn that Magpi has been ranked “Top Digital Data Collection App” by Kopernik, a Rockefeller Foundation and Asia Community Ventures non-profit that ranks technology for development tools in their “Impact Tracker Technology” program.

Rankings for this category were based on scoring for criteria including affordability, usability, rapidity – the “ability to send and receive large volumes of data on a real-time basis”, scalability, and transferability – “flexibility in using the services for different purposes, sectors, and contexts”. This is first time Magpi has appeared on this Kopernik list where the judges tested the tools in the field.

For those who might not yet be familiar with Magpi, it is a user-friendly mobile data collection application that works on various mobile devices. Magpi uses SMS and audio messaging, and is built specifically for organizations with limited IT and financial resources. The company formally known as DataDyne is now Magpi and they have retired the DataDyne name as well as updated their website here, which lists some of the new comprehensive features they’ve recently added. Magpi is led by Joel Selanikio, who is also an Assistant Professor at Georgetown University’s Department of Pediatrics

Congratulations to the Magpi team! We look forward to having you guys join us again in our upcoming online courses!

My current focus on tourism development led me to explore how some of the tech tools discussed in the Mobiles for International Development class can be applied in the tourism industry. In particular, a large part of the tourism assessment and development process involves both evaluating the visitor experience in a destination and examining the attitudes of local residents towards tourism development.

Surveys are the most common tools for carrying out these evaluations, but most of the time they result in stacks of papers that need to be keyed into a computer, introducing errors and wasting valuable time. In the M4D class, we saw a physical example of this where a pickup truck was loaded with stacks of questionnaires.

Today, mobiles and tablets are overcoming the challenges faced by paper-based surveys and evaluations as they bring efficiency, a variety of user-friendly survey platforms, and real-time feedback.

1. Quick and easy access to better processed surveys
Compared with paper questionnaires, a more efficient data collection method would be to use the Formhub tool that we learned about during the course. The additional cost of purchasing a few basic tablets and rugged cases could be offset by savings in labor costs for data entry and the added value of the data being processed in a more timely and accurate manner.

2. Variety of user-friendly survey platforms
The advantage of a tablet over a smartphone is that the tablet more closely resembles a paper format questionnaire, making it easy to hand over to visitors or residents to complete. Formhub can also be used offline; completed questionnaires can be uploaded once a connection is reestablished, making it particularly useful in remote tourism destinations lacking wifi or cell service.

Since visitor surveys are usually carried out in places where large numbers of tourists congregate (city plazas, transportation system waiting areas, etc.), the survey-takers often hand out paper forms to many people simultaneously, presenting a potential disadvantage for Formhub if only a few tablets are available. A potential solution could be a QR code to scan that takes tourists to a web site on their own personal smartphones to complete the questionnaire. This method could be used in conjunction with the tablets (i.e. tablets could be used for those visitors without smart phones). There would have to be measures in place to ensure that the same person doesn’t submit multiple questionnaires, but I think that could be designed relatively simply.

3. Real-time feedback
Another way to make surveys valuable to both tourists and destination planners and developers, would be to couple geolocation with an SMS service. Tourists could opt in to the program upon arrival at a destination, and upon entering certain geofences they would automatically receive an informational text describing the attraction with links to more information if they’re interested. For instance, upon approaching a monument a visitor could receive historical information about the attraction, or upon entering a local market the user could receive a link to a detailed map showing where certain stalls are located. This system could be coupled with an SMS survey system like TextIt. This way, the destination could get real-time feedback from tourists about certain aspects of an attraction as the visitor is experiencing it (i.e. rating scale questions about customer service, facilities, etc.). This would help to eliminate the problem of recall bias that often exists when tourists are asked to recall certain aspects of their trip days (or weeks) after it’s over.

There’s obviously a ton of potential for mobile tech in the context of tourism, from the inspiration and planning stages, to booking and experiencing, to sharing the tourism experience with others. I’m super excited to see what kind of apps and novel technologies will be launched in the next few years to further enhance and add layers of value to the tourism experience.

About Jason Kreiselman

Jason Kreiselman

When he’s not backpacking through far-off corners of the planet, Jason Kreiselman works as a digital marketing specialist with Brand USA in Washington DC helping to promote international visitation to the U.S. He also works with the International Institute of Tourism Studies conducting tourism research for public and private sector clients. Jason spent four years in Ecuador as an ICT Advisor to the Peace Corps where he worked to promote small businesses and secure grants for organizations focusing on environmental conservation and sustainable development.

Jason holds a Master of Tourism Administration degree with a concentration in Sustainable Destination Management from The George Washington University. You can find him on LinkedIn here.

Interested in learning more about this topic of digital options for surveys and evaluation? Register now for our Technology for Monitoring & Evaluation online course, which runs 26 January – 20 February 2015.

Photo credit: First Access


In the fight against poverty, microcredit has been hailed as one of the most successful tools invented to help enterprising men and women build wealth in the developing world. Access to small loans has certainly been a game changer for many low-income individuals. I have seen microcredit make a positive impact on real people through my work at TechnoServe, a non-profit committed to applying business solutions to alleviate poverty. In fact, many development organizations are dedicated to similar business-centric initiatives, helping entrepreneurs build successful businesses by connecting them with capital, networks, and skills training. This work is vital to reducing poverty, but these organizations do not have the capacity to help everyone in need. There are still 2.5 billion men and women around the world without basic financial services.

During a recent course I took with TechChange on Mobiles for International Development, I was very impressed by First Access, an SMS-based loan assessment tool. This technology has the potential to give the 2.5 billion adults without a formal bank account an instant credit history. With a credit history, these individuals would have the ability to take out a loan. First Access uses pre-paid mobile phone data to assess credit risk and deliver a loan recommendation via SMS to potential borrowers in just a few seconds. Instead of sending a financial representative to a potential borrower’s house to assess risk, the loan representative could simply send an SMS.

This technology is impressive because it uses already existing financial and demographic data registered with telecommunications companies to determine loan eligibility. It is a more objective, standardized system, unlike the current loan assessment technique in many developing nations, which can be based on the materials used to construct your house or the opinions of your neighbors. First Access benefits all parties, particularly financial institutions by saving them time and money cutting down on the cumbersome loan assessment process, as well as phone companies through increased data usage and customer loyalty.

By using the already aggregated data for the 6.3 billion active mobile subscriptions around the world, First Access is, in many ways, simply acting as a liaison between different parties. To make the technology successful, strong partnerships with financial institutions and telecommunications companies need to be established. The alignment of interests will be a huge obstacle in many markets. First Access has the most potential for success in Africa, as many African countries are already using mobile money programs, which should make borrowers less reluctant to adopt the technology. However, First Access could be dangerous in countries where political, religious, or ethnic tensions are prevalent, as the assessment process might be forced to deny some applicants and grant loans to others.

Financial institutions bear the biggest risk in using this new technology to assess credit eligibility. First Access is unclear about how the assessment process determines the loan award, simply stating it is based on demographic, geographic, financial, and social information. It seems borrowers could manipulate the process by artificially inflating their social networks or using someone else’s address. The potential for a mobile phone black-market is even more of risk. A strong mobile device fraud-assessment would need to be built into the financial assessment process. This could easily be negotiated with the telecommunications companies to help increase legitimate phone sales, as well as lowering the risk for financial institutions.

First Access could potentially connect over half of the world’s population to microcredit services through its convenient loan assessment process. It’s quick, easy to use, and it doesn’t require excessive outside intervention, or hands on training. For the first time, these billions of unbanked men and women would be given the opportunity to start a business with the click of a button. This technology is empowering people by giving financial institutions objective, standardized data. No longer will people be judged by the material of their roof, but the data stored by their phones.


Tessa Ruddy is a first-year graduate student at the Elliott School of International Affairs at the George Washington University. She is studying international development and conflict resolution and recently took TechChange’s Mobiles for International Development course. She is passionate about the impact of development work in pre and post conflict communities, particularly the use of SMS-based technology to connect people with financial services.

Mercy (pictured with Maeghan Ray Orton from Medic Mobile) at UMCom workshop in Malawi

Posted by TechChange alumnus, Neelley Hicks, ICT4D Director of United Methodist Communications.

Mobile phones seem to be everywhere in Africa, and they’re keeping people in touch with health, education, banking, and community empowerment.

“Email and Facebook are problems…but this text messaging – it’s no problem,” says Betty Kazadi Musau who lives in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

In early August 2013, I spent the week with Mercy Chikhosi Nyirongo, who provides healthcare in communities in Malawi. Recently, she took an online course through TechChange called “Mobile Phones for Public Health.” She wondered what impact mobile phones could have on her health program in Madisi, so she conducted a test.

The problem: HIV+ men were not coming to the support group and health management classes.

The test: Separate into two control groups – one would receive text reminders about the next meeting and the other would not.

The results: Out of the 20 who did not receive text messages, five attended. Out of the 30 who did receive text messages, 25 attended and were standing in queue when she arrived.

One client said, “You reached me where I was.” This isn’t a small thing. Often community health workers walk miles to find someone only to learn they are away. But the mobile phones stay with the person – making them much easier to reach.

Mercy conducted this test directly through her mobile phone and it took her nearly all day. But with FrontlineSMS, she can enter mobile numbers easily for group messaging. She said, “After the online course, the UMCom workshop (in Blantyre), and these conversations, my eyes have become wide open.”

Join us in our next round of Mobiles for International Development and mHealth: Mobiles for Public Health online courses! 

To read the original post on Neelley’s blog, “Stories in ICT4D”, please click here.

By Timo Luege, TC103: Tech Tools and Skills for Emergency Management facilitator

Working in humanitarian aid and disaster relief across several countries, I first joined the TechChange community as a student in the Tech Tools and Skills for Emergency Management online course in January 2012, and will soon be guiding discussions as a facilitator for the next round of the course that begins March 17, 2014. Since TechChange has offered this emergency management course six times since 2011, I’ve enjoyed stepping up my participation from student, to guest speaker, tech simulation demonstrator, to now a facilitator.

In my opinion, disaster management is a field where nobody is really an expert in that different people have varied areas of expertise. A facilitated TechChange course like TC103 is an opportunity to get people of different backgrounds together, which is especially valuable in a field like disaster management, which evolves so quickly and can be tough to keep track of.

Here are five lessons I have learned over the course of seven years of working in disaster response across Haiti, Liberia, Myanmar, Mali, and most recently the Philippines:

During radio programmes like this in the Philippines, disaster responders explained what assistance the survivors could expect in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan. Listeners submitted questions by SMS and via Facebook. Photo credit: Timo Luege

During radio programmes like this in the Philippines, disaster responders explained what assistance the survivors could expect in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan. Listeners submitted questions by SMS and via Facebook. Photo credit: Timo Luege

1. Build relationships early

Emergencies are not the right time for experiments. In the first phase of an emergency, disaster responders easily work 16 hours per day, seven days a week. This is not the right time to introduce new tools, unless they are an immediate time saver. If you are a technology firm, try to build relations with organizations before the next big disaster. Three months after the onset of a disaster can also be a good time to make contact, because at that stage, people have a little time to breathe but the needs are still huge.

Typhoon Haiyan was deadly in two ways: what the wind couldn’t destroy, the storm surge would flatten. Along the coast houses many houses were completely pulverized and cars thrown around like toys. Photo credit: Timo Luege

Typhoon Haiyan was deadly in two ways: what the wind couldn’t destroy, the storm surge would flatten. Along the coast houses many houses were completely pulverized and cars thrown around like toys. Photo credit: Timo Luege

2. Buy smartphones for your staff

Smartphones are amazing mobile tools that can do everything from taking photos to replacing paper forms to saving GPS information; however, many organizations still shy away from putting them into the hands of their staff. A basic, but functional, unlocked Android smartphone costs less than $80 USD in some of the more disaster prone parts of the world, and will save you many times that amount of money in gained productivity. Just think of all the paperforms you don’t have to manually enter.

Survivors tried to salvage as many building materials as possible, including wood, corrugated iron sheeting and even nails so that they could repair their homes as quickly as possible. Photo credit: Timo Luege

Survivors tried to salvage as many building materials as possible, including wood, corrugated iron sheeting and even nails so that they could repair their homes as quickly as possible. Photo credit: Timo Luege

3. Use tools that the affected population is familiar with

Information is critical for disaster affected people and they are eager to hear what is going on – even if it is bad news. Don’t try to impose your technology of choice on the affected people – find out what works for them. In one country it might be SMS, in another Facebook and in a third it will be old fashioned radio broadcasts or a combination of the above. As an organization, when designing your programmes, don’t focus on the tools but on what you want to achieve.

Even concrete houses like this could not withstand the force of the storm surge and were completely annihilated. Typhoon Haiyan damaged or destroyed close to 1.1 million homes. Photo credit: Timo Luege

Even concrete houses like this could not withstand the force of the storm surge and were completely annihilated. Typhoon Haiyan damaged or destroyed close to 1.1 million homes. Photo credit: Timo Luege

4. Make sure the tools you use work offline

Even in a country like the Philippines, where the infrastructure is comparatively good, access to the web will be spotty, particularly after a big disaster like the recent Typhoon Haiyan. Apps and browser-based tools that require you to save information online will only frustrate you. Make sure that whatever tool you are planning to use allows you to save information offline and synchronize later.

In Tacloban, a number of large ships were washed ashore by the typhoon. The survivors used the generators on some of these boats to supply them with electricity. Photo credit: Timo Luege

In Tacloban, a number of large ships were washed ashore by the typhoon. The survivors used the generators on some of these boats to supply them with electricity. Photo credit: Timo Luege

5. Learn Excel

While many new technologies are more sexy and exciting, Excel is the universal language of data during an emergency. Everybody is using it. The more you know about Excel and the better you are able to import data coming from Excel files, the more information you will be able to access, process and analyze and the better your understanding of the situation will be.

Have you worked in emergency management? What are tech tools that you found useful during that disaster?

Interested in learning more? Enroll now in the Tech Tools & Skills for Emergency Management online course, which runs November 24 – December 19, 2014.

About the TC103 facilitator: Timo Luege

Timo Luege

After nearly ten years of working as a journalist (online, print and radio), Timo worked four years as a Senior Communications Officer for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) in Geneva and Haiti. During this time he also launched the IFRC’s social media activities and wrote the IFRC social media staff guidelines. He then worked as Protection Delegate for International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Liberia before starting to work as a consultant. His clients include UN agencies and NGOs. Among other things, he wrote the UNICEF “Social Media in Emergency Guidelines” and contributed to UNOCHA’s “Humanitarianism in the Network Age”. Over the last year, Timo advised UNHCR- and IFRC-led Shelter Clusters in Myanmar, Mali and most recently the Philippines on Communication and Advocacy. He blogs at Social Media for Good.

Posted by Arjen Swank from Text to Change, guest speaker for TC105: Mobiles for International Development

Since 2008, Text to Change (TTC) has been working to provide and collect real-time and accurate information using mobile devices in relevant and meaningful ways to people in developing countries all over the world. As the mobile phone has reached even the most remote places across the world, we have seen how mobiles can empower citizens of developing nations.

Through our experience in partnering with development bodies, NGOs, private companies, governments and other global organizations, there are several key lessons we’ve learned in using mobile phone technology to achieve social change and work to limit continuous dependence on foreign aid.

Here are some of the key insights TTC has learned for best practices for Mobiles for International Development:

1. Keep it simple

One of our Text to Change’s guiding principles is to maintain simplicity in the services we develop and the technologies we use. Our campaigns can reach everyone who has access to a mobile phone, approximately 80% of the developing world. We provide profiled databases, call centers with research capability, and text message platforms that are interactive, easy to use, scalable, and cost-effective – all supported with measurable results.

2. SMS campaigns can reach more people

When TTC worked with the Tanzanian Ministry of Health, they wanted to provide pregnant women, even in the most isolated areas, with important information regarding their health. The goal was to empower them to take the necessary steps for a healthy pregnancy and safe delivery. However, they weren’t able to reach them. TTC launched a large-scale nationwide mHealth SMS campaign targeting these women. Within three months we had 100,000 unique participants. Now the total amount of participants is almost half a million and as we speak there are 260.000 unique participants.

TTC programs create opportunities for people to improve their lives and have reached millions of people across 17 countries in Africa and South America. We help organizations to connect with their, often hard to reach, target groups and create meaningful dialogues.

3. Personalized interaction matters

Because this maternal health campaign was interactive, we were able to determine in what phase of their pregnancy these women were. This way, we could provide them with the right personalized message at the right time. For instance mothers are reminded that they need to visit the clinic for their third ANC visit, when and what medicine to take, or receive information on hygiene and nutrition in a specific week after the delivery. The information can be updated based on inputs from the users or clinic staff, but users can also opt-out or re-opt-in when they (no longer) want to receive the messages.

Want to learn more about Text to Change and how they’ve implemented SMS programs successfully throughout developing countries? Enroll now in mHealth: Mobiles for Public Health and the next round of Mobiles for International Development an online course that will discuss how mobile phones are being used to improve the health of new mothers, share farming best practices, and teach within and outside the classroom across the world.


In recent years, mobile phones have drawn tremendous interest from the conflict management community. Given the successful, high profile uses of mobile phone-based violence prevention in Kenya in voting during 2010 and 2013, what can the global peacebuilding community learn from Kenya’s application of mobile technology to promote peace in other conflict areas around the world? What are the social and political factors that explain why mobile phones can have a positive effect on conflict prevention efforts in general?

1. A population must prefer non-violence since technology magnifies human intent

Context and intent is critical. One of the most important aspects of using mobile phones for conflict management and peacebuilding is recognizing prevailing local political climate. If a population is inclined toward peace in the midst of a tense situation, then mobile phone-based information sharing can help people promote peace and share information about potential hotspots with neighbors and peacebuilding organizations. Of course if the population has drawn lines and it ready to fight, mobile phones and make it far easier to organize violence. As Kentaro Toyama said, technology amplifies human intent and capacity. When integrating technology into conflict management and peacebuilding, the first step is to have a good idea of the population’s intentions before turning up the volume.

Photo: UN Women

Photo: UN Women

2. The events of violence start and stop relative to specific events

In the case of Kenya, violence erupted during particular period in the political calendar, namely during elections. Thus, violence starts and stops relative to external events, as opposed to being a state of sustained warfare. We have to be realistic about what we intend to do with the technology as it relates to peacebuilding or conflict management. In Kenya, prevention is made easier by the fact that the violence occurs around elections; the peacebuilding community has time to reach out to leaders beforehand, set up programs, test software, and organize networks of trusted reporters. It’s a different kettle of fish when violence is unrelated to something like elections, which are predictable. This starts to get into conflict early warning, where there are methodological and data challenges – we’ll be covering these in TC109, since they present some of the most interesting and difficult issues for conflict prevention.

3. The population knows to use their phones to share information about potential violence

Photo: UNDP

So the population prefers peace, and we all know when violence is going to happen. Now we have to make sure everyone knows that there are people listening when text messages are sent in reporting violence, and where those messages should be sent. Training and public outreach are key to making sure there is participation in a text message-based conflict management or peacebuilding program. This has to go on even when there aren’t high risk events like elections looming. One of the best examples of this kind of training and network building is Sisi Ni Amani, a Kenya-based NGO that does SMS peacebuilding, civic participation and governance training, and conflict mitigation around land disputes. By developing capacity within communities between elections, Sisi Ni Amani helps communities be prepared to respond to, and be proactive in, peacebuilding.

4. Third party actors involved in collecting and validating the crowdsourced data.

Never underestimate the value of having a third party involved in validating and rebroadcasting the information that comes from crowdsourced SMS text messages. In situations where trust between communities may be shaky, having the United Nations or a large NGO monitoring and responding to citizen reports can lend institutional credibility to the information being shared by local citizens.

Endnote: These factors were taken as excerpts from a recently published article titled, “Inter-ethnic Cooperation Revisited: Why mobile phones can help prevent discrete event of violence, using the Kenyan case study.” To read the entire published piece in Stability: International Journal of Security & Development, including works cited, please click here.

Charles Martin-Shields is a doctoral candidate at George Mason University’s School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution. He is currently a Fulbright-Clinton Fellow in Samoa, advising their Ministry of Communications and Information Technology on disaster response and data collection. Learn more from his primary research and also from other technology-for-peacebuilding experts by enrolling today in our upcoming Technology for Conflict Management and Peacebuilding course. The course runs January 13 – February 7, 2014. Group discounts available. Please inquire at info [at] techchange [dot] org.


As TechChange and our alumni community continue to grow, we’re sharing the stories of some of our rockstar alumni who have taken the tools they’ve learned and resources from their TechChange courses to make an impact. This week, we traveled to the OpenGov Hub to talk to FrontlineSMS Project Director Trevor Knoblich, who participated in our TC105: Mobiles for International Development course in March-April of 2012. Pursuing his interest in mobile technology in humanitarian response and journalism, Trevor combined his past background with his new connections and knowledge from TC105 to successfully land a job at FrontlineSMS.

Here is Trevor’s story, in his own words.

Why did you decide to take Mobiles for International Development?

Technology in humanitarian assistance was rare in back 2009. Back then, I remember how there was not yet much data sharing and effective data management between aid agencies. As a journalist working in humanitarian response, I became interested in how mobile technology could address various challenges throughout the world. Through my own research, I heard about different projects that involved data mapping and reporting of challenges with service delivery, such as infoasaid, but it was difficult to find a one-stop resource that gave me a good sense of emerging technology in humanitarian work. I wanted to know, what’s happening around the world? What tools are available for me to find out? And what tools are appropriate for my organization?

What was useful to you from TC105?

After doing a search on Google, I found TC105 and immediately enrolled in the course to get an overview of how mobile technology is being applied across international development. I found three key features of TC105 very valuable to me: the relevant information, the interactive experience, and the access to a network of experts in mobile tech.

  1. A central hub for the latest information for mobiles in development. TechChange’s TC105 became a central hub for emerging info and latest applications of mobile technology in the developing world. The TechChange team did a great job at selecting the most relevant and useful information for participants in the course by pulling all types of resources into one space. They included industry reports, real-world and current examples of tools like Magpi and FrontlineSMS, and practical case studies that inspired participants to try the tools out.
  2. Interaction, participation, and global dialogue. The unique interaction built into this TechChange course platform encouraged participation among my classmates. TechChange did a good job of getting participants to talk to each other with game mechanics. I liked the small size of the class that had ongoing global discussion forums (sometimes at 03:00 AM in certain places in the world) and incentives for me to stay actively engaged throughout the entire course. Live demonstrations of the mobile tools discussed in TC105 changed my perception and understanding of how some of those tools were actually used in real life.
  3. Access to a network of industry experts. TechChange invited and vetted an impressive lineup of global experts that presented for TC105. The “Live Event” discussion sessions were especially useful because real practitioners shared their anecdotes of the daily realities they face, and often shared industry resources such as website links and reports that sometimes are not yet on the course syllabus. For example, one of the speakers I remember most was Amy O’Donnell. She was representing FrontlineSMS and was extremely knowledgeable about community radio. In her discussion, she shared research papers and industry knowledge on best practices in the mobile tech space. Beyond these live video conference discussions, TechChange is always pushing for face to face connections when they can through alumni happy hours and a general open door policy.

How did TC105 ultimately impact you and your career?

Taking TC105 ended up being a smart career move. By keeping in touch with Amy O’Donnell, with whom I shared a common communications-oriented background, I eventually landed a job at FrontlineSMS as Project Director for the Knight Media Project. In this role, I manage grants and program design by connecting journalists with FrontlineSMS mobile technology for data management. It’s inspiring work, as I help journalists coordinate their staff, freelancers and citizen journalists, as well as reach out to a broader audience.

Advice from Trevor for taking TC105:

  1. Leverage TC105 within your own organization. If you’re advocating for your organization to adopt these new mobile tools and applications, you will have a variety of useful materials from TC105 to help make your case.
  2. Take TC105 first. Before taking any of the 200 or 300 level courses, TC105 gives you a good overview of emerging mobile technology and will help guide your selection for a deeper dive specific applications of mobile phones..
  3. Participate as much as you can. You’ll ultimately get more out of the course the more engaged you are with your classmates, the professionals who are presenting, and the TechChange staff.

About Trevor

Trevor joined FrontlineSMS in June 2012, and leads FrontlineSMS’ Knight Media Project. Prior to joining FrontlineSMS, Trevor worked as a humanitarian response coordinator with Lutheran World Relief, developing practices and protocols for emergency response in developing countries. His experience includes developing mapping and tracking systems for deployment of humanitarian aid.  Before that, Trevor worked as a federal policy reporter in Washington, DC. His role allows him to combine his skills and experience in both international development and journalism. You can find him on Twitter @mobiletrevor.

To enroll in the next TC105 session, please click here.

By Nicole Emmett, graduate student, George Washington University

Imagine you’re a citizen in a country where over half of the population is under the age of 18 and few are over the age of 55. You enter the job market along with 400,000 other qualified youths, only to learn that you’re all competing for a meager 9,000 jobs. The prospects don’t look good. You’re frustrated. There are so many other problems your family and community are facing. A job and an income would help tremendously. You just want to be heard but you can’t find a voice. If only there was a way to be a part of the conversation with your local community, its leaders, and perhaps even Members of Parliament…

The country you were just imagining is real. Uganda has the world’s youngest population with the highest rate of youth unemployment at 62% in 2012. And that’s not the only problem the country is facing. Ugandans also worry about disease, adequate food supply, clean drinking water, health, and education among many, many other issues. But how can aid agencies or the government determine which of these many issues are important to the people they serve? Are the issues determined by demographics such as location, age, or gender? That’s where uReport comes in.

uReport is an SMS-based system that allows Ugandans (specifically youth) to speak out about what’s happening in their community. By texting the word JOIN to 8500 and providing additional information such as home district, age, and gender, any Ugandan can become a uReporter! UNICEF Uganda created the platform using the free, open-sourced software RapidSMS which allows the aid agency to quickly and easily push out information and polling questions to uReporters via SMS.

In the first year, 89,000 Ugandans became uReporters. Today there are more than 200,000! uReporters receive weekly SMS messages with information on topics such as female genital mutilation, disease awareness, safe water, early marriage, education, and health. In return, uReporters respond to survey questions with a simple yes or no, and have the option to provide more details via text. uReporters provide invaluable information to UNICEF, who then can share the information with other aid agencies and the Ugandan government, improving service delivery across the country.

UNICEF and other agencies have also begun to use uReport as an extension of their monitoring and evaluation system. uReport is a simple, inexpensive, and effective way to get real-time feedback on projects in the field and to ensure that aid programs are being targeted correctly. And because users provide demographic information at the time of registration, UNICEF can dissect the data and decide where to concentrate their resources and programs. This is so important at a time where every aid agency is working with limited resources and must get the most bang for their buck.

uReport has proven so successful in its first two years that even the Ugandan Parliament has joined in! Oleru Hude Abason, a Member of Parliament from the Yumbe district, was one of the first MPs to join uReport as a way to keep in touch with her constituents needs. Parliament has even created their own version of uReport – U Speak – to conduct constituent outreach. While it may have not been the original intent of the application, uReporters are now able to interact with government officials and hold them accountable like never before.

The success of uReport has been astounding. It’s innovation for information, improved service delivery, and real-time policy creation and has the potential to do so much more. It is Uganda’s next killer app!