Internews Center for Innovation & Learning

Internews Center for Innovation & Learning
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Setting up a mobile two-way communication system in the world largest refugee camp

In August 2011 Internews conducted an assessment in Dadaab on Information needs. In light of the findings of that assessment with regard to mobile phone access in the camps, Internews decided to partner with Souktel to provide the Humanitarian Information Service Project in Dadaab with key mobile technology components to directly communicate with local communities using mobile phones.

Based on Souktel experience and expertise in the region, and in partnering with Star FM, this system will create a customized SMS-based informational alert and survey/opinion polling systems for the HIS.

The SMS systems will be used for a variety of media-integrated service. This will enable, to name a few:

·      listeners to "text" in their questions and feedback to the HIS/radio station in real-time;

·      for the radio station to send out news updates, informational announcements and emergency alerts to subscribed listeners;

·      the radio station will be able to launch surveys of listeners to assess listener satisfaction

·      the radio station will be able to run opinion polls of the audience, on everything from content feedback (i.e., "which topics do you want to hear more about? 1 = health services 2 = education services 3 = food distribution 5 = family reunification"), to "plot polling" (i.e., for radio shows that have plot-driven character narratives, you can survey the audience to "help" the character make the right choice - ex. "How should Abdullah react to finding out his wife works outside the home? 1 = he should strike her for not obeying 2 = he should talk to her about how he feels about it 3 = he should make her new boss fire her 4 = he should congratulate her).

All SMS-based interactions with the system (i.e. texting in feedback, responding to surveys and opinion polls) will be the cost of a local SMS for the listener, as Souktel will set up a dedicated local number for the news service.

Souktel will carry out the following connectivity processes for Internews. 

a)    Negotiation and signature of network gateway contracts and bulk SMS pricing plans with mobile networks and/or third-party mobile network gateway access providers, to enable SMS messaging to/from service users in Kenya via messaging gateway.

b)    Connectivity activation, testing, and de-bugging of components described in coordination with mobile networks and/or third-party mobile network gateway access providers.

c)    Ongoing purchasing of all outgoing bulk SMS messages, upon request of Internews, in coordination with mobile networks and/or third-party mobile network gateway access providers.

Once it completes each milestone, Souktel will provide all back-end database server hosting for the SMS messaging service and software platform. Souktel will also provide in-person training to Internews staff, and technical support.

We are very excited about this project because we have been trying to work with Souktel for very long time. Knowing and following their projects from the Mali Speaks project to the JobMatch project in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, we are very happy to finally be working with them in Dadaab and hopefully expand in other places soon.

One question that I had people asking me several times is: “Why Souktel and not an open source, free system?” The answer for this is very simple:

  • We preferred a system that does not work out of SIM cards but directly with the SMS servers. This will make it possible to have messages coming in and out in real time, and not every 7 seconds.
  • The fact that Souktel deals with the negotiation with the mobile providers is a plus, since it saves us a lot of time but also money
  • Souktel offers an interface that can be used online, so from any computer, and that can be expanded easily to include an IVR system. This can be managed always from the same interface and in the same system, with no need to install additional software.
  • Free Open source software are a good and incredible resource, and we are committed to use it as much as we can, but on the other side there is a sustainability issue that we need to consider. Often, when leaving behind a technology system that needs to be managed by a local organization, the local technical capacity and human resources available to manage the system are an importan variable. Sometimes a paid, customize system offers more opportunity for us to provide support even when we are not in the country anymore. 

The Souktel system will be operational in a couple of months, and we will keep everyone up to date on the usage, the development of the project and the results. Stay Tuned!


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