Mobile phones for advocacy and social transformation

Mobiles phones and advocacy

NTEN and MobileActive.org are announcing the second MobileActive Guide, profiling strategies and civil society organizations using mobile phones in their work to make the world a better place. The second MobileActive Guide focuses on using mobile phones in issue advocacy. The guide features case studies from around the world, strategies for using mobile phones in advocacy work, and a how-to section for advocacy organizations considering using mobile phones to advance their causes.

MobileActive recently released their second strategy guide on using mobiles for non-profit, civil society activism. Titled Strategy Guide #2: Using Mobile Phones in Advocacy Campaigns it’s an interesting, albeit short, look at the manner in which mobile phones have been, and can be used in social transformation and advocacy campaigns. As the documents notes, SMS can add value to advocacy campaigns augmenting the speed with which messages travel, with corresponding increases in response times by the target audience, broader reach and more effective coverage leading to a larger footprint for outreach activities, the ubiquity of mobile phones lending themselves as devices for communication and information dissemination, the accessibility to young people and the ability to support a campaign by disseminating key information to activists on a just-in-time basis.

The document goes on to mention several interesting case studies from around the world,and in particular highlights FrontlineSMS, which looks like a tremendously powerful tool, free to boot, that organisations can download and use for SMS campaigns. The only caveat I can see is that the programme only runs on WindowsXP, and as I’ve noted elsewhere in this blog, when the trend is to be platform agnostic and move into a web services model, this lock in to a platform that for many in the Global South is only accessible through high prices or piracy, is unfortunate. It looks, however, a powerful application and I would be interested to hear the stories of any NGOs who use it.

Frontline SMS

The document ends with a couple of interesting lessons learned. Lesson learned #2 is particularly interesting, given my own experience with a very large mobile telecoms provider in Sri Lanka. Noting that it’s important to work with a mobile vendor, the document avers that to “conduct an effective large-scale mobile advocacy campaign, you’ll need to work with a mobile vendor who can help you with setup, implementation, list management, and understanding metrics”.

Juxtapose this to this cryptic email answer I got from the CSR division of the mobile telecoms provider I approached with an idea for the use of mobiles to support the peace process:

I;m not sure if we’ll be keen to get into the peace line, since we operate in the north and east.

So much for CSR and peacebuilding…

In fact, the document only mentions a single human rights campaign that used SMS in collecting petition signatures. This is both interesting and regrettable – interesting because it clearly demonstrates the potential to scale up such approaches and strategies for the use of mobiles, and regrettable because there aren’t more examples, in the document, of similar experiences from other conflict & post-conflict zones. As I’ve noted earlier on this blog, even organisations such as Amnesty International have much to learn in online petitions – and the advent of mobile based petitions may clear the path for even small CBOs to ratchet up campaigns in support of human rights & democracy.

I would personally love to see the use of mobiles for peacebuilding and online dispute resolution (ODR).

Katrin Verclas, who edited this short publication, and I had a lengthy Skype conversation in early January this year where we explored some conceptual and practical uses of mobiles in social activism and transformation. I’m looking forward to reading more from MobileActive.org in the future.

More reading:
Mobile phones, laptops and ODR
News and information through SMS: A Second Look at Jasminenews
Building peace through ICT: Ideas for practical projects
The future of protesting
Mobiles and peacebuilding
Mobiles phones: Access and content development

Defeating Repressive Regimes
Mobile Phone Futures

7 Comments on “Mobile phones for advocacy and social transformation”

  1. Katrin
    February 24, 2007 at 8:51 am #

    Thanks for this great post. And yes, I would like to see more examples of using mobiles in human rights work and more stories from using mobiles for peace building. I hope you will report on it when you learn about campaigns and projects. MobileActive is a community effort, for sure! Thanks and have a good weekend!

    Katrin

  2. Darryl D'Souza
    March 3, 2007 at 5:25 pm #

    I was happy to read this article. I carried out a small communication campaign for peace in the western region of India among young people. The emphasis was on young people writing their peace experiences in the form of short film scripts and then filming those stories in groups. It was an effective experiment in capacity building for Peace Education.
    At present I am doing a PhD on Mobile Phone for Conscientization and Advocacy. Your article has good insights. I will be glad to know more experiments on the Mobile phone’s use in Conscientization, Advocay, Social transformation. Insights and ideas are welcome. Carry on the good work on this blog.

  3. Ken Banks
    May 13, 2007 at 3:48 am #

    A nice posting, as everyone seems to agree! I originally developed FrontlineSMS about two years ago and funding and timeframe constraints meant that it was written only for Windows-based machines. In the past week I have just secured cosniderable funding to build a truly open source platform-independent version of the software. The project will start over the summer and a number of national and international NGOs will be involved. A new re-vamped FrontlineSMS website will also be launched. Keep and eye at http://www.frontlinesms.com for details. Thanks

  4. Ken Banks
    May 13, 2007 at 3:50 am #

    A nice posting, as everyone seems to agree! I originally developed FrontlineSMS about two years ago and funding and timeframe constraints meant that it was written only for Windows-based machines. In the past week I have just secured considerable funding to build a truly open source platform-independent version of the software. The new version will probably be Java-based. The project will start over the summer and a number of national and international NGOs will be involved. A new re-vamped FrontlineSMS website will also be launched. Keep an eye at http://www.frontlinesms.com for details. Thanks

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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