August 9, 2012
RapidSMS: Saving a life in 160 characters
Mobile phones and simple text messages are being used to tackle everything from food shortages to childhood HIV across Africa. The BBC report.
Unicef has its own Innovation Unit, responsible for using new technologies to solve big problems. One of the tools it has developed is an open source system called RapidSMS, which harnesses the power of text messaging for data collection and group communication.
"Unicef country officers were looking at how they could get better data in real time," says the agency’s innovation officer Erica Kochi. So, she says that four years ago the unit started by thinking about ways that smart phones and tablets might be used to help with that. But that proved too expensive, and too dependent on data networks that just weren't there yet.
"So we started looking at SMS as a way of transmitting information, and we realized we could do a lot."
They didn't have to wait long for their first test case. At the time Unicef's Innovation Unit was dreaming up RapidSMS, country officers in Ethiopia said they needed help urgently with their food distribution. The entire Sahel region was experiencing drought, and severe food shortages. "We didn't know how much food there was at a given location at a given point in time," says Kochi. "People were filling out paper forms, but those wouldn't get to the supply people in the capital in time. Some places would have too much food, and other places would go without for weeks."
And so the Innovation Unit started working on a simple group SMS messaging system that could tie into the internet and a server. Instead of relying on paper forms, field workers could use text messages and a database to track food supplies. "It took us three to four weeks to build and deploy," Kochi says.
Read full article.
Link to RapidSMS case studies.
The Permanent Link to this page is: http://www.textually.org/textually/archives/2012/08/030961.htm