Mobile meets citizen reporter in Mozambique

In this, the twentieth in our series of FrontlineSMS guest posts, Marcelo Mosse – Executive Director of the Centre for Public Integrity in Mozambique – talks about their use of the software in promoting citizen engagement in monitoring their national elections, and in their efforts to promote transparency in government

“The Centre for Public Integrity of Mozambique (CIP) is a not-for-profit, non-partisan, independent organisation, endowed with legal status, and with administrative, financial and patrimonial autonomy. Our general objective is to promote integrity, transparency, ethics and good governance in the public sphere, and to promote human rights in Mozambique, and we use our website to launch campaigns, document events, and publish case studies and reports on Mozambique’s political process.

In 2008, local elections took place in Mozambique and the CIP decided to try using SMS to collect events reported by citizens. We implemented FrontlineSMS and launched a press campaign aimed at making the public aware of the opportunity to report and comment on events on the electoral campaign, and events at the voting posts.

Telephone lines were made available and FrontlineSMS was installed and used by CIP staff in charge of coordinating the publishing of text messages on our website. Response from the citizens was considered satisfactory – with mobile phones in use over most of the country and accessible to almost all economic level layers, citizens showed they were eager to contribute.

Later in 2009, during the general elections in Mozambique, we increased the number of available lines for the public and launched a more comprehensive campaign (newspapers, television, and radio). The outcome was considered very satisfactory with SMSs being received right from the beginning of the electoral campaigns. FrontlineSMS was also used to get instant reports from the CIP’s correspondents placed at the 43 municipalities all over the country.

Thanks to FrontlineSMS we were able to compile reports on party and candidate practices during the electoral campaigning, citizen’s reactions and opinions on the electoral process and anomalies at the voting posts.

User experience from those using the software was positive. It was easy to understand and operate, to add phones, and manage and classify messages received. The CIP intends to continue using FrontlineSMS on other campaigns where we believe citizen contribution can be valuable”.

Marcelo Mosse
Executive Director
Centre for Public Integrity Mozambique

Seizing the moment

Back in the summer of 2005, a few friends and colleagues gathered in a corner of the Commonwealth Club in London. There were environmentalists, conservationists, communications experts, senior mobile industry executives, businesspeople and a couple of potential investors. What brought us there was the Galileo Masters, an annual competition which awards incubation opportunities for innovative satellite navigation applications. FrontlineSMS development was just about to begin, was beginning to grow and it was a time rich in ideas. Not surprisingly for a meeting dominated by conservationists, it was an environmental application which won through. On 8th June 2005, our Mobile Environmental Monitoring Device was born. Our idea was this.

A Mobile Environmental Monitoring Device (MEMD), tracked by Galileo, would gather environmental information as people move through their landscapes. Indicators such as temperature, air quality, CO2 levels and air pressure would be recorded along with a fix on each location. For the first time individuals will be able to monitor their own exposure to local, relevant environmental hazards. Although initially a standalone unit, MEMD could converge with other technologies in the future, such as mobile phones and PDAs, providing enhanced functionality and communications ability. Each data set, gathered by each MEMD unit, would provide the user with a snapshot of the state of their environment

The idea was a bit on the grand side (see a bigger diagram) and we didn’t win, which was probably a good thing since none of us really knew if the thing was possible. MEMD was consigned to the archives like an earlier mobile payments concept (which has also since taken off). I started work on another project which later became FrontlineSMS, and life moved on.

The idea was well and truly buried until recently, when I came across this – the Nokia Eco Sensor Concept. According to Nokia:

Our visionary design concept is a mobile phone and compatible sensing device that will help you stay connected to your friends and loved ones, as well as to your health and local environment. You can also share the environmental data your sensing device collects and view other users’ shared data, thereby increasing your global environmental awareness

Interestingly, their monitoring device pairs with a mobile phone – which was what we had in mind – collects similar kinds of environmental data, allows it to be shared and aggregated and is designed to increase environmental awareness. It looks like we were just a little early on this one.

Ideas, of course, are one thing. Having the resources to execute them is another (something which, to this day, remains a challenge). Back in 2005 we were left to wonder if MEMD would ever have been possible.

Two years later, Nokia have shown us that it is.