MobileActive's Blog

Posted by AnneryanHeatwole on Jan. 02, 2012

Welcome to a very mobile 2012! Last year mobiles were at the forefront of protests, citizen journalism, disaster recovery and relief, environmental issues, and more – and brought up questions of security and privacy along the way. Check out our new page dedicated to MobileActive's 2011; the Year in Review pulls together our best content from the year in one easy location.

From the launch of The Mobile Media Toolkit (a great resource for reporters, citizen journalists, and media organizations that want to use mobile technology in their work) and our increased focus on security and privacy with the SaferMobile initiative, we've set the groundwork for big changes in 2012.

Keep in contact with MobileActive through Twitter, Facebook, our discuss list, or our newsletters at and (for all of you reporters and citizen journalists) at the Mobile Media Toolkit. We hope that everyone has a safe and happy New Year, and we are excited for what 2012 holds. Thanks for being part of the MobileActive community!

Posted by MelissaLoudon on Dec. 22, 2011

Vibe burst onto the scene following reports that protesters were using it to coordinate with each other at the recent Occupy Wall Street demonstrations and camps.

As a smartphone app for anonymous broadcast messaging, Vibe is going after an important idea. In fact, it’s been promoted as an anonymous version of Twitter. Anyone with the app can post - there are no accounts - and users are able to limit the lifetime of the messages (from a few minutes to a few days) and the location to which they are broadcast (from a few meters to anywhere).

Vibe is clearly a useful tool. Some of the ways it has apparently been used include asking anonymous questions at a conference, and communicating with neighbours about local events. The ‘anonymity’ of not having to create an account may be perfectly adequate for these situations. However, when it comes to its use by activists - where it is being promoted as an appropriate tool for people with serious security implications should their identify be revealed - we need to delve deeper into promises of anonymity.

In the case of Vibe, our analysis revealed some serious concerns. Some of these have come up in other reviews as well.

Posted by AnneryanHeatwole on Dec. 19, 2011

Mali has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world. There are roughly 111 deaths for every 1000 live births in the country and the under-5 mortality rate is 191 out of every 1000 children. The need for early detection of diseases and stronger local health structures led to the creation of Pesinet, a non-profit that uses mobile technology to provide regular health checkups and affordable health insurance for young children in Mali's capital, Bamako.

Roughly 600 children are currently enrolled in the program in the neighborhood of Bamako Coura, under the care of four Pesinet agents (each covering around 150 children). Pesinet combines both early warning systems and insurance. Families pay 500 CF a month for each enrolled child; the payments cover doctor examinations and half the cost of any medications the child needs if he or she gets sick.

Enrolled children are tested weekly for symptoms of illness such as fever, cough, diarrhea, low weight, or vomiting by community health workers who enter data from each visit into a custom-designed Java application on their phone.  The data is sent via GPRS to an online database. Doctors at local community health centers monitor the patient data for sudden changes in health. If changes occur, the community health workers receive an alert on their phones and then go back, in turn, to alert the family that the doctor needs to give the child a checkup.

Posted by AnneryanHeatwole on Dec. 16, 2011

FailFaire – where it's okay to admit the mistakes. MobileActive hosted another round of FailFaire, bringing together practitioners, developers, donors, and students involved in the use of technology for social change development to discuss what's usually swept under the rug – project failure. The event is an open space to discuss those projects that went wrong in our field fostering a sense of learning from mistakes and knowledge sharing. The latest FailFaire in New York brought together eight practitioners to present their failed projects and what they learned along the way.  Take a look at this FastCompany article about the NYC FailFaire for some background. 

So, here we bring you...

Posted by KatrinVerclas on Dec. 14, 2011

Editors Note:  We started Failfaire almost two years ago to create a space where it was ok to be honest in our field of "tech for social change," and admit that many projects that we all undertake do not succeed.  Today is yet another Failfaire here in New York where practitioners come together to discuss how and why our projects failed.  We will be writing about this tomorrow to give you more on the #fails presented, but in the meantime were absolutely astounded today to see the following blog post from Daraja about their Maji Matone project. It takes guts (and foresight) to admit so publicly that this project has not succeeded. We wrote about Maji Matone here before. The project was designed to provide local accountability for water services by way of local, grassroots monitoring via SMS. The post below was oroginally published on Daraja's blog here and is reposted here with Daraja's gracious permission.  We are grateful for the post, and for the honesty.  

Maji Matone hasn't delivered. Time to embrace failure, learn, and move on 

It is no secret that Daraja's Maji Matone programme has not lived up to expectations. In particular, despite considerable resources spent on promotional work - printing and distributing posters and leaflets, as well as extensive broadcasts on local radio - we haven't had the response from the community that we had hoped for.  A six month pilot in three districts resulted in only 53 SMS messages received and forwarded to district water departments (compared to an initial target of 3,000). So we've made a decision - to embrace failure, learn and share lessons from the experience, and to fundamentally redesign the programme.

Admitting failure in this way is easy to support in theory, but much harder to do in practice. It may be accepted practice in the for-profit world, but it's uncomfortable for a donor-dependent NGO. Would it be easier to continue half-heartedly with a programme that isn't working or close it down quietly and hope that nobody notices? Of course it would. But those approaches would not benefit anyone, wasting money and missing out on valuable opportunities to learn. So we're taking a different tack, embracing and publicising our failures, and trying to make sure we (and others) learn as much as possible from the experience
Posted by EKStallings on Dec. 13, 2011
Photo by IICD,

Refugees often experience a compound trauma: The situation that caused them to flee in the first place, as well as the fact that many families become separated during migration. For refugee's health and well-being and ability to resettle, it is vital to know the whereabouts of relatives, their safety, and their ability to remain in contact. Today, mobile phones are the most important technology for refugees to find relatives and remain in contact. 

The Forced Migration Review Issue 38The Technology Issue covers technologies for refugees in particular. Two chapters shine a light on the use of mobile phones among refugees, as well as  some of the problems with this tech to find and contact family member such as issues of security, and accessibility.

Phoning Home

Drawing from a workshop with refugees, their advocates, NGO staff, and researchers, "Phoning Home," by Linda Leung examines refugees' ways of remaining in contact with family elsewhere. As a companion piece to the University of Technology Sydney research paper,Technology's Refuge that analyzes ways in which refugees use communication technologies, Leung describes the barriers to refugee usage of mobile phones.

Posted by AnneryanHeatwole on Dec. 09, 2011

We recently attended the mHealth Summit 2011 to learn more about the latest developments in the mobile health field. The conference brought together developers, practitioners, NGOs, representatives from corporate industries, and government officials to discuss the current state and future of mobile health. 

Several key trends emerged among the discussions, focusing on: local buy-in and capacity building, the importance of building partnerships and trust among communities, and the need to transition from short-term pilots to scalable, sustainable mHealth projects.

Scale, Sustainability, and Hype

There was a lot of discussion at the mHealth Summit 2011 about the number of failed pilot projects and the hype around mobile health.  More productively, there was considerable discussion on what steps can be taken to reduce the waste (including financial, time, and community good-will) that results from launching unusable, unscalable, or unsustainable mobile health projects. The honest assessment of challenges in the m-health field led to discussions about scalability and sustainability.

Posted by AnneryanHeatwole on Dec. 03, 2011

On November 8, 2011, the Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf won her re-election campaign following a contentious runoff vote. In the October 11 general election, neither of the top two presidential candidates secured a majority vote –Johnson Sirleaf received 43.9% of votes and opposition candidate Winston Tubman received 32.7% of the nation’s votes. Johnson Sirleaf and Tubman were scheduled to participate in a November 8 runoff election; however, Tubman boycotted it saying that the first elections had been unfair; a claim international election observers dispute. As the only candidate, Sirleaf won the runoff despite a low 37.4% of eligible voters coming out for the second round (compared to more than 70% for the first round).

In light of the election’s tumult, spoke to the National Democratic Institute and Ushahidi Liberia to learn more about their respective work in the country encouraging transparency and fairness through election monitoring and citizen reporting. 

The National Democratic Institute and Ushahidi in the 2011 Liberian Elections

Elections can be rigged in many ways, and voter fraud is varied. For instance, ballots can be changed or manipulated, voters can be influenced through intimidation or bribes, violence can shut down polling stations, or ballots can be changed after the election before the results are announced. Technical difficulties can also influence an election by preventing voters from casting their votes or having those votes accurately counted; difficulties could include long lines, failure to open a polling place on time, or a lack of necessary supplies.

Posted by AnneryanHeatwole on Dec. 02, 2011

It may be the end of the year, but that doesn't mean mobile events are slowing down! With conferences, calls for research, developer meet-ups, and networking opportunities, you won't get bored this December. Check out what's happening with mobiles this month:

  • 5 December, Mobile Monday Las Vegas (Las Vegas, USA) The inaugural Las Vegas Mobile Monday meeting will feature presentations of mobile applications, product demonstrations, and discussions about social media outreach and investing.
  • 5-7 December, mHealth Summit (Washington, D.C., USA) The third year of the mHealth Summit looks at how multiple sectors (including governments, NGOs, the telecommunications industry, and academia) can work together to create mobile health projects that improve health systems around the world. We'll be reporting from there. 

  • 6 December, The Guardian Mobile Business Summit 2011 (London, UK) This event focuses on the business side of mobile use – branding, user engagement, content creation and delivery, and mobile advertising. The event also has a large focus on networking for attendees.
  • 6-9 December, MobiQuitous 2011 (Copenhagen, Denmark) For researchers and practitioners in the mobile and computing worlds, MobiQuitous offers a chance to share research and learn from workshops and discussions.

Posted by EKStallings on Dec. 01, 2011 recognizes World AIDS Day today, December 1, by featuring some of the organizations and programs that utilize mobile tech in the fight against HIV/AIDS. We hope that countries around the world will continue to fulfill their funding commitments in the fight against AIDS.  

Designing SMS Reminders for HIV/AIDS Patients in Peru

SMS reminders are a key component of many mHealth programs targeting drug compliance among HIV/AIDS patients.  This slidecast features the findings of Dr. Curioso and colleagues from their research in Peru. The slides address patient recommendations for SMS content and tone, program development, and concerns for cultural appropriateness.

Impact of a mHealth Intervention for Peer Health Workers on AIDS Care in Rural Uganda

This study came our way through a member, Larry W. Chang. Chang et al. evaluated the impact of a mHealth intervention for peer health workers providing AIDS care in Uganda. While the group found no significant difference in health between the study and controls groups, the peer health workers and patients involved showed broad support for the initiative, and improvements in patient care were found.

Text to Change

In our World AIDS Day roundup last year we covered a Kenyan pilot of Text to Change, an SMS-based quiz of HIV/AIDS knowledge. This year we got to learn about two deployments of Text to Change in Uganda.