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CGHR-FrontlineSMS Partnership: New ICT and Governance in Africa project

The applied research collaboration at the heart of the New Communication Technologies and Citizen-led Governance in Africa project derives from a strong partnership between CGHR and FrontlineSMS. The open-source and free software tool FrontlineSMS turns a laptop – or desktop – computer and a mobile phone or modem into a two-way group messaging hub. It works anywhere there is a mobile signal, with no need for the Internet: a major advantage for local organisations and grassroots NGOs. CGHR and FrontlineSMS both gain tremendously from working together to develop, deploy and research FrontlineSMS:Radio. As Ken Banks, founder of FrontlineSMS, stresses: ‘The impact of tools in the mobile for development field tends to suffer from a lack of rigorous academic scrutiny, and most impact assessment is carried out after the event rather than being an intrinsic part of the deployment process. As a result of the collaboration, from the outset and for the first time, this project will determine user behaviour, identify system design and monitor impact throughout the project life cycle.’
 

For CGHR, the opportunity to do grounded empirical research closely tied to innovation and adoption/adaption processes is invaluable. As Dr. Sharath Srinivasan, Director of CGHR explains: ‘Without question, ICT innovations that integrate with existing media, combining for example the interactive power of mobile SMS with the reach of radio, have the potential to expand citizens’ political capabilities and enrich political participation. But a major challenge has been to develop an empirical sense of how transformative this can be in relation to public debate, access to public goods, accountability and governance.’ The CGHR research team works closely with the team at FrontlineSMS, sharing and contributing ideas to each others work and coordinating on field research and pilot station selection and support.

(FrontlineSMS:Radio Website)

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Additional Project Partners

Internews

Internews is an international media development organisation whose mission is to empower local media worldwide to give people the news and information they need, the ability to connect, and the means to make their voices heard. Internews has worked in over 70 countries and trained over 80,000 people in media skills. Together with local partners, their activities include establishing and supporting media outlets, journalist associations, and broadcast networks. They also have special programs to improve reporting on the environment, humanitarian crises, public health and women’s issues. (Website)