Saturday, October 4, 2014

Post-campaign meetings conclude with LIRNEasia colloquium

We arrived in the Colombo area at the end of the week and took part in a colloquium at the LIRNEasia office on Oct. 3.  We presented preliminary results of the campaigns and had a lengthy and productive discussion about the project overall, with helpful input from a number of perspectives.

Setting up for the LIRNEasia colloquium.

We introduced the notion of "proportionate participation" at the colloquium which is a term we have recently coined to describe the relationships between sponsors, tech stewards, technology, and communities within the scope of a campaign.  

Although it is very much a nascent concept, the idea is that these four elements comprise a system of innovation that requires proportionate participation if it is to be inclusive and sustainable.  We chose the term 'proportionate' to capture the notion that the type and amount of participation of any one of the elements is relative to the other elements.  

So, for example, a robust and easy to use technology, will make it easier for tech stewards and communities to use it, thus reducing the burden of training.  On the other hand, a community that is struggling with literacy challenges may require a greater role for the tech steward or the technology in establishing a useful and sustainable system of innovation within that community.  

The idea is new but we will continue to work on it as we look more closely at the results of the campaigns.

Post-campaign meetings: Dept of Export Agriculture (Kurunegala)

The Sri Lanka Department of Export Agriculture (DOEA) sponsored two campaigns in the Kurunegala district, with ginger farmers in the north area and pepper farmers in the south area.  Both campaigns were intended to improve the efficiency and timeliness of communication between DOEA extension offiicers and local farmers.  

Both campaigns used text messaging and both showed that there was interest from farmers in this form of communication, despite challenges with using text messaging on their phones.  Many of the older generation farmers said they needed help to use text messaging but found the information useful.  They asked for a voice-based system to complement the SMS system.  Extension officers indicated that the text messaging system had saved them time and effort when trying to communicate news and updates to their communities.  The DOEA north tech steward was particularly active with the campaign.

DOEA has expressed interest in continuing its use of text messaging and expanding into a voice based system with Freedom Fone.  We are also in discussion with the department about the possibility of working with Wayamba University of Sri Lanka to expand the number of campaigns and extend them into other regions of the country.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Post-campaign meetings: Rangiri radio

On Sept. 30, the team met with Rangiri radio to review the results of the radio+ campaign they had been running with FrontlineSMS.  Rangiri is using the text messaging software to enhance its broadcast programming by making it possible for listeners to submit song requests through their mobile phones.  While we had initially hoped that Rangiri would introduce this into its Thunetha farm radio show, the tech stewards at the the station decided to trial it with popular music programming.  From all indications, the introduction of SMS-based requests has been a success with the station receiving about 150 per day across its three broadcast programs.  

Rangiri radio has a three-person stewardship arrangement, with one individual handling incoming requests with FrontlineSMS (pictured above), another who relays the song requests to the on-air team, and a third who oversees the system.

In discussions with the tech stewards we learned of their preference for a voice-based system for its farm radio programming.  Voice, it is felt, will be more suited to the audience preference and will provide material that can be broadcast over the air.  As a result, we will we working with Rangiri in the coming weeks to deploy Freedom Fone at the station while they continue using FrontlineSMS for other programming. 

Post-campaign meetings: farmers in Verugal

On Sept. 29 we met with a farmer group in the Vergul area north of Batticaloa after clearing our visit with authorities from the Sri Lankan National Guard (the area is still closely monitored by the military after the conclusion of hostilities in 2009).  We learned at the meeting that many of the farmers who had been initially registered in the campaign are now working elsewhere due to economic conditions in the area following a crop failure.

While the farmers expressed continued interest in using text messaging to communicate price information and news updates, there is a fundamental challenge with language in this area.  Tamil is the  main language and the current SMS system is not able to render these characters.  To get around this, messages are composed in a form of phonetic Tamil using a latin character set.  However, many farmers said they are unable to read latin characters, so there is a persistent barrier that will need to be addressed, most likely through the intorduction of a voice-based system.  

Neverthless, a local leader (pictured above, second from left) expressed interest in continuing with some involvement in the project and generated some ideas with the farmers to introduce a news update service involving a local library.  We will follow up but the challenges in this part of the country are significant and it is difficult to know if we can successfully kickstart another campaign at the moment.