Freedom Fone trainers, Bren & Tich, traveled up by road this month to run user training in Lilongwe, Malawi. It’s a day’s drive that takes you through Nyamapanda, Zimbabwe’s north east border post with Mozambique, then through Tete province and later through the Dedza border post with Malawi. Much of the road through Tete is littered with potholes and besides the city of Tete, there’s not a lot in the way of service stations to help you out if you hit trouble. The good news is that the border posts are well managed and the traffic fairly light. And of course you get to see a lot more than you would from an airplane seat!
Crossing the border into Malawi we were immediately approached by vendors selling currency (Malawi Kwacha), Airtel sim cards and airtime. It's got to be one of the easiest countries in which to acquire a sim card. Long may it last. Sadly, our tests a few days later showed that Airtel is no good for Freedom Fone deployments as the network does not support the transmission of DTMF tones. For now, make sure to acquire tnm sims for your GSM devices if you're going to run Freedom Fone in Malawi. Read more about this here.
Hosted by The Young Advocates for the Advancement of ICT-related Development (Y.A.A.ICT-D), the workshop provided participants with a hands-on opportunity to evaluate Freedom Fone v2.S.4. Organisations represented were: Y.A.A.ICT-D, Centre for Girls & Interaction (CEGI), YouthNet and Counselling (YONECO), Nkhotakota Community Radio Station, Mudziwathu Community Radio Station and Breeze FM - a commercial radio station operating in eastern Zambia.
Between them, the organisations mobilised around democracy and good governance, agricultural extension, sexual reproductive health rights, youth, gender and a number of other important development issues. The mix of interests made for a diverse and engaged workshop with participants remarking on how interesting it was to learn about the initiatives and innovations of others working in different focal areas.
Where possible, organisations were asked to send two representatives: a programmes person and a technical person. This combination hopefully ensures that ideas for using the technology are rooted in the organisation’s communication strategies and that once back at the office, the pair have the technical ability and motivation to install and use Freedom Fone.
The presence of participants from radio stations meant that quick progress was made through the audio scripting, recording and editing exercises which required groups to create files to support a small multilingual IVR in English and Chichewa.
Repetition is an important part of developing an understanding of voice menus and in growing users’ confidence in creating and modifying them. Since interactive voice menus lie at the heart of Freedom Fone, developing this competence is an important goal of the workshop. Freedom Fone’s simple user interface makes the assembly of voice menus a relatively trivial matter, but lying beneath the surface is plenty of intimidating technical complexity!
Voice menus also provide the framework for Freedom Fone’s voicemail or Leave-a-message feature. And this is a feature that everyone appreciated. The ability to capture and easily access authentic voice feedback from the community had everyone talking.
The SMS Poll feature was used to assess the progress of the participants as they made their way through the 3 day workshop. It was also a handy way to have them indicate which features were most relevant to their work. As they participated in the polls they came to appreciate the usefulness of this simple but effective feature.
All participants complained that 3 days was not long enough to become fully conversant with Freedom Fone. However, the object of these user training workshops is to give participants an opportunity to thoroughly evaluate Freedom Fone first hand. Thereafter they can choose to dive in deeper.
Some of the ideas shared by participants for Freedom Fone deployments at their organisations included:
The Young Advocates for the Advancement of ICT-related Development
To improve the delivery services to the communities Young Advocates is serving especially the current project which aims at reducing Decentralized Corruption by making “Local governance for the Local People”. The project employs the use of the Community Radio as a tool for tracing development bottlenecks and corruptions acts and also making follow ups on the same. So far the project has registered tremendous success in unearthing corruption acts within the Assembly. Our partner in this project is Mudziwathu Community Radio. Therefore Freedom Fone will help the project in the following areas.
1. Communities will be calling to leave a message; asking the authorities to provide information on local governance issues, community projects as well as contributing to a topic of public concern based on a topic that has been introduced to them. The responsible officer will be assigned to respond to the comments and questions live on the radio.
2. Civic educate communities on voter registration to the 2014 general election. People shall be calling to hear how the voting process will be as Malawi will conduct a tripartite election, callers will also have a chance of knowing who their candidates are by hearing their voices requesting the caller to vote for them.(IVR)
YouthNet and Counselling
1. Frequently Asked Questions be catered for by the IVR to provide information on the reporting of child abuse.
2. Introduce the SMS polling system within the organisation’s programming
Many participants complained that the workshop was too short for their liking, but hopefully it gave them a good opportunity to evaluate the Freedom Fone first hand.
Centre for Girls & Interaction
1. People will be free to use IVR to Leave A Message. They will be happy using the hotline because some people are shy to share or ask the burning questions with CEGI staff face to face. Freedom Fone will be the cheapest method of communication because they (people) will no longer use transport to reach CEGI offices they will just be dialing CEGI hotline numbers.
2. Freedom Fone will also help CEGI because it can be used as an Income Generating Activity. CEGI will ask organisations to advertise their products through the phone and CEGI will charge for the services. This will help CEGI to have funds to call back to the callers who have used the Leave a message (LAM).
We intend to use all the four key features of Freedom Fone i.e. the voice menu, the leave a message, the poll and the incoming sms.
The voice menu will be used in three categories
1. The programmes department will be uploading important programmes for listeners and programme promos amongst other things.
2. The news department will be uploading some key stories and news headlines for rebroadcast purposes. We will be recoding short programs for example the news summery which is less than a minute and can be uploaded so that our listeners can listen in just in case they had not when it was live on air.
3. The sales department will record and upload short adverts for our clients. Then depending on the number of callers we will be able to charge.
The Leave a Message will be used by:
1. The programmes department to get programme ideas and feedback.
2. The news department will be getting story ideas.
3. The sales department will be getting possible customers
4. With the help of technical staff, programme presenters will select and broadcast the audio feedback from listeners as the programme unfolds.
For the SMS polls, we have been trying using other systems but we will find this easy with the Freedom Fone.
Incoming SMS - we will use this at times even though we use other software for receiving SMS.
By the time we had returned to Harare, 2 of the participating organisations had already made a start on installing the software back at work. That's music to our ears!