A couple weeks back, I spent an afternoon with my colleagues at NDI’s office in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire performing a task all too familiar to us on the NDItech team - setting up cheap Android smartphones with Telerivet. NDI has used Telerivet - a powerful and accessible SMS gateway platform - in dozens of countries over the past few years, including Côte d'Ivoire, to support data collection for election observations with our Apollo DemTool.
But this isn’t another election story - a shocker for readers of this blog, I know. I wasn’t setting these phones up with Telerivet for observers to monitor a contested election. Instead, I was helping our team in Abidjan prepare for a training with civil society organizations, looking to increase their internal organization and outreach capacity. For most civic organizations, the ability to understand what citizens care about and keep in close touch with their supporters is crucial to their success in driving social change - but traditionally, getting hard data on priorities or sharing regular updates was very difficult, leading to organizations often alienated from the people they are trying to serve.
Each SIM card and Android phone that I configured was meant for direct integration with the Civi DemTool, a contact management and communication database tool built for civic groups, parties and government officials. The goal: help our local partners conduct SMS surveys and contact their trainees and constituents in a simple, organized, and easily analyzable way.
Thanks to recent investments supported by a range of NDI programs and CiviCRM partners, we’ve helped develop a feature that allows Civi users to construct and engage in robust conversations with their constituents via SMS, all while having that data flow directly into a fully customized instance of Civi. This is a marked improvement over the days of sending individual text messages and spending hours (or days) sorting those messages and responses manually. Just like an election observation effort benefits from large-scale, structured data collection via SMS, so too do individual organizations looking to poll supporters, collect information about constituents to strengthen service delivery, and solicit ideas and feedback from the public.
By using the Civi “SMS Conversations” feature developed by Michael McAndrew, a great Civi core developer and NDI collaborator, partners in Cote d’Ivoire are able to compose structured conversations that help them build-out their contact lists, invite their people to trainings and events, and receive feedback about the impact of their activities quickly and in a way that can be more simply analyzed. As part of the training I was helping our team in Abidjan prepare for, four civil society organization learned the ins-and-outs of Civi and Telerivet, and plan in the coming weeks to conduct surveys among their communities using the new feature. Leveraging Civi and its robust SMS integration, they can more efficiently reach out to members of their communities and collect information.
Although less relevant for these specific partners in Cote d’Ivoire, we’ve also recently developed an integration with Civi to Facebook Messenger, and will soon be starting development on integrations with a broader range of messaging and communication apps (like Viber and WhatsApp) that a large segment of NDI partners (and those partners constituents) use.
If you’ve got any questions about the Civi DemTool or any of our other initiatives, don’t hesitate to reach out to us on Twitter (@nditech) or via email ( ).