When we talk about technology these days, we are quick to think of internet related stuff; which is not a bad thing, except only that it somehow limits our imagination. Some of us (which often feels like all of us), have moved away from the SMSs, but you will be shocked to know that it’s actually less than 50.1% of the country that has done so (according to POTRAZ). The U-Report team got these figures in time to make their initiative which is SMS-based, and therefore, allows them to incorporate much more users than the internet based platforms. U-Report is a communication tool which allows citizens from any community to voluntarily respond to polls, report issues, support child rights and work as positive agents of change on behalf of people in their communities through free SMSs.
U-Report is a program implemented by the Zimbabwe Youth Council (ZYC) with support from UNICEF. It aims at engaging young people on various developmental issues in their communities by giving them an opportunity to speak out on what is happening in their communities as well as to then exchange views on various issues of concern through SMS. Ideally, every week, messages and polls are sent out to U-Reporters via SMS. The questions sent to users (U-Reporters) range from multiple choice to open ended questions, which allow the people (users) to further express or explain themselves. The response by the user (U-Reporter) is also sent in form of an SMS and has no charge attached to it.
The Bulawayo City Council has a database of more than 44 720 U-Reporters so far. It has collected information ranging from local burning issues such as the people’s take on child marriages, the new primary and secondary school curriculum as well as often ignored but important issues such as residents’ level of participation in the city’s budgeting process. Due to its large database, the data collected can be incorporated into decision making processes as they users make up a fair representation of the populations and as such U-Reporter responses are aggregated and forwarded to relevant authorities for action.
This tool of conducting surveys is not only limited to the ZYC or UNICEF but is open to any organisation or individuals that wishes to use this method to carry out researches. The results from this type of survey are reliable since the likelihood of double counts is minimised by the fact that phone numbers which are unique, are used to represent individuals. Nevertheless, there are people of course, who use more than one phone number and this technicality is however minimal since hardly do they register all their numbers for the U-Report program.
To join and let you voice be heard, SMS the word “JOIN” to “33500” – this number works across all the three mobile network providers operating in Zimbabwe. You will immediately receive a message asking you to provide a few personal details which are only asked in order to make data analysis much more comprehensive. You will however not be asked to provide your real name but will remain anonymous for confidentiality sake. This also encourages truthful response thus further boosting the reliability of the surveys.