Geek Dating

Rush post — Part of this session was attended by Hash of White African (A really cool and supportive member of the African blogosphere) so I assume he too will publish his notes

Yesterday was spent in a round of group sessions to try to identify the needs of activists,


1) What would make your work with mobiles more effective?
2) What would you use the mobile toolkit for
3) Addressing ethical considerations
4) Trends in technology
5) Social and cultural issues

The next step was to identify the needs of the Network of African Activists.

1) How would the network make your work different
2) how would the network function
3) what would it provide
4) what would each member be able to contribute (this was later expanded as each participant was asked to suggest how they could contribute.
5) how would the network develop
6) what the network look like
7) A list of “Best Practices”

The afternoon session was a musical chairs of Geek Dating with 10 “products” on new technologies that would be appropriate for activists. All the software are open source

Frontline SMS: A tool for managing sms campaigns, surveys, monitoring and so on. See following links for more on Frontline SMS.

ATIS : Another election monitoring system used in the Philippines. The data received from the field monitors was immediately placed on the site enabling media and citizens to access in real time what was happening as the information came in.

Conversations were threaded / themed making it easier for users to follow the trends. Incoming sms were “GEO” tagged. This can be applied to any country simply by changing the map.

Email client called “ISCRIBE which is stored on a flash disk. You take the flash disk to an internet café or any internet connection, download your mail and then read it later on your own pc and vice versa. Excellent for countries or areas where there are poor power supplies.

ASTERISK — Telephony Toolkit

Functionality + Cost + Components. Contains:

PBX system to manage your phone system

Provides a bridge between VOIPS

Voice mail
Conference calling
IVR (interactive voice response)

Can be used to build local languages

Democratic Surveillance System


A mini database on your phone with incoming and outgoing facility. Can be used for surveys with data being sent immediately. Can also call up data from other sources or surveys if needed when out in the field.

Dial Up Radio

Distribute podcasts / audio via mobile phones using a web interface. There could be a range of channels with either or different themes, a list of NGOs, Community organisations. Driven by an IVR system. Includes a “recall” facility ie you sms and receive a call back or sms response.

Cost of running this system would be location / country related. The great thing is this service can be hosted anywhere so may suit HRDs at risk. Not suitable for web integration eg Drupal due to security reasons.

Cost: Server = $500; local phone calls, can be internet or PC based

Witness — using multimedia to create change. Images not enough. It is necessary to target individuals / organisations in order to make change.

Also there is a HUB where media can be uploaded, contextualised from a local and international perspective; use of tagging to create action and narrow down focus; use for campaigns and petitions etc.

Challenge for Africa is lack of internet access therefore text (sms) is a preferred method for the moment.

SIPURA 2000 — Hardphone. Phone + VOIP in a box (costs $40). Works with any phone, needs internet connection (GPRS / Dial up does not work)

Works on SIP protocol. Gizmo (open VOIP system NOT Skype which is a “closed” system. EVERYONE needs to get this – the reduction in phone costs is phenomenal!

Chumby > a computer and cellphone in one.


The workshops ended with discussion on decisions on the Network itself and what technologies would be needed to develop and maintain the network and of course the name which will be PAMONET – Pan African Mobile Network. There is still much to be done to bring the activists together and more importantly keep them together and find ways to encourage more activists across the continent to join and finally the Mobile Tool Kit itself.

The next two days will be a brain storming session by mostly the techies with a few activists trying to decide on the design of the tool kit – a tool kit for, mobilizing communities, advocacy, income generation, campaigning, activism, citizens journalism. The toolkit needs to enable organisations and social movements to be: self sustaining, must be easy to use, multifunctional with social, cultural, environmental adaptability.

Some criticisms – there was a sense of a gap between the activists space and that of the techies which ranged from a clear cut complete lack of understanding to varying shades of grey. Even in conversations between myself and some techies I found that they were not really listening or understanding that we non-techies where in spaces of greyness and lack of confidence with the tech process. Too many assumptions are made by techies in terms of culture and just basically that users just want to use and therefore language needs to be clear and simple and jargon free.


Today’s session is working on trying to come to some consensus about what the tool kit will look like and who the target groups are and what the target uses are. For me it is knowing what can a mobile phone do – what features does it have, how can it be applied. Once I know what it can do I can then make an informed decision on which features, technologies would help my organisation work. Another discussion is who are the target users : – NGOs or grassroots community groups, activists, social movements? for : human rights, advocacy, training / what are the target uses? advocacy; campaigns; monitoring say of torture; elections; surveys; action alerts, general communication. But is all this useful or are we hammering on trying to isolate users and uses?

What is impressive is that participants are really hammering out all the issues I have mentioned. It is no easy task. I may be repeating myself here but I am both confused and excited at the same time.

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Mobile Activism; Africa; Kenya; Social Movements