Why SMS Matters More Than Ever

Smartphones are eating the world. They’ve become our primary point of access to the internet, drawing comparisons to the sun from one of tech’s brightest minds. The numbers back this up: as of 2014, 51% of the world owns one; in 2020, 80% will. We use them for everything from sending and receiving texts and calls to interacting with our favorite web services via their mobile apps and APIs. 

Despite the fact we collectively exchange 350 billion text messages each month, the popularity of OTT services like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and WeChat has rendered SMS - one of two core features on every mobile phone in the world - an afterthought in the minds of most. Reputation notwithstanding, SMS is at the core of the rapidly-emerging cloud communication industry headed by Twilio, Nexmo and the like.

These platforms remove barriers to the adoption of SMS services while enabling businesses to quickly and easily deploy them to customers with faster delivery times, lower initial cost, and improved reliability. Much like the smartphone, they’re on pace to provide telecommunication gateways all over the world. SMS is experiencing a resurgence in innovation on par with web-based services.

Why SMS?

It should be no surprise that SMS has a tremendously high engagement rate compared to email: the average open rate of a text message is 94% (90% of which are opened within the first few minutes of receipt) while only 22% of emails are ever read. Texts are entitled to prime real estate on notification panels and guaranteed delivery in situations where WiFi is unavailable and data is spotty. Most importantly, accessing text messages doesn’t require load time or interaction with a downloaded interface or log-in screen

By now, we’re all likely familiar with the global prevalence of SMS. Access requirements are straightforward - a mobile phone and a service plan - and there’s no need for pre-existing conditions such as an established connection within a service that both parties must download (accepting friend requests, adjusting privacy settings, etc.), much less a reliable internet connection on both ends.

The Current Trajectory

Services like Twilio and Nexmo specialize in enabling application-to-person (A2P) communication. A2P allows organizations to use web applications to communicate with their clients via SMS. If you’ve ever received an appointment confirmation from your doctor’s office, a flight status update from your airline, or an account update from your bank, you’ve engaged in A2P messaging. If you haven’t, the likelihood of engaging in this kind of interaction is expected to increase by 63% over the next three years from 1.4 trillion messages in 2013 to 2.19 trillion messages in 2018.

Popular use cases for A2P SMS include:

  • Customer Relationship Management: “You have an appointment with us tomorrow at 8:30 AM.”
  • Promotional Campaigns: “Show this message for 15% off your next purchase. Exp. 9/1”
  • Pushed Content Services: “There are 8 elder care resources in your area, reply for a full list.”
  • Interactive Services: “Thank you for your vote! Check back next week to see who won.”
  • Inquiry and Search-Related Services: “Please send with your location for upcoming bus routes near you.”

The initial issue with traditional A2P SMS was the clunky and expensive nature of the development and integration process. Prior to Twilio and Nexmo, companies were required to liaise with a variety of middlemen - SMS aggregators, gateway providers and resellers - to establish connections with various network operators. Today, telephony API tools allow developers to integrate SMS with their applications at a fraction of the cost and time.

Enter TextIt

TextIt is a drag-and-drop development platform that connects with multiple types of channels, including SMS aggregators like Twilio, Nexmo, Plivo and Clickatell, to enable you to visually build an application that interacts with your clients on your behalf. This is made possible by our Flow Engine, an easy-to-use interface that enables you to design automated interactions that may include posting and retrieving information to and from your service or triggering events within your service via our API.

Each interaction in TextIt is defined by a single step. By drawing arrows from one step to another, you define how your clients will move through the flow. We provide a number of rules that enable you to dictate how your recipients' responses are evaluated, allowing you to funnel them to the information they’re looking for while collecting the data you need.

The process is simple:

  1. create a TextIt account
  2. design your flows
  3. enter your Twilio or Nexmo account information to begin communicating

An Application in Every Industry

Travel, Tourism & Entertainment

Travel is an increasingly mobile industry. SMS enables real time communication with travelers - leading to a decrease in customer support costs while providing a convenient and reliable additional communication channel.

Healthcare

SMS can help healthcare organizations improve communication with each professional, patient, and stakeholder they serve. Reduce appointment no-shows, deliver timely patient information, improve pharmacy efficiency, and support community and emergency health services. Patient reminders and timely patient information are two common use cases for TextIt.

Retail

SMS can optimize location-based campaigns, engage customers with contests and promotions, expand customer databases, promote point-of-sale coupon usage, improve customer service, and keep loyal customers up-to-speed with your latest sales and product announcements.

Food Service

By integrating Twilio, OpenTable and TextIt, you can use SMS to enable patrons to make and change reservations, and alert them when their table is ready.

Education

SMS is an ideal tool for sending truancy notifications, and general and emergency updates to parents and students. Young comprise the largest messaging demographic in the world.

Marketing

Take advantage of the convenience of SMS, which enables you to asynchronously connect with consumers on their own terms. Several organizations use TextIt to design and deploy standalone campaigns, carefully-crafted complements to email and blog content, timely and individualized loyalty programs, and high-impact promotions.

HR/Recruiting

SMS helps HR, recruiting, and staffing firms cut costs and partner more effectively with companies and candidates. Companies like HigherMe use TextIt to register users, send job opening alerts to job-seekers, and match them with openings that fit their experience.

Public Services

SMS is an ideal method of streamlining public services and communicating with citizens of all socioeconomic classes. We’d love to see SMS incorporated into such programs as food services, social security, and affordable housing.

Try it Out

Sign up for a free account to give TextIt a try. New sign-ups receive 1,000 complimentary credits and unlimited access to support.

Feature Update: Split by Message Form

We're happy to announce that TextIt now supports structured data collection through simple SMS message forms.

Message forms are essentially a sequence of values separated by spaces, plus signs or periods. Our Flow Engine’s unique split functionality allows you to create response rules that evaluate each separated value, assign it a field name, then direct your contacts based on how that value was evaluated.

See it in Action

A team of clinicians working in a maternity clinic has just delivered a child and needs to register her. In this particular use case, they need to record the gender, child’s name, mother’s name, and the mother’s birth year. Using our message form feature, they could report that information in the following format: “birth [gender]+[child’s name]+[mother’s name]+[mother's birth year]”. The keyword “birth” acts as a trigger that notifies TextIt which flow the message form is intended to interact with.

Let’s say the child is a female, her name is Noel, and her mother, Beverly, was born in 1985. A clinician would send the message “birth f+Noel+Beverly+1985”, which can then be evaluated by TextIt’s response rules using a series of split steps that will either confirm that each individual value is formatted correctly, or alert the sender that they’ve made a mistake and ask them to resubmit the message form.

From the clinician’s point of view, the exchange will be as simple as this:

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To learn more about message forms, check out our documentation.

To try out our updated Flow Engine, sign up for a free account. New accounts receive 1,000 complimentary credits and unlimited access to support.


Why Host with TextIt?

Lately, we’ve noticed a fair amount of interest among the RapidPro community in moving from TextIt to a self-hosted RapidPro installation. We understand RapidPro is an in-demand open-source software platform, and we’re flattered. We built it. That being said, there are a few factors worth considering before branching out.

What is RapidPro and how does it relate to TextIt?

We developed RapidPro, the platform that powers TextIt, and open-sourced it in 2013 to allow UNICEF to adopt it into their programming. The results have been phenomenal, as millions of people around the world use the platform to communicate issues and coordinate aid.

Because RapidPro is open-source, anyone can contribute to it. In order to use it, however, you’ll need to either host it on a proprietary server or sign-up with TextIt. We host RapidPro for UNICEF and others in addition to the original service, TextIt.

What services does TextIt provide?

We Host for You 

We spend a lot of money on a lot of servers to make sure you’re getting the best possible performance at the lowest possible price. Because there are multiple machines serving TextIt, the load is distributed to ensure maximum speed. What’s more, your data is almost certainly more secure with us managing it than it would be otherwise. This allows you and thousands of other unique organizations - from UNICEF to your local clinic - to focus on building custom mobile-based communication programs and deploy them anywhere in the world with ease.

We Build for You

TextIt grew out of our experience as a consultancy. We’re always connecting the dots between use cases and useful features, but we care most about our users and ultimately build the features you request. In fact, our most recent feature updates were inspired by one of our largest and most innovative clients. These updates benefit every one of our users. Consider this: when you leave us, you’re removing our ability to modify the platform to suit your needs.

We Update You 

We update the RapidPro platform daily, and we do so thoughtfully. We follow a strict procedure to ensure that none of the updates we push will negatively impact your flows. This process includes running old flows in all possible permutations to make sure they act in the same way. As time passes, the platform has fewer bugs rather than more. This is because we continue to add more test cases to cover new scenarios. We have over 95% code coverage in automated unit tests, and any bugs that are introduced are discovered by our vast user base and fixed immediately.

These changes are automatically merged into all of the RapidPro instances we host. If you were to host RapidPro yourself, you’d have to merge these updates manually, as self-hosted RapidPro instances are snapshots in RapidPro’s ever-evolving life cycle. If you have the funds and expertise to self-host RapidPro, and can even manage to get it running smoothly, you’re still at a significant disadvantage in that you won’t automatically receive updated features.

We Support You

Our team works around the clock to answer tickets, resolve issues, and patch bugs. We’re constantly monitoring our servers and the platform itself, and responding to support requests from three different time zones, often more. When you host with us, you’re getting high performance with zero down time.

We Scale

We provide high availability and handle accounts with millions of contacts, and we didn’t get there overnight. Scaling requires significant expertise and investment. Bottom line: You’ll never outgrow TextIt.

We Connect You 

We’ve spent years building strong relationships and setting up connections with mobile network operators (MNOs) around the world, putting us in the ideal position to facilitate your connections to MNOs when aggregators aren’t present. If an aggregator doesn’t exist in the country you’d like to deploy, we can help you create connections for a small fee.

We Advise You

As the firm that hosts both RapidPro and TextIt, we’re engaged with the widest variety of organizations around the world using messaging for their programs. Through these partnerships, we’ve learned about RapidPro’s many use cases, specifically what works and what doesn’t. This puts us in a unique position to help advance the community as a whole. When you ask a question, you’re guaranteed an educated, time-tested response. We invite you to reach out and take advantage of our Flow Coaching program.

How does TextIt Profit?

We don’t charge until it’s absolutely necessary. In fact, we give you 1,000 credits to get started. It’s free to sign-up and gain access to all the features you’ll need to build and test your flows. What’s more, we don’t tier our support. Free accounts get just as much love as our largest paid accounts. Once you’re ready to send and receive messages or phone calls, you can purchase credits as you need them. Each credit is equal to one message sent or received, and costs about a penny. If you’re a small nonprofit organization with limited funding, let us know. If you justify the need, we’ll have the conversation.

We understand the allure of open-source software. It’s free and malleable. What isn’t immediately apparent, however, is the array of hidden costs. Let us continue to accept this burden for you, and together we can advance this outstanding platform.

Are you sure? Crisis Prevention via Misinformation Management using TextIt

Una Hakika, a Sentinel Project initiative, uses TextIt to enable residents of Kenya’s Tana Delta to submit rumors for verification and provide subscribers with neutral, accurate information in response.

Context

Violent conflict between the Tana Delta’s Orma and Pokomo ethnic groups has resulted in longstanding animosity and persistent distrust. Several factors contribute to this enduring conflict, though land ownership is among the most prominent. Each group’s livelihood relies almost entirely on land use, and issues preventing the procurement of official land deeds render boundaries blurred. In the context of severe poverty, encroachment on one another’s traditional livelihoods, such as the Orma grazing livestock on Pokomo farmlands, or the Pokomo butchering Orma cattle, is a critical threat to the well being of both ethnic communities. Between September 2012 and January 2013, 166 people were killed in nine separate massacres throughout the Tana River area. Primary fieldwork has indicated that much of the violence between the Orma and Pokomo is triggered by unfounded rumors.

The Sentinel Project, a Canadian nonprofit whose mission is to prevent genocide worldwide through early warning and cooperation with victimized peoples, is using TextIt to collect and disseminate detailed reports on rumors that pose an immediate risk of conflict in the Tana Delta via text message. Unlike other SMS based data collection and dissemination tools, TextIt’s Flow Engine allows organizations such as the Sentinel Project to design a series of questions and response rules that automatically direct the user down paths specific to their responses. These interactions, called flows, feel like any other SMS conversation to end-users.

Methodology

Una Hakika - “Are you sure?” - is a simple premise for end-users: If a person in the Tana Delta region hears a rumor that presents an immediate risk of conflict, they can text-it-in to 21512, a toll-free shortcode. The project uses TextIt’s keyword trigger function to direct all messages received - regardless of content - to an autoresponder flow that allows end-users to:

  • set the language of all subsequent messages to Swahili.

  • report a rumor.

  • subscribe or unsubscribe to Una Hakika’s informational broadcasts.

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If an end-user elects to report a rumor, they’re directed to a separate flow designed to:

  • collect the rumor, saved as a qualitative value in the Rumors field for evaluation by Una Hakika’s staff. Una Hakika’s staff is trained to prioritize rumors using a proprietary risk scale that accounts for a variety of variables.

  • determine if the situation is an emergency occurring at present.

  • immediately send email and text message alerts to trained community mediators and other proper authorities.

Verification

Once rumors are prioritized in real time by Una Hakika’s staff, their next task is to uncover the truth. This is where their each staff member’s intensive, varied training kicks in. In some cases, the relevant authorities may be an appropriate resource. In other cases, consulting trusted community sources or querying subscribers may yield the truth.

To view rumors and sightings as they’re reported, click here.

End-User Onboarding

Having staff present in target areas as a point of contact for end-users is vital to the success of SMS or IVR-based communication initiative. The Sentinel Project recognizes this, having selected and trained community ambassadors who serve as the human element of their project. These ambassadors educate participants on methods of reporting information accurately and provide hands-on support for each end-user. Their ability to compile and retain meaningful and relevant information ensures that Una Hakika can act on reliable information.

Results

Overall, the young program is receiving high praise from its first 968 end-users. An end-user satisfaction survey conducted April showed high levels of satisfaction across the board. The average rating across all quantitative questions was 8 out of a possible 10, indicating that the users find value in Una Hakika. The highest individual question rating (8.53 out of 10) is in response to the question How much has Una Hakika helped prevent the spread of rumours?, which indicates the project is delivering on its primary goal.

With the information gleaned from this survey and other sources of end-user feedback, Una Hakika will begin to implement new policies to address the most pressing issues highlighted by their user base.

Sign up for a TextIt account today to start building your own SMS application. In keeping with our goal of fostering development, we provide 1,000 complimentary credits to every new account, as well as country-specific guides to integrating with local carriers and international gateways.

We understand that flexibility is key when deploying an SMS or IVR application, and that’s why we offer a simple prepaid model that lets you add credits to your account only as you need them.

To learn more about TextIt, visit our Learning Center, review our documentation, or watch this short video:

Feature Update: Skip Logic & Simplified Splits

You may have recently noticed a change in the appearance of your Flows. In an effort to improve the flexibility of the RapidPro Flow Engine, we’ve updated the platform to include “split” steps and allow actions to operate independent of messages. 

In the Settlement Resource flow pictured below, you’ll note that upon starting the flow the contact is directed to the appropriate step based on the settlement value present in their contact profile. If they’re a resident of the Ubumwe settlement, they’ll receive resource recommendations based on that location and issues pertinent to its residents. The same goes for the Batsinda settlement. If the contact’s settlement value has yet to be collected, the contact can be directed down the “other” path, where their settlement value is collected, their contact profile is updated to include that value, and they’re prompted to restart the Settlement Resource flow to be routed to the appropriate resource guide.

New1Splitpng

You’ll note that the split step is gray as opposed to blue. This distinction indicates the passive nature of the splits. Any values that pass through these steps are automatically split and then passed to the appropriate step, all without waiting for a response from the user. Whereas response rules wait for a contact's response, split steps move the contact along based on a flow field, contact field, or expression.

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An added benefit of this update is that open-ended, multiple choice, and numeric responses can be solicited through the same input form. To collect the response solicited by a message step, simply add a “wait for response” step and designate the rule(s) you’d like to run against it.

Lastly, you’ll notice that action steps may now operate independently of messages. This is illustrated in the example below, where the contact’s response is collected via the “wait for household members” response rule, updated to their “household size” contact field, and then directed to the appropriate step based on their location.


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To learn more about split steps, review our corresponding documentation.

To try out our updated Flow Engine, sign up for a free account. New sign-ups receive 1,000 complimentary credits and unlimited access to support.

To learn more, check out our Learning Center.



Crop Failure Early Warning Systems Powered by TextIt: A Case Study

Assessing new methods of understanding and better informing farming decisions in Kenya and Zambia, Indiana University’s Ostrom Workshop and Princeton University’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering recently completed a year-long SMS-based crop failure early warning system pilot in Zambia using TextIt. We spoke with Dr. Tom Evans about the project. 

Context

In Kenya and Zambia, researchers are collecting real-time environmental and farming practice data for the purpose of equipping farmers with knowledge they intend to prevent crop failure and increase yearly yields. Farmers in these regions are rain-fed, meaning their yields are solely dependent on precipitation. They are on the threshold of survival.

Prior to the SMS pilot, Indiana University and Princeton University have been partnering to research household-level food security in Zambia focused on rain-fed agriculturalists. In Kenya, they had been conducting water governance and irrigation management research. These projects were the seed for later work seeking to understand the kinds of decisions farmers are making and how their food security changes within a growing season. "It's the farmers on the ground who are the first to know whether their will be a problem with the harvest in a given year,” says Dr. Evans.

The mobile-based pilot in Zambia developed from a desire to improve overall data quality and utility by communicating with farmers on a more frequent, consistent basis. Prior to designing and deploying their TextIt SMS application, the research team had spent previous years interviewing farmers once per year. “When this is the case, you don't have the same capacity to understand how their (farmers’) context changes within a growing season,” says Dr. Evans.

Methodology

The researchers piloted their TextIt SMS application during the 2013-2014 growing season with a set of 60 farmers. The pilot allowed them to understand the capabilities of each farmer, asking questions about the farmers’ social networks, technical limitations, and common barriers to consistent phone use. The pilot also allowed them to figure out what kind of staff infrastructure was needed to train farmers, make contact with nonrespondents, and develop their data collection approach.

The research team designed and tested a set of short, simple questions that would allow them to capture how farmers were perceiving climate dynamics and how that related to their decisions on what to plant and when. That seed pilot data then fed into a proposal that received funding to support a much larger set of activities including both Kenya as well as Zambia.

Survey Characteristics

The researchers used TextIt’s Flow Engine to design easy to understand, conversational SMS surveys ranging from 5-10 questions divided among the 3 periods within the agricultural season: planting, growing and harvest.

After multiple trainings and comprehensive field research, they chose to use English as their application’s default language. They found that most prospective users were skilled enough to answer simple, guided questions.

They decided to focus on one crop, maize, to simplify farmers’ expected contribution and stabilize on a central crop to assess the agricultural season.

The researchers chose to supplement the SMS surveys with traditional in-person interviews that provided more extensive information about a subset of farmers than the SMS system would allow. If a participating farmer didn’t respond to the SMS surveys, researchers  would call and/or visit them to assess the barriers to that farmer’s participation.

End-User Onboarding

A key to their success was the time and effort spent understanding and then onboarding their end-users. At TextIt, we’ve found this essential to success.

The researchers  targeted a wide spectrum of farmers.To assist older and lesser-educated farmers, they focused time and resources on training younger members of the household and community to provide technical support.

The training sessions were broken down into groups of 10 farmers led by 2 instructors who demonstrated the SMS application and led the farmers through each Flow, providing support and guidance along the way. They found that questions such as "Did it rain on your field this week? Yes or No?" were easier for farmers to answer than "What do you think your harvest will be at the end of the season?" For the latter question, they focused on explaining the importance of consistent reporting and the relationship between the data being reported each week and expected yield. The concept of tracking and reporting yield is entirely new to most of these farmers.

Compensation

The research team wasn’t able to secure a reverse-billed telephone number, so they had to get creative to ensure the participating farmers had the resources to complete the surveys. To do so, the researchers compensated farmers the cost of SMS messages plus a bonus in the form of an airtime transfer.

Results

60% of the participating agriculturalists completed the study, providing sufficient quality and quantity of data to secure funding from the United States National Science Foundation and justify the expansion of the program both within Zambia and to Kenya, where it continues today. The research team is working with the Mpala Research Centre in Kenya and the Zambia Agriculture Research Institute (ZARI) in Zambia as critical in-country partners in the development and implementation of this research.

Lessons learned

  • The majority of participating farmers are at the threshold of survival, so distributing airtime as compensation was critical to receiving responses.

  • Some of the participating farmers were in considerable airtime debt, meaning that even after receiving an airtime transfer to complete the SMS surveys, they were not able to do so.

  • Another consistent technical impediment was the ability of farmers to keep their phones charged, as they’re spending most of the day without access to a charging port. Though SMS is far and away the cheapest and most convenient method of communication, lack of airtime and access to a charging port are among the most common barriers.

  • End-user onboarding doesn’t end when the project begins. Participating farmers were anxious to receive a return on their time investment, as they might from an aid or impact-first organization, so the researchers devoted time and resources to consistently reiterating and emphasizing the long-term importance of the program.

  • Community sponsors, young and old, were key to the success of the pilot program. These individuals understand and support the implementation of the project and have the ability to assist their peers in participating.

Moving Forward

In the future, the researchers will be deploying  physical instruments to measure a variety of environmental factors that will greatly improve the quality of data submitted in their mission to find the ideal formula for improving yields.

Sign up for a TextIt account today to start building your own SMS application. In keeping with our goal of fostering development, we provide 1,000 complimentary credits to every new account, as well as country-specific guides to integrating with local carriers and international gateways.

We understand that flexibility is key when deploying an SMS or IVR application, and that’s why we offer a simple prepaid model that lets you add credits to your account only as you need them.

To learn more about TextIt, visit our Learning Center, review our documentation, or watch this short video:


Delivering Maternity Health Support with TextIt: A Case Study

ProGobernabilidad, a Canadian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development initiative to empower the women and children of Northern Peru through various ICT4D approaches, recently completed a study measuring the effectiveness of a 2-year maternity health program pilot they conducted using TextIt. We spoke with e-government specialist Réjean Roy about the project.

Parameters

In 2012, the ProGobernabilidad project was developed around 3 vital facts:

  • In 2012, less than 18% of the people of Lambayeque, the region in which the 6 participating medical clinics are located, had home internet access.

  • That percentage was close to 0% in the rural areas of Lambayeque. While community members can visit cabinas to access the internet, they’re largely inaccessible. Price and lack of technical expertise are barriers to internet access in the region. As a result, less than 30% of all Peruvians living outside Lima and only 10% of Peruvians living in rural areas used the Internet in 2012.

  • A large portion of the Peruvian population has access to basic feature phones. In Lambayeque, for example, over 85% of people live in a house where at least one person owns a mobile phone.

It became clear to Réjean and his colleagues that mobile phones are the most suitable channel to deliver services electronically to the community of Lambayeque.

Methodology

Determined to reduce the child mortality rate and strengthen the first 1,000 days in the continuum of care for mothers and their children, the e-government team set out to pilot a maternity reminder system modeled after the Mobile Alliance for Maternal Health (MAMA) program, which has been deployed in 70 countries worldwide.  

Following a comprehensive search for the right mobile-based communication platform, Réjean chose TextIt, which he discovered through a course offered by TechChange. “I had looked at other tools when I started this process, but what really impressed me is that yours is a lot easier to use than the others.”

TextIt’s instinctual Flow Engine enabled Réjean to swiftly build a sample Campaign to demonstrate to the IT team in Peru. His colleagues then harnessed TextIt’s API to integrate their medical records software, allowing TextIt to submit information to and request information from their external medical records application.  

In November 2013, ProGobernabilidad launched its pilot program with 250 women across 6 Lambayeque clinics. “The demand is very, very strong…the mothers and their families really love it,” says Réjean.

End-User Onboarding

ProGobernabilidad provided a series of trainings for nurse-midwives and pregnant women and their companions on the functionality of the SMS system they built with TextIt. In addition, they extended recruiting responsibilities to nurse-midwives and doctors. At TextIt, we refer to this as end-user onboarding. This is important. If end-users don’t understand how to interact with your application, or how and why interacting with your application benefits them, they’re less likely to respond correctly and complete your Flows.

End-user onboarding can be time-intensive and require patience. It took ProGobernabilidad nearly a year to sensitize and capacitate pregnant women to use their TextIt SMS system.

Flow Methodology

ProGobernabilidad took advantage of TextIt’s Campaigns feature to schedule a series of Flows comprised of maternity reminder messages. Watch the video below for a short, visual explanation of this process:

Results

ProGobernabilidad conducted a pilot study to assess the effectiveness of the program.

Some highlights from the study include:

  • Pregnant women who participated in the program attended a greater number of prenatal checkups at the end of the 16th week of receiving the messages.

  • Pregnant women who participated in the program had higher chances of having an institutional delivery at the end of the program.

  • Mothers who participated in the program reported more consistent breastfeeding at the end of the 16th week.

  • Nurse-midwives revealed that the program improved their capacity to counsel the pregnant women.

Lessons Learned

  • Nurse-midwives interviewed for the pilot study suggested that more focus be placed on training pregnant women and their companions to be successful with the program so that they might offer their testimonials and disseminate the system within their community. They also suggested that ProGobernabilidad advertise the program with posters, billboards and flyers.

  • The study failed to secure follow-up interviews with the majority of mothers who had graduated from the maternity health program, as the phone numbers were either disconnected or the mothers had changed carriers. In economically underdeveloped regions, users are more likely to jump from carrier to carrier to take advantage of deals. It’s advisable to account for this behavior when designing your TextIt SMS application and the program in which it will be implemented.

Moving Forward

One of ProGobernabilidad’s long-term goals is to demonstrate to the government of Peru that providing services via mobile phones is a mutually beneficial endeavor.

On the heels of a successful pilot, ProGobernabilidad is preparing to expand their presence from 6 clinics to more than 20 by including the Tumbes and La Libertad regions.

Sign up for a TextIt account today to start building your own SMS application. In keeping with our goal of fostering development, we provide 1,000 complimentary credits to every new account, as well as country-specific guides to integrating with local carriers and international gateways.

We understand that flexibility is key when deploying an SMS or IVR application, and that’s why we offer a simple prepaid model that lets you add credits to your account only as you need them.

To learn more about TextIt, visit our Learning Center, review our documentation, or watch this short video:





Using TextIt to Build Meaningful Client Relationships & Provide Flexible Support

We recently spoke with Lawrence Omondi, Office Manager at Access Afya, about his experience using TextIt as a means of supporting clients and building meaningful relationships. 

Access Afya is a sustainable social enterprise that runs a chain of affordable microclinics in Mukuru, an informal settlement in Nairobi, Kenya, that provides low-cost, quality healthcare to the local community. Access Afya uses text messaging to send appointment reminders, follow-up with patients post-appointment, and keep them informed on the importance of healthy living.

Why TextIt?

“100% of our clients are able to provide us with a mobile phone number on which to contact them, whether because they own the phone individually or because each family has at least one phone.

Given that mobile phone penetration is very high even in Kenya’s informal settlements, Textit provides us with the perfect communication channel to reach our client regardless of where they are.”

How have you integrated TextIt into Access Afya’s workflow?

"TextIt has allowed us to create an open, personal and friendly relationship with the communities we work in, providing easy access as well as the confidence to approach us. Patients associate our brand with the quality service, care, and attentiveness our clinicians provide.

Textit has enabled us to develop an ‘offline’ relationship with our patients for the times that we are not interacting with them in person. This individual, personalized relationship extends to the emotional and physical well being of a patient, their family, and other community members. Textit has enabled us to form a bond with our patients that gets stronger each time we see a new client in one of our clinics and are able to follow up with them via text message."

Which feature has helped Access Afya the most?

"The ability to group clients. We have created different client groups within Textit, categorized according to their geography, age, demographic and the Access Afya program they are enrolled in. We use these groups to communicate with our patient base in a more strategic manner, and most frequently our communication with them involves sending the relevant groups health messages and inform them about Access Afya community engagement events or bundles that we are providing.

We also value the ability to create a message Flow. This enables us to provide continuity, build relationships and collect data to understand the needs of our patients over time (given that our text messages to them and their responses are saved on the same thread). This enables us to collect useful information from our patients and draw on trends to improve our service delivery."

TextIt puts you in the pocket of your target user with more reliability than email or social media. Using TextIt, you can take advantage of increasing mobile phone ownership rates and communicate more directly with your client or patient. 

Sign up for a TextIt account today to build your own SMS or IVR application, no programming experience required. We provide 1,000 complimentary credits to every new account, as well as country-specific guides to integrating with local carriers and international gateways.

We understand that flexibility is key when deploying an SMS or IVR application, and that’s why we offer a simple prepaid model that lets you add credits to your account only as you need them.

To learn more about TextIt, visit our Learning Center, review our documentation, or watch this short video:


Leveraging RapidPro to Empower Health Workers Amid the Liberian Ebola Crisis

Here’s a story from the field spotlighting a RapidPro implementation in Liberia that we proudly maintain for UNICEF and the mHero initiative. As we’ve discussed before, RapidPro is the Open Source software platform that powers TextIt.

We recently spoke with Sean Blaschke of UNICEF and Amanda Puckett of IntraHealth about the groundbreaking Health Worker Electronic Response and Outreach (mHero) program for Ebola response in Liberia.

Sean, Health Systems Strengthening Coordinator for UNICEF Uganda, and Amanda, IntraHealth International’s technical advisor for human resources for health, played key roles in the development and deployment of mHero, a suite of applications that relies on RapidPro for communication. Other components include iHRIS (IntraHealth’s health workforce information software), DHIS 2 (a web-based open-source information system) and the mHero Sync Coordinator (mSync).

mHero is a symbiotic conglomeration of distinct applications that form an SMS-based, IVR-enabled system that facilitates communication between Liberia’s Ministry of Health (MoH) staff, health workers, and community members. RapidPro enables SMS and IVR communication while the combination of iHRIS and DHIS 2 provide data infrastructure and health resource information, such as health workforce data sorted by cadre and location. “It’s the lowest common denominator in essential integrations,” says Sean, “a mobile communications engine for any set of systems.”

In practice, mHero allows the MoH to instantly send critical information to health workers’ mobile phones during the outbreak and in the future. Leveraging RapidPro, the tool allows for:

  • Broadcast messaging

  • Reporting emerging cases

  • Sharing reference and training materials

  • Testing and improving the knowledge of health workers

  • Improved coordination among the Ministry of Health, Social Welfare and remote health facilities.

  • Validating healthcare workers using DHIS 2 and iHRIS

Real-time monitoring, complex surveys and detailed analysis can be conducted with ease. What’s more, IVR allows healthcare organizations to deliver knowledge with higher content limits and no literacy requirement in any spoken language. Our last article highlights a UNICEF RapidPro deployment in Pakistan that leverages IVR to educate social mobilizers about Polio.

In addition to empowering healthcare workers through enhanced communication, the mHero initiative sought to give them control over how the application is being built.  “mHero is not prescriptive,” says Sean, “It’s a very simple proposal: improve communication between ministry of health and frontline health workers. From there, what do they want to do with it?”

The mHero team made it a point to train health workers and MoH staff to build Flows using RapidPro, and they took well to it. The idea, Sean pointed out, is to implement the system and let countries define their own use cases. Health workers are the best candidates to design communication systems for health workers. This approach has been successful thus far, as over 75% of workers have completed the surveys.

The ability to quickly and easily setup a RapidPro demo environment using an Android Relayer and the intuitive dashboard and Flow Engine allow for a seamless user onboarding process. “RapidPro is very simple to use, regardless of learning method,” says Sean.

Sign up for a TextIt account today to start building your own SMS or IVR application. In keeping with our goal of fostering development, we provide 1,000 complimentary credits to every new account, as well as country-specific guides to integrating with local carriers and international gateways.

We understand that flexibility is key when deploying an SMS or IVR application, and that’s why we offer a simple prepaid model that lets you add credits to your account only as you need them.

To learn more about TextIt, visit our Learning Center, review our documentation, or watch this short video:


Polio, Meet Mobile: Targeting the Final 1% of Global Polio Cases with RapidPro

Here’s a story from the field spotlighting a RapidPro implementation that we proudly maintain for UNICEF. As we’ve discussed before, RapidPro is the Open Source software platform that powers TextIt.

Polio is at the brink. The total number of global polio cases has decreased by 99% since 1988.

For UNICEF Polio Innovation Lead Asch Harwood and his colleagues, that isn’t good enough. Whereas the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), of which UNICEF is a key partner, has been successful in eradicating the overwhelming majority of global polio cases, the final 1% has proven elusive. “We’ve reached a point where current methods are no longer working. We need to think outside the box.”

Polio flourishes in areas where awareness of and access to vaccination are scarce. These are communities in which literacy rates and income levels are low, and access to technology is limited. The average person in these communities might not be aware of vaccination services or might feel pressure from local leaders to avoid vaccination.

Today, polio circulates in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In Nigeria, the only other country where polio is endemic, the total number of polio cases is 6 as of 2015 though health authorities have not detected a new case of polio since 2014. Nevertheless, polio eradication can only be certified once the afflicted region demonstrates that transmission has been blocked for at least 3 consecutive years.

How can these people be reached, and what will enable that communication?

This is the prompt Asch Harwood and the polio communication team at UNICEF are attempting to answer. “It’s UNICEF’s job to make sure that people understand why vaccinations are important,” says Asch.

To reach the remaining 1% of cases, Asch and his colleagues are focusing their efforts on creating demand for the polio vaccine in those communities most at risk. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, this means working within potentially dangerous areas.

To reach these populations, polio communication teams engage in social mobilization, a communication for development (C4D) approach that seeks to change behavior by motivating a wide range of players to raise awareness of and demand for a particular development goal through dialogue.

Going into this project, Asch recognized the potential of mobile phones as a point of connection with people in communities most at risk for polio infection. After researching and testing various services that would allow him to build SMS and interactive voice response (IVR) applications to establish automated bidirectional communication at scale, Asch and the polio C4D team settled on RapidPro.

Asch points to user experience as the key factor that led the polio team to adopt RapidPro: “I’ve played with a lot of the other IVR tools, and you guys have definitely designed the best user experience I’ve seen so far.”

As an innovation lead, ease of use allows Asch to bring new ideas to life. “Probably the most powerful part of it is that because I was able to demonstrate it, I was able to get the buy-in necessary to help us start prototyping and piloting.”

The RapidPro platform allows Asch and his colleagues to build flowcharts or Flows that disseminate and collect actionable information geared toward improving vaccination awareness via a combination of SMS and interactive voice response (IVR). Asch chose to use IVR because the information he desires to disseminate exceeds the 160 character SMS format.

For example, registered social mobilizers in target communities might receive an automated phone call from UNICEF’s team announcing a survey aimed at better preparing them for their jobs. The automated voice recording will ask a question in Urdu — in this case, a quiz question about the symptoms of polio — and then ask the user to press the number that corresponds with their response. If the user answers correctly, the Flow will provide additional information before moving to the next question. If the user answers incorrectly, the Flow will respond with the correct answer and provide an explanation before moving forward.

The goal is to equip registered social mobilizers with the information they need to affect harmful discourse and raise the awareness necessary to increase the rate of vaccination within their communities.

The polio unit’s RapidPro deployment integrates with Twilio’s Global Reach to make international calls. The success rate of these calls is cause for optimism: In an analysis of 7,000 calls made through Twilio connections to social mobilizers all over Pakistan, it was found that only 7% failed to connect. This indicates that mobile network coverage in Pakistan is extensive.

The project currently reaches upwards of 2,500 social mobilizers within Afghanistan and Pakistan. In the coming weeks, UNICEF plans to increase that number to 7,000, focusing on females in high-risk areas. Asch and his colleagues expect IVR to be particularly powerful in low-literacy settlements.

Next, Asch will be in Nigeria working closely with the Nigeria polio communications team to begin prototyping RapidPro applications with social mobilizers in that country.

To learn more about TextIt, visit our Learning Center, review our documentation, or watch this short video:

Sign up for a TextIt account today to start building your own SMS or IVR application. In keeping with our goal of fostering development, we provide 1,000 complimentary credits to every new account, as well as country-specific guides to integrating with local carriers and international gateways.

We also integrate with Twitter, allowing users to take advantage of wifi and data plans to send Direct Messages to other Twitter accounts.