KAMPALA, Uganda, 14 March 2012 – U-report, a new communications technology developed by UNICEF Uganda and launched in May 2011, is revolutionizing social mobilization, monitoring and response efforts. The initiative equips mobile phone users with the tools to establish and enforce new standards of transparency and accountability in development programming and services.
|One Heart Family featuring Bigdeal sing a song about Uganda's U-report application, which is revolutionizing social mobilization, monitoring and response efforts. Watch in RealPlayer|
By sending the text message, ‘join,’ to a toll-free number and submitting a few personal details, anyone with a mobile phone can become a volunteer ‘U-reporter’, sharing their observations and ideas on a wide range of development issues.
In less than a year, the population of U-reporters has grown to over 89,000, with 400 to 500 joining the network daily.
Engaging and empowering youth
Collaborating on the effort, UNICEF’s U-report team and a group of nine partner organizations meet regularly to determine which issues to discuss with Uganda’s youth, who make up the majority of U-reporters. Topics have included female genital mutilation (FGM), outbreaks of disease, safe water, early marriage, education, health and inflation.
Once a topic is decided, UNICEF sends a question via SMS text to U-reporters, who can respond either with a simple menu-based reply or with personal messages. The UNICEF team analyzes and interprets the responses, sharing the results and often following up with additional questions or suggestions.
|U-Report is a free SMS-based system that allows young Ugandans to speak out about what's happening in communities across the country. It also enables them work with other community leaders for positive change.|
“U-report is gaining popularity because it has given Ugandans the ability to inform other Ugandans and to take action,” said UNICEF Senior Project Manager James Powell, who leads the U-report initiative. “We can ask questions about issues throughout the country and get answers right away – by district, by gender, by age – and that helps us know where to concentrate our limited response resources and how best to advise our government and aid partners.”
UNICEF Representative in Uganda Sharad Sapra envisioned and embraced U-report’s capabilities early on.
“U-report is a game-changing application,” he said, “not only for Uganda, or for UNICEF, but for improving all development agencies’ and NGOs’ ability to assess progress in processes aimed at achieving various development indicators. For UNICEF, it enables us to harness community information for level-three monitoring so we can judge the effectiveness of our programs in meeting identified needs. It also engages our aid beneficiaries in monitoring programme progress.
Achieving equity for the hardest-to-reach
U-report was instrumental in addressing the recent outbreak of a mysterious epilepsy-related illness known as ‘nodding disease’, which mainly affects children under age 15. Over 3,000 cases have been reported to date. UNICEF noted an increase in messages about the disease
|© UNICEF Uganda/2012/Sekandi|
|A U-reporter wears an ID card in Uganda. These ID cards are given to people who have signed up for the programme.|
from U-reporters in northern districts, and the U-report team was able to inform affected communities about symptoms and available treatment.
The programme offers a promising way to monitor education and child protections efforts as well. And U-report may also be a catalyst for more responsible and responsive governance. The initiative is garnering interest from Uganda’s government and media, resulting in increased engagement by members of Parliament.
UNICEF is now working to increase access to the technology by creating of versions of the app in Luo, a language spoken in northern Uganda, and in Karimojong, which is spoken in the north-eastern region. The initiative is also working with telecommunication companies to equip telephone booths with U-report service for those without access to a mobile phone.
“U-report offers a cost-effective, easy-to-implement means of assuring accountability by tapping community knowledge to learn the local and personal impact of policy and development schemes, health interventions and outbreaks,” Mr. Sapra said. “It is a ‘killer app’ for communication toward achieving equitable outcomes for children and their families.”
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