The FrontlineSMS user community has seen a growing number of user meet-ups across the world in recent months. It's exciting to see community members come together and share opinions and experiences on our software. This is a guest column by FrontlineSMS user Joseph Owuondo, who attended a recent meet-up in Nairobi hosted at the FrontlineSMS offices.
The FrontlineSMS meet-up held in Nairobi at the beginning of April brought together a number of organizations, individuals and experts who focus their work on elections and conflict resolution-related issues -- and who all have an interest in the potential use of FrontlineSMS for monitoring Kenya's upcoming 2013 elections. Over lunch, we talked about how to manage a FrontlineSMS system from both a program-design perspective and a technical perspective.
My attendance at the meet-up was motivated by my own desire to use technology to reshape and reconstruct patterns of social interdependence, and thus have a positive influence on peace and stability. Being a self-made technologist, I have worked to train communities on both FrontlineSMS and the Crowdmap and Ushahidi platforms. I have found great satisfaction in training others to perform important communications tasks with the support of community participation -- and all enabled through technology.
It's important to connect with others using technology for social change, because technology does not, in itself, make an enterprise -- relationships do! Daudi Were of Ushahidi emphasized that during the meet-up, saying that technology makes up less than 10% of social tech projects, and human partnerships and relationships play a significant part in engendering transformational social and economic change in the long-term.
why collaboration matters
It's true that the most exciting breakthroughs in our time will not occur because of technology as such, but because of our expanding ability to support each other. This can be enabled through technology, but it is the people themselves who make it happen.
FrontlineSMS has created a customized platform, which can be used to connect with and target communications with local people. During the meet-up, we explored the need for improved collaboration between those seeking to monitor the Kenyan elections using FrontlineSMS and other open-source technology tools. It was highlighted that it's important for groups to share key information to avoid duplication of efforts. Continued networking and communication is needed between all stakeholders.
To keep this collaborative ethos on track, a few days after the meet-up a Google Group for it was formed which will help provide a platform to share information and developments of various organizations working around Kenya electoral issues. The Google Group will help people stay connected -- but technology does not drive change, it enables change. We should all use this and other channels to share details of our own work, if the group will reach its potential.
Meanwhile, the demand for innovative technology grows, and I continue to train community-based organizations. Soon I will be moving from Kenya to the U.S., where I hope to join FrontlineSMS user community members based there and continue to exchange shared learning!
If you would like to join the Google Group for FrontlineSMS users based in Kenya planning to monitor upcoming elections, click here. You can also engage with FrontlineSMS' use community on the support forum, and if you'd like to suggest a meet-up in your region or find out where other FrontlineSMS user meet-ups are happening across the world, then join the Meet-Ups group on the forum today!
Joseph Owuondo most recently served as a project support manager in the Partnership for Peace Project - PfP, a European Union and Konrad Adenauer Stiftung-funded project in Kenya. Under the same project, he trained and served as Local Peace Expert. Courtesy of the PfP and Institute of for Technology and Social Change - TechChange, he specialized in FrontlineSMS and Ushaidi-Crowdmap technologies and has trained a number of community organizations on these technologies for enabling social change within those communities.
A version of this post also appeared on the FrontlineSMS blog.