Lessons Learned

March 26, 2013

Throughout the course of our elections-based messaging, several key takeaways, lessons learned, and questions for the future became clear. These included:

  1. As the days went on, it became clear that there are certain situations in which messages cannot or should not be used. While this issue has arisen previously and we have set guidelines to deal with this, new situations came to light during the week and deepened our understandings of these situations. These highlighted the importance of establishing clear guidelines based on our prior research and our new election-time experience going forward. These guidelines should outline instances and occasions when a message is not or might not be appropriate, and how to go about making that judgment call. Below are some examples of situations where messaging could in fact contribute to insecurity, rather than alleviate it.
    1. High-Risk Message: This is the first and most important situation where messages should not be sent, as it deals with the danger for a message to cause alarm or worsen situations on the ground. These are messages that would be sent to an entire area, even if the issue is localized, and could cause alarm. This category also includes messages that would be sent out after a certain time at night, which again risks causing alarm. SNA-K was careful to avoid sending messages that had the potential to worsen or aggravate a situation. In cases where the concerns were geographically very isolated; or, where uncertainty was caused by thieves/common criminals taking advantage of the situation; or, finally, when an incident occurred late in the evening, SNA-K alerted security and continued to monitor the situation instead of sending a message. We noted that where people saw that we would report incidents and/or the potential for violence to security agencies, it also increased the reputation of SNA-K and the SMS. This represents an important factor for future exploration through research.
    2. Annoyance Factor: In order to create maximum impact from the messages, it is important that they are not sent so frequently as to become an annoyance. This includes reading the general mood. Tallying went on for days, and people became exhausted from hearing about the election. SNA-K was vigilant about not sending too many messages asking people to be patient, and instead, at one point sent all subscribers a message commending them and letting them know they were appreciated. We suspected that any more messages asking people to continue to stay patient was likely to backfire, and prompt people to unsubscribe or to disregard our messages.
    3. Organizational/Perceptions Risk: As situations evolve, it is important to be very, very, careful about being perceived to be partisan. In the coming days/weeks as the court cases are decided, this becomes even more important. One example is that after the results were announced, it was necessary to send a 160-character message to urge people to celebrate or react responsibly, without seeming to favor either side. As communities become more and more polarized in the coming days ahead of the court judgment, being sensitive about this type of dual targeting for multiple groups at the same time will become even more critical.
  2. Some amount of silence is crucial. In order for the messages to have an impact, they need to arrive at the right time, when people are most likely to pay attention to them. In extreme cases, messages need to be able to interrupt disruptive activity, including spreading of rumors. This involves understanding and calculating the limited social capital and airtime that SNA-K has as an organization to get people to pay attention to us. Messages cannot be sent out every time there is tension; instead, they should be used strategically so as to have maximum impact.
  3. Targeting is Key. People responded very well to messages that included the name of the place they were located. This personalised the messages and added to the sense that they were not alone, and their areas were being watched. In the future, as platforms become more sophisticated, it might make sense to have functionality whereby there is a “fill-in-the-blank field” for location, for example, “let us keep peace [location]” and the field would automatically be filled in from the database. This would hasten the process of message sending.
  4. Messages in combination with on-the-ground work and effective collaboration with relevant institutions is key. Our work throughout the election process showed the importance of combining messaging with on the ground work. This was demonstrated by the situations in which messages were not appropriate, but which SNA-K was able to report to relevant institutions such as the NSC for rapid response. This helped both to mitigate conflict and to increase SNA-K’s reputation in the target communities. One medium or approach is never going to be effective for every possible situation – it is important to have an awareness of appropriate responses to specific situations, and to work closely with partners and relevant institutions to help ensure that there is a relevant response to each issue that arises.

We hope that this blog post can serve as a starting point for conversations around the nuances of messaging about peace and using text messages as a medium. Our next blog in this three-part series will share some of the raw feedback we received with regards to our messaging around the March 4th elections.


Election Week: March 3 – 9

March 21, 2013

Sisi ni Amani sent out a total of 524,514 messages to its 65,000-strong subscriber pool during the week of the Kenyan general elections. Messages were sent out as and when the situation demanded. They were crafted to respond to a range of scenarios, from civic education needs and rioting at polling stations, to encouraging patience and calm where lines were long, or when there was a delay in announcing results.

In the first of a three-part blog series, we will provide a brief update of how events unfolded. The second part will examine the lessons learned from the week, and present some points for discussion and research for the future. The third part will pull out feedback from partners, subscribers, and members of the Kenya-wide Sisi ni Amani community, and reflect upon the impact of the messages sent.

It took a full six days from voting day, on March 4, for the IEBC to announce the results of the elections. The team followed the elections through a number of mediums, including monitoring the situation on the ground through our area co-ordinators and parters, and media – both traditional and social. We are currently continuing to watch and track the political situation, as there are two major legal challenges to the outcome pending in the Supreme Court – one by Raila Odinga, Prime Minister, and leader of the CORD coalition, and the second by numerous civil society organizations under the umbrella of KPTJ (Kenyans for Peace Truth and Justice) and AfriCog. Mr Odinga is calling for an entirely new election – citing inconsistencies and failures that marred this exercise.

As the Supreme Court prepares to hand down its verdict, we are preparing for one of a number of scenarios, including the possibility of a runoff, a re-count, an entirely new election to be called (a re-run), or for the election results to be declared valid. We are closely watching as events unfold, as each scenario carries the risk of volatility, that could impact the communities in which we work.

As SNA-K collected information, verified situational updates, sent messages, and responded to the process of releasing the results and announcing a final outcome, the team was shadowed by a filmmaker. To see more on his work, you can check out this link to the Peace in Our Pockets (a documentary about the work of Sisi ni Amani and some of its partners) blog. For an insight into the messages we sent, and the situations that called for them, please see this article in Quartz, written by SNA-K’s Program Manager Neelam Verjee.

Leading up to and throughout the election cycle, SNA-K’s work was also featured in Businessweek, The Economist, CNN, again in Quartz, and in Foreign Policy.


PeaceTXT Outreach: Over 23,000 NEW subscribers in the first 3 weeks!

March 26, 2012

By Jacqueline Njeru, Sisi ni Amani Kenya Programs Manager

The new year has been truly great for SNA-K. We have a series of community sensitization programs as well as a project with PeaceTXT to upgrade our SMS system to an open-source and scaleable tool, and to increase our subscriber base!

We are all very excited about these new programs, and I wanted to take a moment to share with you my reflections on our expanded outreach in Nairobi. Our work to increase our subscriber base in Nairobi, will focus on Baba Dogo; Korogocho: Huruma: Kariobangi and Mathare. In Narok we will be doing outreach in Narok North, Narok South and Transmara.

The first ten days of outreach to increase our subscriber base focused on the Baba Dogo and Korogocho slums in Nairobi. In ten days over 9,500 new subscribers signed up to receive SMS from SNA-K, thanks to the high level of commitment and dedication from our twenty outreach facilitators! Last week we expanded outreach to Kariobangi, Mathare and Huruma, and these outreach facilitators were joined by another group of outreach facilitators, with whom they attended the teambuilding training. Last week alone, forty-four outreach facilitators signed up over 13,000 new subscribers – our total number of subscribers is now over 23,000!

All of the wonderful outreach facilitators come from various youth groups and represent different groups within the areas where we work – we want to thank them: you are the BEST, we cannot make it without you!! We have been receiving and continue to receive positive response from the community, which is indicated by high number of new subscribers. Moreover, most groups that our outreach facilitators have had a chance to engage with and talk to have expressed a high interest in networking and working closely with Sisi ni Amani. We are excited to work together with these individuals to create new opportunities for civic education and civic engagement through our unique component of the SMS platform.

We have faced some challenge in recruiting subscribers, but are finding ways to overcome these challenges. For example, at first volunteers did not have ID badges and it was harder for them to gain trust and credibility. As outreach went on, the volunteers were given ID badges and more community members knew about SNA-K, and this challenge of gaining trust was minimized.  There was also an issue of insecurity (because of high levels of thievery) in some areas where volunteers planned outreach.  Koch FM, the community radio station with whom we’ve partnered on a discussion of community needs let us use their space so that volunteers could leave their phones and any valuables at the radio station when they went into insecure areas, and come sign them back out later.

As we move forward expanding our activities and subscriber base, it is important that we work for our community with the top priority and top most purpose being to improve the lives and relationships of those around us. This requires that we all have a heart of volunteerism and a passion for peace, and that we work closely with key leaders in the communities where we work. From here, we will be able to achieve a lot even if its’ on a small scale.

The journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step and our journey as Kenyans especially in the areas where SNA-K is present is to have a positive peace based on active cooperation within communities and a foundation of solid civic education and positive civic engagement. Pamoja, tuweze kuijenga Nchi Yetu tukufu ya Kenya.


SNA-K Launches Partnership with PeaceTXT

December 13, 2011

SNA-K is excited to announce that we have launched a partnership with PeaceTxt! Learn more in this post from Patrick Meier:

SMS for Violence Prevention: PeaceTXT International Launches in Kenya

[This post was written by Patrick Meier, and originally posted on the Ushahidi blog here]

One of the main reasons I’m in Nairobi this month is to launch PeaceTXT International withPopTechUshahidiPraekelt FoundationSisi ni AmaniCeaseFire Chicago andMedic:Mobile. PeaceTXT International builds on the original PeaceTXT project that several of us began working on with CeaseFire Chicago last year. I began thinking about the many possible international applications of the PeaceTXT project during our very first meeting, which is why I am thrilled and honored to be spearheading the first PeaceTXT International pilot project.

The purpose of PeaceTXT is to leverage mobile messaging to catalyze behavior change around peace and conflict issues. In the context of Chicago, the joint project with CeaseFire aims to leverage SMS reminders to interrupt gun violence in marginalized neighborhoods. Several studies in other fields of public health have already shown the massive impact that SMS reminders can have on behavior change, e.g., improving drug adherence behavior among AIDS and TB patients in Africa, Asia and South America.

Our mobile messaging campaign in Kenya builds on the very successful interruption and behavior change work performed by CeaseFire in Chicago. Note that CeaseFire has been directly credited for significantly reducing the number of gun-related killings in Chicago over the past 10 years. In other words, they have a successful and proven methodology; one being applied to several other cities and countries worldwide. PeaceTXT International simply seeks to scale this success by introducing SMS.

PeaceTXT Chicago builds another successful campaign in the US: “Friends Don’t Let Friends Drink and Drive.” Inspired by this approach, the PeaceTXT Team in Chicago is looking to launch a friends-don’t-let-friends-get-killed campaign. Focus groups recently conducted with high-risk individuals have resulted in rich content for several dozen reminder messages (see below) that could be disseminated via SMS.

These messages are user-generated in that the content was developed by high-risk individuals themselves—i.e., those most likely to get involved in gun violence. The messages are not limited to reminders. Some also prompt the community to get engaged by responding to various questions. Indeed, the project seeks to crowdsource community solutions to gun violence and thus greater participation. When high-risk individuals were asked how they’d feel if they were to receive these messages on their phones, they had the following to share: “makes me feel like no one is forgetting about me”; “message me once a day to make a difference.”

Given that both forwarding and saving text messages is very common among the population that CeaseFire works with, the team hopes that the text messages will circulate and recycle widely. Note that the project is still in prototype phase but going into implementation mode as of 2012. So we’ll have to wait and see how the project fares and what the initial impact looks like.

In the meantime, PeaceTXT is partnering with Sisi ni Amani (We are Peace) to launch its first international pilot project. Rachel Brown, who spearheads the initiative, first got in touch with me back in the Fall of 2009 whilst finishing her undergraduate studies at Tufts. Rachel was interested in crowdsourcing a peace map of Kenya, which I blogged about here shortly after our first conversation. Since then, Rachel and her team have set up the Kenyan NGO Sisi ni Amani Kenya (SnA-K) to leverage mobile technology for awareness raising and civic engagement with the aim of preventing possible violence during next year’s Presidential Elections.

SnA-K currently manages a ~10,000 member SMS subscriber list in Baba Dogo and Korogocho, Kamukunji and Narok. SnA-K’s SMS campaigns focus on voter education, community cohesion and rumor prevention. What SnA-K needs, how-ever, is the scalable SMS broadcasting technology, the type of focus that PeaceTXT brought to CeaseFire Chicago and the unique response methodology developed by the CeaseFire team. So I reached out to Rachel early on during the work in Chicago to let her know about PeaceTXT and to gain insights from her projects in Kenya. We set up regular conference calls throughout the year to keep each other informed of our respective progress and findings.

Soon enough, PopTech’s delightful Leetha Filderman asked me to put together a pitch for international applications of PeaceTXT’s work, an initiative I have “code-named” PeaceTXT International. I was absolutely thrilled when she shared the good news at PopTech 2011 that our donor, the Rita Allen Foundation, had provided us with additional funding, some of which could go towards an international pilot project. Naturally, Sisi ni Amani was a perfect fit.

So we organized a half-day brainstorming session at the iHub last week to chart the way forward on PeaceTXT Kenya. For example, what is the key behavioral change variable (like friendship in the PeaceTXT Chicago project) that is most likely to succeed in Kenya? As for interrupting violence, how can the CeaseFire methodology be customized for the SnA-K context? Finally, what kind of SMS broadcasting technology do we need to have in place to provide maximum flexibility and scalability earlier rather than later? Answering these questions and implementing scalable solutions essentially forms the basis of the partnership between SnA-K and PeaceTXT (which also includes Revolution Messaging). We have some exciting leads on next steps and will be sure to blog about them as we move forward to get feedback from the wider community.

Conflicts are often grounded in the stories and narratives that people tell themselves and the emotions that these stories generate. Narratives shape identity and the social construct of reality—we interpret our lives through stories. These have the power to transform relationships and communities. We believe the PeaceTXT model can be applied to catalyze behavior  change vis-a-vis peace and conflict issues at the community level by amplifying new narratives via SMS. There is considerable potential here and still much to learn, which is why I’m thrilled to be working with SnA, PopTech & partners on launching our first international pilot project: PeaceTXT Kenya.

Posted in CrisisMobileNairobiPartnershipsPeace effortsUshahidielections.Tagged with ,.

By patrick

December 12, 2011



Planning Outreach in Narok Town (March 18th, by Megan Turner)

July 14, 2011

Today, we had a meeting with our local chapter leaders in Narok to finalize plans for outreach in town the week of March 21st. While there, we were able to meet with the leader of Narok Youth Congress who displayed an interest in the new SMS system and indicated an interest in joining and assisting with outreach.  In terms of the upcoming outreach in town, the community groups are going to focus on markets that are still divided along PNU/ODM lines, pikipikis, churches, Total and Majengo Estates, and the Central Business District.  Local community groups such as HAPEP and Neighbors Peace Initiative will be involved with the various aspects of outreach.  Students from Kenyan Youth Methodist are planning on coming to Narok University on Friday to assist with outreach, and students on both ends are excited to meet and work to promote peace together.


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