Fascinating Freedom Fone
As I explore innovative approaches in civilian-led movements, I become increasingly knowledgeable about the latest technological gadgets and devices that have become powerful tools in demand for good governance and democratic reform processes. Don’t worry, I won’t go on about the Arab Revolution and the role of social media yet again. Instead, I will talk about a latest invention that does not even require the end users to have a web access, something that can be exploited by just anyone, even the illiterates.
Freedom Fone is an ICT invention that has been specifically designed to cater to those that are in most need of information, bearing in mind the barriers they face in accessing information and the opportunities it provides to improve their conditions.
Freedom Fone is an information system that is almost entirely voice-based. According to the project information, the end users don’t need a computer and don’t have to use SMS, and it can be made available in any language. The goal of the new device is to make information accessible as broadly as possible. It uses the mobile phone as a medium because of its increasing popularity as the most accessible and convenient communication device among the poor (even more than TV and radio in some countries).
Individuals can contribute questions, content and feedback by leaving voice messages by simply clicking the menu of options provided through the Interaction Voice Record (IVR) system. And the organizers can create a menu of options in recognition of the specific needs of the caller or even the organizers. For instance, organizers can use the system to disseminate information, conduct polls, or collect citizen reports on a specific topic of interest. Citizens can use the system to register complaints, provide feedback or seek information and latest news on a specific topic of interest to them.
The information exchange options can include audio and video messages, text messaging or emails, and can therefore, cater to audiences of different strata, economic levels and geographical locations. Some examples of the potential use of FreedomFone as suggested in the project website include:
• Critical information during emergency responses such as measles or typhoid epidemics
• Discreet information for stigmatized communities impacted by HIV/AIDS
• Seasonal agro-extension services, such as market prices, for small scale farmers
• First aid and health advice for pre-and post-natal mothers
• Counseling and support for victims of abuse
• Practical entrepreneurial advice and a job recruitment helpline
• Platform for current affairs information in countries where the mass media is still controlled.
The instructions for using Freedom Fone are made simple enough for non-technical people to follow on their own with time, according to the project website, requiring less than 20-minutes before the system becomes a full-functioning device. The Freedom Fone software is made available for free through easily downloadable open-source channels. The software entails a simple-to-use browser interface through which menu options can be recorded and frequently updated and the incoming information can be tagged and filed. The only cost associated with the package is a hardware device for connecting the software with the message system, which can be purchased at an affordable price (excluding advertising and salary cost to operate the system). Callers can also use a toll-free number. The instructions on the webpage of FreedomFone include demonstrated video and audio examples of successful applications and the impact of the technology.
A Zimbabwe-based NGO, Kubatana, conceived of Freedom Fone with the help of technical experts to amplify and extend access to the work of civil society in the country. The low-cost, do-it-yourself, language option and large geographical coverage that this technology provides can be easily broadened in scope (as mentioned above) and the model can be deployed in other countries. The significant aspects of this technology include its reach, and suitability to those that are in most need of information --- the poor.