Freedom Fone: Lessons in Training

Freedom Fone is not only about providing a free mobile communication platform, we are also very interested in how organisations are using our technology. Therefore, training is a very important aspect of what we do. 

The other day Tich, our esteemed technical support officer, was giving a routine training to an organisation that was considering using Freedom Fone to provide a critical information service for disadvantaged communities in Zimbabwe. For obvious reasons we cannot disclose the identity of the organisation but suffice to say that the experience presented a few challenges that we thought would be worth sharing.
The organisation had an already established ground network of advice centres and were very excited to add Freedom Fone to their list of communication and outreach tools. They had human resources and materials that could be easily converted into audio format for their service. Most importantly they realised the benefits of having a voice-based service to target disconnected rural communities. 
One of the challenges that was raised in the training was the fact that Freedom Fone requires some work on the part of the organisation to run a successful service. By successful we mean that the target audience is calling into the service, listening to the audio content provided and leaving messages. The reporting tools that come with the platform are there to provide the user this very ability to monitor how well their audience is responding to the service. However, this will not happen on it's own. 
Organisations that are used to working with traditional media channels such as reports, pamphlets or even broadcast to communicate their work often are thrilled by the novelty of new interactive tools. But the thrill is quick to wear out when they realise that interactivity also demands a different sort of organisational thinking. Such thinking is well emphasised in the book: The Networked Nonprofit by Beth Kanter and Allison Fine. 
“One constant in life is that human beings want and need to connect with one another in meaningful ways. These connections are made through social networks that are the conduits for the conversations that power social change. The job of nonprofit organisations is to catalyse and manage those conversations.” 
Although the book concentrates on the power of online social media like Facebook and Twitter, the lessons are no different for tools like Freedom Fone that seek to reach communities that remain alienated from both the traditional and new media. The whole point of these tools is that they allow organisations to forge two-way communication networks with communities and manage conversations within those communities that impact daily life and advocate a real cause. 
Managing such conversations take work and the tools won't do it alone. We have always advocated the importance for a potential user of Freedom Fone to carry out some basic research among their target audiences. This is important not only to advertise the service so people know it's there and what numbers to call, but also to find out how your service will cater for the basic needs of that community. 
Important questions to ask are: how does that community share information and what are the other preferred sources of information or media? What sort of income to they earn? How many estimated mobile phones per person per home? How much do they spend on air time/week? 
The advantage of using interactive tools like Freedom Fone is that an organisation can in essence evaluate the efficacy and relevance of the sort of information they are providing to a target community. But they must assess in advance what they aim to achieve by doing this. As our man Tich explains: 
“Its like any other tool. Take a Swiss Army knife: you can be awe struck by the multiple functionality of the tool but then suddenly realise that the knife is not big enough for a particular task or that what they actually need is real size screw driver. Often organisations overlook the finer points of how that tool may be relevant for what they do.” 
The point being that Freedom Fone has certain functionalities that allow organisations to use interactive voice in their range of communication strategies. By allowing for two-way channels of information means that any organisation has to put thought and effort in how to maintain that channel and not just send meaningless content to a target audience hoping it may be relevant to their needs. 
If not may as well stick with pamphlets, at least they make good wall paper.