Digital Communities

Texting for Democracy

Price: Anerkennung - Honorary Mentions

Bev Clark: creative director Amanda Atwood: programme manager Upenyu Makoni-Muchemwa: information officer Elizabeth Shingerai: information product wizard Lenard Kamwendo: web page maker


Cyberarts 2012 - International Compendium Prix Ars Electronica 2012

Kubatana uses e-mail, SMS and post to communicate with a wide and diverse network of Zimbabwean individuals and organizations. Our SMS membership of over 30,000 subscribers is distributed across the country, with a third based in Harare, a third in Zimbabwe’s other cities and towns and a third in rural areas and growth points.

This reach makes us particularly able to take advantage of the immediacy and interactivity of SMS and mobile communications. Our SMS survey is regularly used as a two-way communication tool, in which people share their feedback, tips and suggestions with us, and through which we invite feedback, opinions and observations on timely and relevant topics.

Kubatana uses Clickatell’s online bulk SMS service to send out text messages to our subscribers. The sender ID facility on Clickatell enables us to set the sender identity that the messages are sent from. In our case, this is the phone number of the dedicated SMS line at our office. Kubatana has used this two-way SMS feedback channel in a number of ways in the past year, to “crowd source” opinion and information and to help develop a broader picture of local and national events.

For example, in February 2011 we received a phone call from a trusted civil-society ally, informing us of violence in central Harare. We sent out a text message to our subscribers informing them of this report, advising them to be careful and asking them to submit their reports and observations. We received over 200 replies from subscribers, some of whom were in the city center at the time, and some of whom were using the opportunity to report on the violence they were experiencing in Harare and farther afield. This feedback enabled us to build a picture of events taking place and report on them on our community blog.

In early 2012, Harare and other cities were increasingly experiencing typhoid cases—at an extent atypical for Zimbabwe. We sent out a text message to our subscribers asking how typhoid had affected their communities and what they thought government should do. We received around 200 responses. We then used the free online mapping capacity on ArcGIS to plot these comments, which centered around Harare but were also distributed around the country. Kubatana hopes increasingly to use mapping and data visualization techniques to share information from our subscribers and to create an even greater sense of community within our membership. In our experience, Zimbabweans have limited avenues through which to express themselves freely and therefore greatly value the two-way communications platform Kubatana provides through email, SMS and other new and traditional media.