Uganda’s SMS-based uReport an edge in citizen journalism

UNICEF’s uReport is helping Uganda’s organizations and communities ensure viabilities and sustainability of their projects alongside reporting current newsworthy events.

Initially, some non-governmental organizations have had to set up projects in developing countries without surveying what the communities need. A great number of these projects have often failed, says UNICEF Uganda.

Sean Blaschke, a Technology for Development specialist at UNICEF Uganda, says uReport is a low cost medium and very user-friendly even to an average user.

To be a uReporter, one has to sign up via a toll-free shortcode 8500 and answer specific system generated questions. Once a member, a user can engage in the debates and polls, or independently report events in the villages including environmental degradation, early marriage, breastfeeding, nutrition, education among others.

“One sends in a message and then through an SMS scripted dialogue, learns about the system. They then fill in their age, sex, community groups they’re active in, health facility they report to, what school they go to and then we tag demographic, location-specific data to that phone number,” said Blaschke.

The UNICEF team analyzes and interprets the responses, shares the results and follow up additional questions or suggestions.

Weekly reports are sourced from the uReporters’ growing community. The reports are afterwards sent to various radio programs and newspaper publishers to increase participation and nationwide campaigns in the country.

Blaschke said the uReporters are important as they capture “perception data,” the kind of information that quantitative reporting may miss. The poll results are posted on the uReport website as maps, charts, and word clouds.

UNICEF can use the information collected in the polls to survey how services and systems work in individual communities.

According to UNICEF, in less than a year, the population of U-reporters has grown to over 89000 within one year with 400 to 500 joining the network daily. By last year June when the service went nationwide, uREport recorded more than 28,000 registered users, at present, the site has about 110,700.

By using real voices and reports from uReport, concerns and wants of the community are addressed and advocated transparently, says UNICEF.

Launched in May last year, Ureport is similar to Ushahidi. The SMSsync tool enables registered members to send community-based reports to the Ushahidi’s portal although even in regions with no Internet.

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