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Media (R)evolutions: U-Report mobilizes youth via SMS and social media

Roxanne Bauer's picture

New developments and curiosities from a changing global media landscape: People, Spaces, Deliberation brings trends and events to your attention that illustrate that tomorrow's media environment will look very different from today's, and will have little resemblance to yesterday's.

In 2011, UNICEF launched an innovative program called “U-report” in Uganda. The goal was to use the ubiquity and connectivity of mobile phones to ask young people what they thought about specific issues affecting their community and then encourage them to participate in community-led development projects. 

The U-report system works by sending polls, asking for feedback and providing information via SMS and social media to volunteers, known as “U-reporters”. Weekly polls are sent out on Wednesday and results are shared on Monday. There is no charge at all for a U-reporter to send any message, which enables greater response rates. U-Report is powered by RapidPro, an open source solution, which different countries can implement.

The information that is collected can also be used by local and national media or sent to key stakeholders to alert them to the challenges their constituents are facing.

Uganda National Pulse, U-Report

Today, there are over 280,000 U-Reporters in Uganda alone and 800,000 in over 14 countries worldwide, including Mexico, Indonesia, and others across Africa. By the end of 2015, U-Report is expected to expand to approximately 20 countries and reach 1 million young people.

The system was also used in Nigeria as it battled the Ebola outbreak last year. During the period, about 15 million text messages were sent through the U-Report platform. Awareness messages that debunked mythical cures like bathing with hot water and salt or taking bitter kola were sent out, and U-Reporters were informed on how to identify the disease and how to keep safe.

U-Report Nigeria hasn’t restricted itself to dealing with Ebola, however, and has sent out more than 50 polls and 26 million messages over the past year on prevention of HIV/AIDS, maternal and child health, water, and sanitation hygiene to safety and security in schools; child protection, electricity, and unemployment. There are plans to introduce local languages such as Hausa, Pidgin, Igbo and Yoruba to ensure that everyone can participate.

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You can find out more on UNICEF's U-Report website, as well as information on how to become a U-Reporter.

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