The development work started in November 2011. At present, the CHRAGG project team is preparing system specifications. The first mission was to see the whether it was worth putting an effort into developing the system in terms of availability of technology, and moreover to explore Short Message Service (SMS) readiness among the citizens. The development team had to gather information from users, and surprisingly the outcome was what most of the team members did not expect: we came to find out that mobile phones and their main service, SMS, is widely accepted and widely used among Tanzanians. A good number of people we interviewed said they use SMS for normal communication such as greeting relatives and friends, and a few of them used it for business communications.
Our interest also was to know how many big mobile phone companies were available in the remote areas of the country, as this could give us indications of preferences. In all districts that we visited we noticed a good network from three mobile phone companies, Airtel, Vodafone and Tigo, and in other areas we noticed the presence of Zantel mobile operator. Additionally, the cost of SMS service is going down. Now most citizens have an option to receive 100 messages for the cost of five hundred shilling. This might be the reason for SMS being so popular, especially with the younger generation – which is our target population.
The SMS technology for Tanzanians is something which came fast and has had a major impact on our lives. One participant in one of our workshops put it this way: “Mobile phones and SMS have changed the way we live and interact.”
For us, it was interesting to learn that students are now more knowledgeable and they have more confidence speaking on the subject of human rights, and according to participants of the project and project workshops, the biggest challenge is how to lodge complaints before the Commission.
The team received open and honest suggestions from participants, especially students. In one meeting we conducted in a remote area, a young woman expressed her thoughts on how she thinks the system should function. Her contributions concerned specifications of the system; she brought attention to developing a system in Swahili, the language widely spoken in Tanzania, if we were attempting to develop a system that was to also be accessible for citizens who live in the more remote areas of the country. She moreover cautioned that if we want the system to be taken seriously, there should be no advertisements or any other promotional services run from the number that will be used for reporting human rights abuse and violations of good governance principles.
The team was challenged to take citizens with learning and hearing disabilities into consideration, including illiterate people. Several other suggestions were also collected, as they are all valid.
We were thankful to Spider for financing the feasibility study. Not only were we able to meet some of the intended users of the SMS system, but it was great to see that they are participating in the development of the system that they are going to use.
For the Commission it is a lesson learned that knowledge for system design can also come from the intended users and not only from the system designers.
Learn more about CHRAGG, visit chragg.go.tz