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How Better Listening Makes for Better School Environments

We will use mobile phone platforms to gather constituent feedback on school environments and help education providers better respond.

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What do regular people want to make their lives better? Are we helping them get it? If not, what will we do differently? In a recent Oxfam research report, it was found that, "...[refugees feel] that providers don't listen or respond to refugee needs...." and that "[Among] female households, more than 75% felt they had no influence on services." At the same time, the report finds that, ÔÇťAbout 70% of [refugees] living in host communities prefer to receive information by SMS messaging." Most service providers in refugee contexts don't have a dedicated structure for information dissemination and community feedback. So, at Feedback Labs, we're asking: Can we use mobile phone technologies--like SMS text messaging or interactive voice response (IVR)-- to enable two-way communication, get feedback, to make educational services better? For many of these refugees, location of schools, timing of classes, problems with security/protection -- key parts of the school environment--are barriers to student attendance. Our idea is to use affordable mobile phone technologies to re-enfranchise refugees, gather feedback, listen, and help education service providers respond.


Regular people: the refugees for whom education services are provided. Photo credits: Russell Watkins/Department for International Development


Option 1 1. Identify an education service provider that has low student attendance. 2. Collect the mobile phone numbers of the households for whom the education is designed. 3. Send either SMS text messages or use interactive voice response (IVR) to understand bottlenecks to student attendance and crowd-source improvements related to school environment (location, timing, security/protection, etc). Option 2 1. Collect a quasi-random sample of mobile phone numbers. 2. Use SMS/IVR and begin the survey by asking if a) the household is of refugee status and b) if the household has children. 3. Continue with Step 3 of Option 1. Option 3 1. Do one-time dispersed recruitment (radio or door-to-door) and provide a phone number for beneficiaries to call or text (user-initiated surveys) to solicit input on school environments. 2. Collect input and close the feedback loop. Feedback could be quickly aggregated, analyzed, and delivered to service provider(s).


The Oxfam research report shows the critical need for improved communication channels between service providers and beneficiaries. It shows that "transforming the school environment" is not just about the built environment but also location and timing-- questions of access. It also points to key differences among refugees in camp versus host community contexts. Our discussion with the Norwegian Refugee Council has pointed out that security and protection are also key barriers to school access. They have suggested that our idea could help link education and social protection activities that often otherwise operate in parallel. We have also discussed with GroundTruth, Keystone Accountability, CDA, SIMLab, FrontlineSMS, Voto Mobile, Ulula, the World Bank and the Center for Global Development. From these conversations we better understand the potential and challenges of the SMS/IVR technology, and the importance of strong buy-in and design input from an education service provider.

SKILL SHARE (optional)

As a networked consortium of organizations dedicated to improving feedback mechanisms, Feedback Labs has a diversity of skills across its members. Collectively we have experience in mobile phone platforms, survey design and implementation, incorporating constituent voice in social programing, and refugee environments. We do, however, need to find an education service provider in a refugee context, one that ideally also works in the non-camp (host community) environment.


Feedback Labs is a consortium of like-minded organizations. Each organization, through its own strengths, has endeavored to put regular people front-and-center. We seek to position regular people as co-creators and drivers of their own growth and development. Find out more at


  • This idea is meant to inspire - I hope someone else takes it on.


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