From February 2021 till today, Katikati is partnered with the Malawi Red Cross Society to run an open 2-way SMS channel for volunteers to increase feedback, participation and behaviour change for Covid-19. During the initial three months, two staff members at MRCS held 1,200 conversations with volunteers nationwide to gain and act on insights shared. This post shares more on how this was achieved.
With the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, National Societies of the Red Cross were looking for innovative ways to engage communities with COVID-19 information whilst still respecting public health guidelines. Coupled with this, the speed and volume of rumours and misinformation highlighted the need for new tools to collect community feedback at scale and remotely and respond to the issues raised in real-time.
The Malawi Red Cross Society (MRCS) established a Help Desk in April 2020, providing a free-to-call shortcode to address any concerns volunteers had about Covid-19. By early 2021, despite a volunteer network of 70,000+ in Malawi, this line was only receiving 20 calls per week. MRCS wanted to offer a more accessible line to volunteers where they could also better understand the primary concerns about Covid-19. With the support of the IFRC Africa Region CEA team and the Netherlands Red Cross, MRCS partnered with Katikati to run an open 2-way SMS channel to increase volunteer feedback, participation and behaviour change for Covid-19.
- Channel: MRCS chose to use Katikati with an SMS channel thanks to its wide reach to all phones even with low network reception and the ability for it to be free-to-user. MRCS had an existing free-to-call SMS shortcode and with Katikati’s support and a 3rd party provider (Africa’s Talking), this was extended to include text on the major networks in Malawi, Airtel and TNM.
- Team on Katikati: The MRCS Help Desk, led by Joseph Mwase with support from Jack Kanchiputu, dedicated an hour a day on Katikati.
- Contacts: 1,100 volunteer phone numbers were collated from various districts in Malawi.
- Consent: To ensure volunteers were happy to be contacted in this manner, the first message sent by MRCS informed volunteers of this line and what it was being used for and the option to opt-out.
- Content: This line was primarily about promoting information about Covid-19 and addressing rumours. To promote engagement, this entailed asking volunteers their opinion or that of their community around such topics. The conversational journey was designed to be like this:
Workflow: To respond quickly and safeguard sensitive messages, each day Joseph and Jack would check Katikati periodically through the day and spend on average 30 minutes responding to what came in. On days when they initiated conversations, like asking 300 volunteers ‘Dear Volunteer, have you heard of this fourth wave of Covid?’, the team could spend 1.5hrs handling the responses. The initial workflow was designed as shown in this diagram.
Over three months, Katikati enabled MRCS to provide volunteers with an accessible and trusted SMS feedback channel, better understand volunteer opinions and respond to misinformation around Covid-19. Here is an overview of the numbers MRCS managed to reach and support.
Equally important is the substance and analysis of such conversations. When MRCS asked volunteers questions, alongside responding thoughtfully and empathetically to their concern, Jack used the tagging feature in Katikati to add tags to the relevant messages. In real time, this created charts MRCS could analyse to inform their programs. Here are two examples of questions volunteers were asked.
Volunteers particularly appreciated the anonymous, free and accessible nature of the SMS line and quick response time from MRCS. As Jack found, ‘Volunteers were happy with the development as they felt recognised by the [Malawi Red Cross] society and their communication needs were met’. Volunteers shared messages like 'Thank you for your appreciation, I am committed to anything you can share with me. Good day, thank you.' and 'Thank you but don't stop, we want to keep updated about Covid-19 and allow us to move forward together'. As volunteers built trust, they also began to share their own issues to seek support from MRCS. This included urgent reporting of impending weather disasters and sensitive matters like corruption in transfers or under-age marriages.
With Katikati, the MRCS team felt they had ‘an easy way to reach volunteers and a new ability to have direct communication to understand ground situations and respond accordingly’. They also showed that National Societies of the Red Cross have the ability to hold human 1-1 conversations with 1,000+ volunteers with a small team. This project with MRCS has continued and is being expanded to other National Societies.