Mali Speaks...and Listens

Mali Speaks, Al Jazeera

There are two projects in Mali that caught our eyes - or should we say, our ears? Al Jazeera, in partnership with mobile vendor Souktel, conducted a mobile survey in Mali, asking citizens' opinions via SMS about whether France's military intervention in the country was legitimate.  Al Jazeera then translated, tagged, and displayed responses on a color-coded map as part of its Mali Speaks project.  It is not entirely clear how many responses were recorded but the map is illuminating and well designed, illustrating how some sgment of the population feels about France's military intervention (Hint: Overwhelmingly positive). Of course, such citizen polls are not representative and tend to skew towards more literate, more urban, male, and wealthier resondents. Nonetheless, if combined with more systematic and stringent polling methodologies, they can provide a sense of the sentiment of citizens and can be conducted inexpensively in close-to real time. Combined with compelling visualizations, they can also be used by citizen groups as a tool for advocacy and by policy makers as a barometer of public opinion.

Al Jazeera has conducted other Speaks projects in Somalia, Uganda, and Libya. Souktel, earlier this year, also worked in Kenya where local youth leaders used the service to conduct and participate in live polls and votes via SMS to elect a board of directors, choose a name for their network, and determine an organizing structure for their regional youth movement.

Also in Mali, the Voice of America is providing radio clips through a very simple mobile site delivered on the multimedia blogging platform Tumblr. Mali1, in addition to audio news clips delivered via mobile also provides popular music. While audience numbers were not provided to us by VOA, we like the simplicity of delivering audio content to mobile phones. A site like Mali1 needs to be widely advertised to be useful (and requires a mobile data connection and at least a feature if not a smart phone - a luxury in many countries) but it is nonetheless a useful delivery mechanism in an increasing number of cuntries where smartphone penetrations are creeping up.  We like to see more innovations in this area, so if you are aware of any, leave us a comment!