The challenges of mobile advocacy

While mobile phones offer enormous potential to enhance advocacy work, there are challenges to be borne in mind.

Finding and tracking your audience

Before starting your mobile advocacy programme its worth spending some time thinking about and profiling your audience and how they their mobile phones. For example - if your audience is sharing handsets its inappropriate to be using mobiles to send or receive confidential or sensitive information.

In order to use mobiles effectively for advocacy it's vital that your organisation keep an accurate and up-to-date record of the mobile phone numbers of your staff, members and supporters and that people agree to let their mobile number be used to contact them. If you have sufficient resources it's worth investing the time in setting up a database, using tools such as the organiser's database (http://www.organizersdb.org/home) or CivicCRM (http://civicrm.org/). Be sure to let people know that you may be using their mobile phone numbers.

If you are using viral techniques you don't have any control over how many people get your message, or who they are. You can't guarantee that your message will be forwarded on to your intended audience in time for the information to be useful. You should always ensure that people are able to easily unsubscribe from your SMS services.

Privacy and Security

Technological Challenges

Roaming Issues

Cost

Audience Issues

Language and font issues

Mobile operating systems

The mobile phone operating system is the software that makes your phone work. Two operating systems run more than 95 percent of the world’s computers, but dozens of systems are behind the 2.5 billion mobile phones in circulation.

The benefits of open source software which have led to innovation in the traditional computing environment don't apply to mobile platforms because the hardware isn't accessible to software developers. Mobile phone software and applications are developed to order for the mobile operators who pass only the functions on to the consumers.

This is the opposite of the web development environment. In the web context innovations develop at a rapid pace because it's easy to experiment, make mistakes and 'play' with technologies by demonstrating on a small scale that an idea or programme works.

This closed platform presents challenges for those in the not-for-profit sector wishing to develop mobile applications that are adapted for those who may need to use their phones in different ways, for example by making the phone interface locally relevant (providing different languages and/or fonts) or by producing applications that are appropriate for disabled users (such as visually-impaired people or people with tremors).

This situation is changing with the advent of the Google Android system and the Open Moko which is billed as the “World's First Integrated Open Source Mobile Communications Platform”. However it is unclear whether the Google system will be compatible with older phones. One of the most important operating systems, Symbian, is also in the process of converting to open source.

Big business

Those hoping to set up programmes using mobile technologies are obliged to do so via the global mobile industry which provides carriers and aggregation services.

The political landscape

The political situation in a country or region has an impact on the development of programmes and tools using mobile technologies.

Human rights issues

It is worth taking into account the political and labour rights issues related to handset manufacture. A recent report produced by SOMO - the Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations entitled The High Cost of Calling detailed the poor working conditions in the factories of the five largest mobile telephone companies: Nokia, Motorola, Samsung, Sony Ericsson and LG. Workers in factories producing parts for Nokia and Motorola work without proper protection and are exposed to chemicals that cause chronic illnesses and serious physical harm.

Environmental issues

As with any electronic device there are environmental issues related to the entire life cycle of the mobile phone. The mining of coltan (a mineral essential for mobile manufacturing) is associated with human rights violations in the Democratic Republic of Congo http://www.cellular-news.com/coltan/. The dumping of e-waste such as old mobile phone batteries in developing countries is also a problem. http://www.unep.org/Documents.Multilingual/Default.asp?DocumentID=495&ArticleID=5433&l=en

Health issues

There are concerns that the prolonged use of mobile phones might cause several types of health problem. One source of peer reviewed clinical data suggested the following; "There is no convincing evidence linking mobile phone use to cancers of the head. What evidence we have points to there being no link, though what cannot be excluded is long-term heavy use of mobile phones, with a long latency for cancer development."

Read a summary of the UK's biggest investigation into mobile safety.

>