Members of the public can be asked to help with election monitoring, for example, or to report specific events such as human rights violations or environmental damage. Monitoring using simple SMS and voice services is accessible, and helps grassroots communities to engage in the political sphere. Individuals can make a very effective contribution by helping, in real time, to gather and report widely dispersed information which can then be centralised and analysed on a computer database and redistributed in various forms.

Mobile phones have proved very useful in election monitoring around the world (see case study below). SMS messages can be used to feed observations from monitors back to a central computer hub. The collected text messages can then be collated and passed on to other monitoring groups and authorities. Citizen election monitoring through SMS was carried out in Nigeria where The Human Emancipation Lead Project used Frontline SMS to monitor elections and ensure that they were transparent and fair.
Using mobile phones to monitor local elections. Also in Nigeria The International Center for Accelerated Development (ICAD) in Nigeria used mobile phones to monitor local elections and succeeded in having disputed polls cancelled and in removing the head of the electoral body responsible.

Informal monitoring can also take place via phone numbers established specifically to receive SMS reports from members of the public, for example alerting you to violence or environmental disturbances. This is especially useful in situations where attempts are being made to prevent abuses as they happen. These reports can be displayed on a website. In addition, this kind of monitoring can be an effective and low-cost means to encourage more people to participate in your human rights or environmental monitoring programme, and all it requires is a dedicated SIM card and someone to transcribe the messages onto a website. After the disputed elections in Kenya in late 2007 SMS was used for Documenting human rights abuses, with a map featuring the SMS information being displayed in real time on a website.

SMS has also been an invaluable tool for raising the alarm over environmental devastation. In Argentina, Greenpeace used mobile phones to mobilise communities concerned about illegal deforestation in the Amazon. Greenpeace provided indigenous people with mobile phones, which allowed them to text for help when their lands came under attack from developers. Members of the communities sent SMS messages to warn the Greenpeace activists when their land was being bulldozed.

Monitoring via mobile phone isn't limited to SMS. Mobile phones' multimedia capacities are being used more and more for documenting human rights abuses. In Malaysia mobile phone footage of police brutality has been circulated online and 'virally' via MMS. To learn more about doing this, take a look at the People's media section which focuses on how to use the multimedia features of your mobile phone in your advocacy work.