RapidSMS is an SMS-based monitoring, data collection tool and communication tool that allows both quantitative and qualitative data through SMS forms and bulk SMS messaging features similar to what you would find in desktop SMS tools like FrontlineSMS.
RapidSMS is a relatively new project out of the UNICEF Innovations and Development team of the Youth Section in New York. RapidSMS requires STRONG technical skills to install and configure. For the organizations that are able to implement it, RapidSMS offers many advantages over a desktop system. First, since it is web-based, multiple users are able to access the system remotely at the same time. RapidSMS is also an "open" platform based on a popular programming framework which should appeal to organizations with technical staff who want to customize or integrate RapidSMS into their current web systems.
RapidSMS is designed for "mass-scale" monitoring and data collection (both qualitative and quantitative). Quantitative data collection is done through the creation of SMS forms that consist of a keyword followed by several questions (fields). For example, "LSTMKT 20 30 15" could be used to monitor the report on the trading activity in a livestock market with 20 goats, 30 cattle and 15 camels being traded. RapidSMS handles unlimited forms aggregating all data from incoming text messages that come with the proper keyword and parameter format. Data for the forms can be edited through the RapidSMS interface, exported to Excel or displayed with a built-in graphing tool. Qualitative data can be collected in open-ended questions known as 'general queries.' General queries are a useful way to poll a base of users or community on a certain question or topic with responses stored in an SMS inbox for easy review.
RapidSMS is built upon Asterisk which allows RapidSMS, with the proper setup, to record and store audio voice message responses. This is a very powerful feature that helps overcome illiteracy and is ideal for gathering content that can be redistributed locally via community radio. The audio capture feature, however, requires a computer with the proper PBX hardware installed and a landline or VOIP line which is cost prohibitive for many smaller NGOs and is somewhat limiting if you can't host your server in a major city. UNICEF is currently working to see if then can figure out a solution to use the cellphone connected to the computer to receive phone calls and record messages into the system. Technically, this is quite a challenge but if they are able to achieve this it would open up RapidSMS powerful audio capture feature to a much larger potential user base.
RapidSMS is developed by
The Innovations Team at UNICEF