Welcome to SIMLab

4 minute read

Well, this is an exciting day.

Welcome to the Social Impact Lab. For almost nine years, we’ve been the team behind FrontlineSMS, the world’s most-used text messaging platform. Our users have monitored elections, managed clinics, gathered research data, But as we’ve worked with organizations all over the world, in every sector of social change work, we’ve learned that getting the technology up and running is just ten percent of the problem—the real challenges are human, organisational, financial, and ethical.

Different sectors need different people to advocate for inclusive technologies in their work—our projects team has assembled subject-matter experts in fields ranging from radio to legal, and worked with organizations to help them not only implement the Frontline suite of products in their work, but to identify and follow best practice in doing so.

Meanwhile, FrontlineSMS has gone from strength to strength: over 200,000 downloads since we released the redesigned version in summer 2012, an Android app to support easier set-up wherever you are in the world, and a new cloud-hosted version that will take the FrontlineSMS project into sustainability. We’ve achieved a great deal.

Effectively, we’ve built a software company and a consultancy, together under one roof. Now, in order for each team to maximize their potential, we’re reorganizing.

In the coming months, the software team will become its own company, and will be seeking investment. Freed of a development cycle driven by project-specific funding, the team will be able to focus all of its energies into making the Frontline suite of tools into the world’s most powerful solution for last-mile organizational processes.

For the Foundation, our sector-specific project team and core consulting staff will continue to help organizations to use inclusive technologies to build systems and services that are accessible, responsive, and resilient.

We believe deeply that technology is utterly transformative to someone’s individual livelihood, and are dedicated to creating systems that leave no one on the wrong side of the digital divide. Building and maintaining software, and fundraising for it, takes a lot of time - now we can put that energy into solving all the problems we’ve encountered along the way during nine years of supporting FrontlineSMS users.

We’ll develop guides, tools and case studies on thorny practical issues like ethical management of data, and effective monitoring and evaluation of technology. We’ll continue to support implementation through grants and consulting - at the moment, we’re working in India, Tanzania, Kenya and Somaliland. We’ll start to bring together not only our learning, but to support others to document and share what they’ve learned, through a new community site for the sector and by contributing our voice to policy debates around how technology is funded and implemented.

We’ll be able to do all of this with a broader lens: instead of just one solution, we’ll be able to look at all inclusive technologies. SMS is powerful because of its broad reach, relatively low cost, reliance on existing infrastructure, and common data format. Other technologies, like radio, voice telephony, even blackboards and megaphones, meet some of these criteria and together can be knit together to extend to the last mile systems that currently falter where the asphalt ends.

From our experience helping thousands of Frontline users, we’re throwing ourselves at collecting, analyzing, and sharing as much relevant learning and documentation around inclusive technologies as we can get our hands on, with the hope of building a better, more informed community. We start today. In fact, we’ve already started. We’ll be sharing more of what we’ve been up to in the coming weeks and months.

As exciting as this moment is, it’s the first of many to come. You’ll see us fill out our new home on the web (pardon our dust); watch this space in the coming weeks for introductions to SIMLab’s current sector focuses, and announcements of new ones. Towards the end of the year, we’ll launch a new community-driven site for collecting and sharing learnings about implementing and maintaining inclusive systems (and, if you’re interested in being a partner on this site, give us a shout!). And we’ll be reaching out to old partners and new in the coming months to see what you need, and what you think is important. We’ll try and share as much of this process transparently as we can, on our brand new website.

We couldn’t be prouder of FrontlineSMS and its sister products, FrontlineCloud and FrontlineSync - they’re still available at FrontlineSMS.com and the team are still working to bring you countless improvements and new features every year.

I’m delighted to launch the Social Impact Lab today, so soon after Cloud’s first anniversary. We’ll permit ourselves a little \o/ in celebration and then get straight back to business. If you’re interested in the inside track, I’d be delighted to have a chat - get in touch!

Looking forward to reconnecting with old friends and new,