In the context of M4D voice or SMS interaction campaigns, we’ve seen different types of projects that require different levels of investment from participants, both in cost and agency. For messaging campaigns, this looks at whether the participants pro-actively access the content, or whether they passively receive it following the initiation of the sender. VOTO has developed technology to support the full spectrum of interactions.

Table 1: User behavior and investment levels in M4D

User investment level (highest at bottom) Example Cost to user Works well for
Stay on the line when called User receives a nation-wide health advisory message with menu of options afterwards for more information Zero Interactions that need regular scheduling (e.g., loan repayment reminder)
Behaviour change where push messages are needed to gain traction
User calls in toll free User calls to access information on farming techniques Zero User doesn’t want interruptions
Providing power to the user
User calls in at their own cost User calls to make a complaint about service provision A few cents Higher income users or projects aiming at donor independence
User pays for content Participant pays a monthly subscription to access market prices of agricultural goods A few dollars Financially productive services

Across all of these options there are ways to increase user investment.

  • Require registration to access/receive content
  • Provide ongoing curriculum of content (e.g., weekly)
  • Provide interactive menu of options to access info user desires

Determining what type of interaction each project calls for can be a challenge! Because of the nature of the project, some calls need to be initiated from the content provider – for example, a nation-wide health advisory (e.g., Ebola outbreak information) needs to be initiated on the sender’s side in order to make it available to a large portion of the population whether they requested the information or not.

Regularly scheduled reminder calls (e.g., to attend antenatal care; to contribute to a savings account; to bring a child for vaccinations) may serve users best when they must opt in to participate in the program, but don’t need to initiate each reminder themselves. On the other side, a health information line that requires users to call in, and lets them choose the topic they would like to hear about, provides subscribers with information that is most relevant to their current concerns – and also gives the sending organization data about what information participants are looking for.

Another important consideration is what kind of value the subscribers derive from the interaction – and therefore what investment they would be expected to make. If the subscribers feel the content is financially valuable (e.g., localized farming information and weather forecasts that are increasing their harvests), they may be more willing to provide financial investment. If subscribers feel the value is non-financial (e.g., health, governance related) they may invest time to interact with the content or promote the service throughout the community, but it may not be realistic for them to ever pay financially.

A program must match the required investment levels with what is possible for their target audience. Before designing ask yourself:

  • Is the cost of a call inexpensive or prohibitive for your target audience?
  • Is preserving battery life on the phone an issue?
  • Are interruptions – taking each call – interfering with other critical tasks?

User investment can be a great proxy for how much they value your service, and whether it is making an impact. You could even test the value of your service by increasing the investment a user needs to access it. For example, try moving from a toll free call in number to one that is paid by the user to see if they value your service enough to pay a few cents to access it.


This post originally appeared on votomobile.org. The content has been updated for clarity, and to reflect Viamo as the solution provider.