5 Lessons in Reaching Rural Women through Mobile

Jennifer Henderson, Viamo

1) Use Voice instead of SMS

Using Voice instead of SMS resulted in participation rates that were two times higher for women, four times higher for rural populations and ten times higher overall. Using Interactive Voice Response (IVR) as a medium to reach people transcends language and literacy barriers. Voice messages can be recorded in local languages and people can easily follow the messages even if they do not know how to read – this is crucial when 774 million adults are illiterate, and 516 million of those are women.

This is based on the results of a comparative study between the World Bank and Viamo conducted in 2014 in Ghana, where the World Bank used SMS and Viamo used Voice.

2) Use a Female Voice

Using a female voice instead of a male voice caused a 22% increase in response rates of rural women, during a 2016 A/B test in Ghana conducted by Viamo and CDD (Center for Democratic Development). It is important to use a voice that will be trusted by the listeners and this is often a female voice. In another survey in Ghana, the voice of an older “auntie” worked well, as it gave the impression of someone who could relate to a rural environment, while sounding experienced enough to be trusted.

3) Timing is Important

Sending content in the afternoon or evening resulted in a 33% and 42% increase in participation rates of rural women, compared to morning, during a 2016 A/B test conducted by Viamo and CDD. It is important to consider the complexities when trying to reach women, since they often borrow the phone from their husbands. Ask the community what time works for them to receive content, either in person, or through preliminary phone surveys, and run tests to see what works best for your specific intervention. Ideally provide a call-back number so that women can call in and receive the content when it is convenient for them.

4) Consider Level of Technical Literacy

Just 5 minutes of technical literacy training resulted in a 45% increase in survey completion rates by rural women, during a 2014 project funded by STAR Ghana. Since rural women have less access to mobile phones, it needs to be explained to them that they can answer questions by pressing numbers on their keypad. Therefore, some level of face-to-face communication may be useful. In order to accomplish that, try recruiting some trusted, local women to be specialists, or the youth in the community who are likely more familiar with mobile phones. Finally, you should ensure that the instructions are repeatable to increase completion rates.

Viamo tested the effectiveness of a 5 minute in-person training by offering it to a sub-set of rural women who needed to complete an IVR registration to participate in a governance program.

5) Create a Retry Pattern to Ensure Call Receipt

It can take up to 7 call retries to reach 80% of end users. In a 2014 project with Vodafone in Ghana, we reached only 23% of people with our first call. By creating a call retry pattern, you ensure that you give end users multiple opportunities to be available to answer the call. If you only call once, you severely limit the amount of people that you will reach.

While all of these methodological tips are useful, the most important success factor to increasing reach and engagement is to create content that is relevant to your end-users and to explain how the content will benefit the whole household. This explanation should be shared as much as possible, ideally at the beginning and the end of the survey, as well as in the middle if the survey is longer. Respondents are more likely to engage with content when there is a clear message explaining how their input will directly benefit them, their family and/or their community.