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IVR Mobile Education

Using incentives to improve health knowledge through IVR mobile phone quizzes.

We are working with Dimagi and BRAC to develop systems to distribute life-improving information over mobile phones. The system is currently being tested on 20,000 phone calls in Bangladesh, and the study will be completed at the end of 2009.

We have developed short, interactive audio courses that can be taken over a phone, by pressing numbers on the keypad to answer questions. Each course conveys a few important points, such as the importance of clinician-assisted birth, proper hand-washing techniques and dangers, or HIV-transmission knowledge. Each course builds on prior courses to create an audio soap-opera with a consistent story and characters. As an incentive to take the courses, there is a short quiz at the end of each call; if the caller passes the quiz they will get free airtime delivered to their phone which they can use to make personal calls.

While poverty is typically the root cause of illness and other distress and knowledge does not equate to behavior change, there are several areas in which focused education can improve or even save lives. A profound example is the popularization of treating diarrhea with homemade Oral Rehydration Therapy in the 1970s. Tens of millions of women were taught a simple procedure for preparing and administering a simple treatment for diarrhea which in turn averted the deaths of millions of children a year from severe dehydration. Every person should have access to this information both for the practical consequences and out of respect for people’s right to basic knowledge.

Mobile phones are an extremely attractive channel for social messaging, because they offer a way to easily deliver an individualized educational session to billions of people. Putting aside cost, the sheer effort required to distribute information using paper or billboards is a substantial obstacle, and updating them to respond to new information or feedback is prohibitively difficult. In contrast, deploying and updating automated messages on a massive scale can be fast and simple. While the cost of airtime is still high at this point in time, the actual incurred incremental costs are low and the retail costs are declining rapidly. We are exploring models in which the courses can be delivered by village phone operators who rent out phones one call at a time such as that callers get a 20% discount on their next call, if they pass the quiz. Additionally, local NGOs could take specially-designated phones to communities in order to let them take the courses and make personal calls.

This project received funding from the World Bank’s Development Marketplace (Developed for Brac, Dimagi & World Bank).