Publication Date
June 1, 2013

This group of papers on the use of mobile phones in India for social and behaviour change is the product of research and a two-day multi-stakeholder consultation in May 2013 sponsored by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the Digital Empowerment Foundation (DEF), leading to the formation of the organisation Mobile Social & Behavioural Change (MSBC). The white paper and the working paper present key areas where mobiles are contributing to social and behavioural changes and the limitations, as well as the scope, for expanding the social space for mobiles.

The case studies paper is based upon examples of "mobile’s power to trigger new form[s] of social identity, including cultural, political and economic identities." The focus on mobile phones is based upon their use as a tool for social empowerment: "mobiles have dismantled traditional information hierarchies and [have given] a new design to modern day information architecture which is democratic and decentralised and serves the Bottom of the Pyramid (BoP) with great force." Pilot projects on education, health, livelihood, and environment have raised questions on inclusion, the relationship between profitability and socially driven motives, the possibilities of egalitarian expansion, the methods of deriving sufficient learning from pilots to carry out scale up, the formation of partnerships and collaborations with stakeholders, and the challenges of mobile-enabled social transitions.

The white paper examines statistics on mobile usage and describes the expanding "mobile social space" - for example, the Government of India Mother and Child Tracking System (MCTS) programme launched by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare for ensuring delivery of full spectrum of healthcare and immunisation services to pregnant women and children up to 5 years of age and the Transparent Targeted Public Distribution System (TTPDS)  for mobile phone usage to deliver information services pertaining to food grains delivery via SMS (texting) services. It describes a shift from e-Governance for public information access to m-Governance for wider penetration of information services.

The working paper details reach and access, addressing urban and rural situations, demographics and inclusion, tele-density (the number of telephone connections for every hundred individuals), and markets and economics. It summarises the private sector and the social sector differences in direction and intention and describes mobile use for social and behaviour change as: information dissemination, monitoring and tracking, and training for frontline workers - for example, in the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM),  where "...[e]quipping each worker with a mobile phone and adequate training serves vast unmet needs of health information dissemination, tracking of progress of health schemes, and solves key health issues on the spot through interpersonal communication support services. "

Case study highlights include mobiles for:

  • Information dissemination - for example, “Let us go to School" is "implemented and run in Puri district of Odisha by Radio Namaskar, use[ing] mobile phones for dissemination of information regard to school drop outs and bringing them back to school. The project involves the participation of the community to a great extent especially the listening community of Radio Namaskar Community Radio."
  • Monitoring and tracking - for example, "Nano Ganesh" in Maharashtra is a mobile-based wireless remote control and alarm system for the water pumps, designed for "taking into consideration the unfavourable conditions in the irrigation zone" or IVRS-based (interactive voice response - a technology that automates telephone interactions) "Daily Monitoring System (DMS) of Mid-day Meal in Schools" in Uttar Pradesh uses an automated mobile-based system for daily data on children availing the mid-day meal.
  • Training for frontline workers, in addition to the NRHM, above - for example, "Hello Sakhi" in Gujarat is a helpline that aims to provide legal education to women who are victims of physical and mental stress and facing abusive conditions, or "Nokia-Arogyam mDiabetes" aims to create awareness about diabetes, motivating people to follow better health practices. The content of the application is available in English and 11 other Indian languages.

Emerging areas for consideration include: the social and behavioural changes being sought; possible collaboration between bilateral agencies and government and private enterprises; reach of and access to mobile use (including affordability) - and now including "smart phone" usage; assessment of impact of projects as tools of behaviour change - especially considering scale-up possibilities; how to adapt to "hyper local" conditions; data reliability; use of the Secure Digital (SD) Card for information dissemination in areas of poor reception; monitoring of equity (…is digital access increasing inequity?); and social marketing for demand creation, amongst others.

Challenges include:

  • technology and platform feasibility;
  • real-time data collection, database management, and data usage for scale up;
  • local language support;
  • two-way communications and response systems;
  • community ownership and engagement;
  • IVRS integration; and
  • project customisation, amongst others.

Issues in scalability include: collaborating with diverse set of agencies; business models with low investment; collaboration with government agencies; flexible sources of funding; wider advocacy and education programmes; effective sales and marketing; and project cost design and management. For project sustainability in the medium and long term, there is a need for policy support, including priority grants and subsidises and investment in priority areas like rural projects.

All of the documents suggest ways forward that include partnerships and collaboration including the Government of India, private enterprise, and non-governmental and civil society organisations. They suggest monitoring and evaluating for more data related specifically to social and behaviour change impact. The papers conclude that UNICEF India must be involved in further consultations focused on policy, incubation and acceleration of innovation, and advocacy for collaboration.

Click here to read this 40-page case study document in PDF format.

Click here to read this 44-page working paper document in PDF format.

Click here to read this 24-page white paper document in PDF format.


MSBC India website, September 4 2014.