Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Gates Project 21: CRM in the GS

Enough acronyms! This post is a section of my report that looks at the possiblities of Client Relationship Management (like MoveOn) in the Global South.
CRM, or client relationship management, was born in the private sector as a means for businesses to track their relationships with customers and solicit feedback. The model supposes a central NGO (the hub) which communicates directly with its members/constituents (the spokes), usually through e-mail. IN the diagram above, the orange circles represent participant members and the large purple circle represents the NGO. The arrows show the direction of communication, with the outward arrows drawn larger than the inward arrows to indicate that the volume of information pushed out to the members is greater than the amount of feedback pulled in to the organization.

One example of CRM for e-advocacy is MoveOn, which records member information, such as geographic location, in a database and then uses this information to recruit members for campaigns and events in their area. MoveOn also solicits feedback from its members through e-mail surveys in an effort to keep the actions of the organization in line with the interests of its members. CRM is most appropriate for an organization who has the budget to pay one or more developers to create content for their system and plans to launch multiple campaigns. If an organization does not plan to take part in e-advocacy frequently, setting up a CRM system may be a waste of time and money.

The principal challenge of using CRM in that most people in the global south do not use e-mail, the most effective method of communication between in the NGO and its members. While a NGO may find sufficient internet penetration in urban areas, it is unlikely that it will be able to launch a nation-wide campaign in most countries for this reason. In addition, even where people do have internet access, it is usually not through a computer that they access every day, but through a shared computer in a telecenter. If members rarely check their e-mail little more than once a week, the internet may not be the best way to keep in touch with them.

One possible solution to this problem is to use cellular phone-based SMS in place of computer-based e-mail. Cell phone penetration in most countries is sufficiently high to merit this type of model to work. If a cell phone is used in place of a computer, two modes of communication are possible: SMS and voice. SMS is an excellent way to contact members after the person has given their phone number to the NGO either through a website or by texting a particular phone number that records the users phone number in a database. The challenge of SMS is that the message is limited in most cases to 160 characters. For this reason SMS is best used for a campaign action is clear and concise so it can be expressed in the given amount of space. The positive aspect of this method is that SMS may actually draw young people to a campaign becuse of its cool factor. Automated robo-calling may also be used to communicate with an illiterate or minimally literate audience. Callers could respond by voice or by sending a simple numeric SMS. SMS has been successfully used as an e-advocacy tool in the global south by Fahamu of South Africa, which asked supporters to sign a petition supporting women's rights in Africa by sending an SMS message and a free mass SMS client, FrontlineSMS, is available for NGOs to use. However, the ongoing interaction characteristic of CRM has not yet been realized in the field using cell phones.

Implementers of CRM may also face difficulty in authoritarian political environments. CRM necessitates that a person give their contact information to a NGO so that organization may contact them on an ongoing basis to solicit their participation in the organization's campaigns. In countries where political activism is discouraged, individuals may be unwilling to give their contact information to a NGO for fear that these records may become public and will get them in trouble with the authorities. For this reason, CRM implementers is such environments must create iron-clad security systems, most likely involving encryption and overseas servers in order to guarantee the confidentiality of their members' personal information.

categories: internet activism_, gates project_, the "developing world"_,

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