U-Report Chile: Top 10 lessons learned before launching

Written by Julio C. Dantas, Responsible for forming UNICEF Chile’s participation and innovation areas and  Maria Luisa Sotomayor – UNICEF consultant / U-Report Chile Coordinator.

To support young people to influence policies that affect them, UNICEF decided to pilot U-Report this year in cooperation with the Ministry of Health (MOH) and the National Institute of Youth (NIY) in Chile. By working closely with steering committees of youth from both institutions, UNICEF has co-coordinated advocacy trainings, communications planning, and the adaptation of the U-Report tool. For Chile, the U-Report Advocacy Strategy that adds value to an ongoing rights efforts, is not simply a digital tool. If all goes as expected, we hope to have more than 5,000 U-Reporters participating and voicing their opinions about the issues selected by the steering committees: the prevention of suicide and sexual rights. It’s been quite a bumpy ride, and before taking off, we want to share the top 10 things we’ve learned with you.

1. The U-Report Advocacy Strategy advances participation rights.

UNICEF Chile partnered with the MOH and NIY, used the U-Report methodology, and built upon three years of work with both institutions. In MOH, U-Report exercises were used to clarify the youth council’s advocacy goals, and focus their actions towards influencing the Minister of Health. Thus, the Youth Steering Committee chose one of their three 2015 goals, to prevent youth suicide, and built SMS flows to gather information for advocacy.

The NIY Steering Committee came together especially to pilot U-Report. This committee is made of leaders from diverse organizations, and without a common advocacy goal. Here, the U-Report advocacy methods were applied to bring together diverse ideas, develop common goals and to create an advocacy and communications plan. After several meetings, the group decided to poll on sexual rights.

2. Aggregators are a project in themselves.  Be convincing.

Before U-Report, the only thing we knew about aggregators is that it rhymed with alligators. After analysing 1,000 possibilities of how to best implement the RapidPro platform, we decided an aggregator was the best option. However, the top aggregators offered very different costs (for SMS and for short code), and both argued that telecoms were responsible for high prices (USD$5000 difference). After negotiating for a few weeks, UNICEF secured a reasonable price, but even these are still nine times higher than the cost of SMS in other U-Report countries. Special skills required: power of convincing and budget analysis.

3. There is nothing short about getting a short code.

When we first started thinking of testing U-Report things seemed very simple: find an aggregator, get a short code, go! First part was easy… and that’s about it. In most countries short codes are associated to the government, but no doubt Chile’s not like other countries… Social good short codes are only given to emergency situations. The rest of the short codes depend on phone companies. Basically, the aggregator has to check with all operators that a specific short code is free to use… and this can take a while. We are currently waiting for the last operator to respond (out of seven).

4. Fight for UNICEF’s Innovation Principles. Believe you can fly.

Chilean aggregators had never NOT had power over databases, or monitor the content of their users. So, RapidPro’s privacy rules came as a shock to them. To negotiate this meant a 4-month set back. Still, once these differences were addressed, our main obstacle was administrative, as UNICEF contracts and the standard contracts of Chilean aggregators were incompatible.  If it is hurting to read this paragraph, imagine how we felt. After 6 months of back and forth we signed a contract in June, and have been living happily ever since.

5. Law and Social Media advance at different paces. Who guides democracy?

Even though our main obstacle has been technological, our pandora box has been legal. To fully protect the rights of children UNICEF Chile decided to investigate the legality of asking minors their opinions without their parents’ permission, and to assess risks associated with receiving unsolicited messages reporting physical or mental danger of U-reporters.

For 4 months, we sought the opinion of a law firm, the Regional Network for Freedom of Expression and Information (network of 23 organizations in LAC), Fundación Datos Protegidos (Chilean NGO advocating for improving data protection laws), and a CO consultant lawyer. The law firm’s report revealed gaps in Chilean legislation, and their interpretative analysis of the Civil Code suggested requesting parental permission for participation. The other 3 opinions recommended implementing U-Report while safeguarding anonymity, and protecting the child’s rights to their an opinion of their own.  To address these matters, UNICEF Chile reinforced anonymity practices, and partnered with government institutions to respond to risk cases.

6. We realized we are not alone.  In fact, we seem to be part of some Avenger Team for children’s digital rights.

To fully understand the legal issues (we did say Pandora’s Box, didn’t we?) we looked elsewhere for support, and found out that most countries in LAC have found themselves with legal gaps on the issue children’s rights and internet means. The Inter-American Commission of Human Rights has held public hearings on the issue because more than 19 organizations (and NGO networks) from LAC countries have presented on the matter. As of today, the debate is around the legal uncertainties due to legislative gaps in countries, and the lack of harmony between rights, such as data protection, freedom of speech, and parents right to educate.

7. Think FREE…then make plans B, C and D.

Giving Chile’s high SMS prices, the Twitter version of our pilot gained importance for the scale-up phase. Only 35% of Chilean youth have a Twitter account, and close to a 20% don’t have a cellphone with internet connection. So, we need to focus on Twitter, and at the same time make sure all children can voice their opinions. This is why we are testing both integrations by implementing the following actions:

  • Pilot SMS integration with the Ministry of Health’s adolescent council using Whatsapp who will recruit their friends and communities through their phones. This allows us to reach our target group and control SMS costs.
  • Use Facebook – Chile’s most popular social network among youth and adolescents – and draw our audiences to Twitter.
  • Involve young and influential Chilean Twitter figures.
  • Have on-line and off-line recitals which live encourages U-Report participation through twitter.

8. We protect children and adolescents.  Clear and simple.

To safeguard children and adolescents’ rights we’ve taken some extra measures considering our national context:

  • Our website Terms & Conditions section use a FAQ style, and is user-friendly.
  • Added a “Need help?” tab with information on how to get help in case in case young people need specialized support.
  • In partnership with the MOH, drafted a protocol to respond to unsolicited messages of abuse of any kind of physical or mental health risk.
  • Establish that U-Reporters have to be at least 13 years old.

9. We learned that U-Report is costly in Chile, and worth it.

The implementation of U-Report includes a series of costs that are important to have in mind.  In Chile, there have been two types of costs. 1) Nyaruka, the service provider that has an LTA with UNICEF and provides hosting, implementation support and maintains the RapidPro platform and frontend website of U-Report – USD29,000 per year; 2) Human resources, technology, meetings with young people and limited SMS costs – USD 87,000. In our case, administrative and legal matters, delayed the process and meant an extension of U-Report consultant contract. However, the core funding lessons has been to understand that U-Report is an advocacy project, not just the implementation of an SMS system.

 10. Keep you eye on the prize = children’s rights to voice their opinions.

The ultimate goal of implementing U-Report Chile is to give a voice to children. To that end, the SMS and Twitter testing have been successful, the website is working, short code is resolved, adolescent created flows are tested and working. And, our campaign co-designed with young people is cool.  We’ve involved civil society, and the team is pumped. We have definitely faced obstacles, and things are turning out great as we continue to advocate and work tirelessly to give Chilean children and adolescents a voice!


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