Stop Giving Away Smartphones!

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Pretty much every day, I hear the same failure refrain repeated again and again, “We gave away 50-100 smartphones for our mobile project.” Why is this an indication of failure? Please show me the Ministry that can afford to buy 10,000 or 100,000 or 1,000,0000 smartphones for all it’s frontline staff, even before maintenance, support, or replacement costs are added in.
There are none. Which means every free phone pilot is doomed to fail to scale.
So what can be done? How can you make sure frontline staff to achieve the goals you want to happen using your cool new app? Here are three ideas:

  1. Use the Phones They Already Have
    Yep, that’s right. Stop with the smartphone app development and go back to old-school SMS or IVR interactions where staff can use basic or feature phones to connect with your shiny new system. It’s not as sexy as an app, but it can be way more effective.
  2. Subsidize Smartphone Purchases
    Instead of giving away phones, pass out vouchers that participants can redeem for a percentage of a smartphone cost. They’ll need to chip in a bit, but then it’s their phone, and they will treat it better than any phone you give them. Maybe they will even surprise you and upgrade to seriously cheap smartphone bling.
  3. Make a Better App
    Have you ever seen an ICT4Futbol intervention? No, because no one needs to help people find a futbol game – they do it themselves. And maybe if you made an intervention that impacted peoples lives like futbol, you wouldn’t need to subsidize their phone purchases – they’d buy phones just to get to your life-changing solution.

Yes, that last one is the hardest option to achieve – way harder than giving away 50 smartphones – but one that will have much more impact.