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Corrections and Emendations from Nethope

Fredrik Winses, Director of Global Programs for Nethope, was kind enough to write back to my earlier blog post below, correcting some specific wording that I had taken issue with.  I really appreciate this; it’s the type of constructive dialogue on which the internet, UNICEF’s Innovation work, and the open-source communities of technologists that we so much respect. He noted: ” In the Magpi & DanChurchAid webinar invitation we may have misspoken and been lax with fact-checking before using the “most widely-used” term. While we cannot recall 3,000 Eventbrite invitations, we have toned down the verbiage on the NetHope Solutions Center webinar posting.”

We explored UNICEF’s use of the proprietary Magpi, and it is in a few small and specific instances, driven by individual country offices.  We pride ourselves in the diversity of thought.  As an organizational solution for data collection, UNICEF uses the open-source []RapidPro system. RapdiPro is what powers U-Report, which has more than 2.2 million users providing information and data on health, education, governance, and more, in 22 countries.  RapidPro is, and will continue to be, the solution that we recommend to our country offices and partners as it is completely open source – which of course does not mean “free” – and can be customized and adapted by local technologists and entrepreneurs. You can find RapidPro on github:

Building open source, public goods, and working together on these platforms is the only way we can solve some of the pressing problems of development.  There are many ways for companies to make money and be open-source – but it does require a spirit of collaboration and lack of ego to be successful.

In response to this original article:

A homily to truth in 3 short questions

Hey NetHope, Danish Church Aid, and/or Magpi – can you please answer three questions about your recent invitation to learn about data collection for international development?

You claim that Magpi is the “most widely used…data collection system” at the intersection of health and international development – and I am curious about why you would say that, because I don’t think it’s true.

Slide1I put some stuff up on Twitter asking you to substantiate or address this incorrect claim.  Magpi is not the most widely used system for data collection, as you described it, unless there is some incredibly narrow definition of terms like “international development” that you’re using.

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My issue with your invitation is that by spreading that not-fact, your webinar can potentially lead international development professionals to a solution which is proprietary and not necessarily evaluated in the context of other available solutions.  The NetHope name is a serious and respected one, so I hope you can answer the questions below.

(And, maybe I’m wrong, or a correction to your invitation will caveat your original statement enough that it becomes fact – and I will happily publish that under this original post.)

First question for Nethope (since the invite came from you): Why have you said that Magpi is the most widely-used mobile data collection and messaging system in global health and international development“?  What is your citation for this statement, because it seems to be not true?

What do we need to do to show something’s not true?  Show at least one counter example. Here’s an easy one:

UNICEF’s mTrac system (which is open source, and in the public domain, unlike the proprietary Magpi) has 61k users in Uganda alone (exactly 61,272 as of 15 July, 2016).  That’s already 1,000 more than you claim in your invite, and that’s in one country – not counting implementations in Rwanda and elsewhere. mTrac is part of the RapidPro suite of tools, which includes other applications like U-Report (2.2M users) and edutrac.  And that’s just the example I pulled from our own desk drawer.  ODK has had millions of downloads, as @yanokwa one of the creators of ODK said on Twitter yesterday “Citation def needed. @OpenDataKit tools have millions of downloads”.

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So you might say: “Well, your UNICEF example is only a small difference of 1,000 users.”  But it’s about the principle of the thing. When we start claiming that one system is “the best,” “the most widely used,” “the thing that will save your institution” without using hard numbers, citations, and linking to fact we make a space which is already difficult to navigate even more complicated.

So, facts. Jonathan Jackson, founder of Dimagi, responded to my tweet saying “It depends how we are defining users”

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That’s a good place to start.  So let’s be clear about definitions.  In the single super easy example I picked, (mTrac, in Uganda) a user is one of three types of person: District Health staff, Health Facility Workers, and Community Health Workers.  Those are all at the intersection of global health and international development. 

Second question for Nethope: When you say, “most-widely used” – can you be clear about your definition of users?

Priscilla Chomba Kinywa, who is one of the speakers on the invite, ran UNICEF’s Innovation programme in Zambia, set up systems like Project Mwana and RapidSMS that had tens of thousands of users (including more than 70,000 on U-Report ( during the incredibly productive time that she was working with our team.  (She also helped get U-Report Liberia up and running, during the Ebola crisis, which, coupled with mHero and the other tools is also well over 60k users) – so she will presumably be talking about scale, and the ability of having a common, open-source platform to reach millions of users – especially when built along the Principles of Innovation (

Third question for Nethope: When you say Magpi has been “used…by UNICEF” could you please give us the citation and link to where this is happening at scale?

So why am I writing this?  I’m not trying to pick on Magpi or Nethope or DanChurchAid – but to ask three questions about a fairly strident quote. The space of technology for development is often not talked about clearly.  Small ideas get blown in to big ones.  We aren’t always tempered in our ability to use metrics and data to drive real change.  I, myself, have fallen into this trap.  So I do legitimately hope these questions can be answered.  I gave everyone I’ve mentioned or quoted on here 24 hours to reply on Twitter, as well as emailing some of them personally, so this isn’t coming out of left field.  We look forward to attending the webinar and helping to work in a public, open-source, and collaborative community that creates technology to help billions of people.

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