This project addresses a very clearly defined problem that impacts a significant chunk of the human population. There are billions of people without internet access but there is huge mobile phone penetration in the developing world. How can NGOs and social enterprises effectively address the problems of these communities without the visibility afforded by modern technology?

What it does

SoMo Surveys allows organizations to distribute surveys using SMS to their target communities. The app allows survey administrators to easily build out a form using a range of different question types adapted for the SMS format. Survey administrators can distribute the surveys to a list of phone numbers, like a mailing list, or even distribute number that survey respondents can message to begin the survey.

How we built it

SoMo Surveys is built using Ruby on Rails with the Twilio API and Postgresql database. The front-end of the application is built using Jquery and SCSS and allows for dynamic form generation with conditionally appearing questions based on a respondents actions. Generated forms are stored in the database and are the split into SMS-sized chunks when they are sent out to recipients. The responses are parsed and fed into a Google spreadsheet which survey administrators may then use for analysis.

Challenges we ran into

One of the biggest design challenges of this kind of application is how to reasonably administer a survey purely through SMS. This meant filtering questions only to those that allow for convenient responses in the format while enabling features that would allow administrators to gain rich insights into their audience. This required figuring out everything from how to send and receives SMS responses in an intuitive way for respondents as well as adding conditionally appearing questions to give administrators more insight.

Accomplishments that we're proud of

We are very proud of the fact that we have built a minimum viable product over the course of this hackathon. The system works all the way through from creating forms, to distributing surveys, to collecting results and analyzing data. We are also proud of the fact that we developed our own form generation system which allows us to better tailor to the use case of SMS based surveys.

What we learned

We learned a lot about designing an application for a very unorthodox audience for a technology solution. Additionally, we learned about intra-application communication to make disparate parts work together seamlessly.

What's next for SoMo Surveys (SMS)

This application addresses a problem that many organization face and would be a great tool for many NGOs around the world. Some next features we are looking to add include:

  • Multiple users with personal Twilio accounts
  • Questions suggestions and better indicators of survey convenience for administrators
  • Allow for form creation using SMS itself
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