Published: February 2016

Initially used for customer service and public health survey work in the United States in the 1970s, Interactive Voice Response (IVR) technologies in more recent decades have come to play an increasingly important role in international development efforts around the world, including in peacebuilding work in post-conflict contexts. IVR technologies—the broad term used to describe automated systems that allow humans to interact with computers through phones using voice—range from traditional automated messages to newer talk-to-text applications on smartphones, like Siri on Apple phones or Cortana on Windows phones.

Alongside continuous technological advancements, IVR is being deployed in increasingly innovative and constantly evolving ways, ranging from connecting diaspora communities to their home countries to supporting Ebola awareness in Sierra Leone. In a wide range of development work, IVR is most often used in conjunction with radio—a key medium in post-conflict and developing regions—and particularly by NGOs working with community radio stations to help improve interactivity with their listeners and to reach remote and illiterate audiences.

This report offers a review of the existing literature about IVR applications in non-Western contexts, supplemented by primary research based on interviews with practitioners who are using or designing IVR systems in the field. Many of the individuals interviewed work at organizations that have conducted their own impact evaluations of the new technologies they are using. This study aggregates these assessments. We identify some of the key IVR systems, highlighting the unique nature of post-conflict peacebuilding settings and briefly contextualizing the evolution of IVR in developing countries. While our focus is on a particular kind of technology, we are careful to avoid a techno-functionalist or techno-utopian approach that often pervades research about ICTs for development. Instead, we are interested in contextualizing how IVR is used in practice based on the experiences of those who are implementing different systems, including NGO workers, radio station employees, and those designing and developing new IVR applications.

This report is part of a larger project, “Amplifying Peace: Testing Mobile Interaction in Rwanda,” funded by a grant from the United States Institute of Peace and is meant to supplement the research for this project which explores IVR’s ability to amplify the reach of peacebuilding radio programs as well as streamline and enhance the monitoring and evaluation of that programming.

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