Posted 9 August, 2016 by Tom Walker

We’re Researching The Futures of Messaging Apps in the Humanitarian Sector – Special Focus: Armed Conflicts

The increasing popularity of messaging apps is opening up opportunities and risks.

Mobile messaging is the fastest-growing digital vehicle ever – with mobile messaging apps becoming tools for regular, day-to-day communication for people around the world. Today, more than 2.5 billion people around the world use messaging apps – a figure that is expected to grow to 3.6 billion by 2018.

This opens up opportunities – as well as risks – for people around the world currently using messaging apps, and also for humanitarian organisations who want to engage with local communities and increase their accountability to them (particularly in areas experiencing armed conflicts).

We’re working with the International Committee of the Red Cross and Block Party to learn more.

Over the next two months, we’ll be researching an ‘In Brief’ report that aims to:

  • Increase knowledge and understanding of the global messaging app market, including apps’ functionalities and considerations around privacy and data protection.
  • Document examples of how local communities and humanitarian organisations are using messaging apps at times of crisis, particularly during armed conflicts.
  • Provide recommendations for humanitarian organisations on how messaging apps could be used responsibly, safely and ethically as an operational tool for two-way communication with local communities, as well as for internal coordination, information-sharing and management.
  • Produce tips for messaging app users and potential new users to help them make safer, more informed use of messaging apps.

messaging apps in brief collaborators
The report is being prepared with support from an advisory group that includes staff from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), and the World Food Programme (WFP).

Do you know of any situations where messaging apps have been used in humanitarian work, with positive or negative consequences?

We’re looking for real-life examples and resources that can help humanitarian organisations use messaging apps more effectively in the future, and we’d love to hear from you.

Jacobo Quintanilla, Community Engagement Advisor, ICRC –
Tom Walker, Research Lead, The Engine Room –
Eytan Oren, CEO and Creative Director, Block Party –



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2 thoughts on “We’re Researching The Futures of Messaging Apps in the Humanitarian Sector – Special Focus: Armed Conflicts”

[…] One thing is for sure: instant messengers are here to stay. The question is how we can best use them in the context of humanitarian crises. To answer that question the ICRC and the Engine room are currently working on a research brief until the end of September. If you have experience with using messaging apps in humanitarian emergencies, please get in touch with them. […]

sultan haider says:

I my previous organization, we use frontline SMS system in one of our women empowerment program. The main purpose of frontline SMS system is to get opinion of intended clients regarding the service we provide and the way we are communicating.
The client feedback we received automatically, provide aggregate and show trends, frequency etc. which help to analyze and provide appropriate respond promptly. We notice that female use less then male committee members, the reason behind this was culture barrier, including literacy rate.
Some of key learnings:
Technology allows us to break the traditional system of getting feedback.
Allow us to save time and easily informed communities that when, where the meeting is going to be held, what next after this activity. What are the qualifying criteria etc. (In local language)
Allow us to monitor activities progress by shifting power
Allow us to response on client’s complaints, and adjust program accordingly. Which ultimately build trust between project staff and community. So I think the use of technology if the context allow is very helpful and cost effective.
Risk in using messaging apps:
• Use of smart phone and then understating apps usage especially in under developing countries
• Most of the people use phone but not all use smart phone
• Literacy rate
• Internet availability
• Virus and much more
so i think instead of using apps focus need simple sms

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