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Text analytics and machine learning: Power to the people

Giving a voice to Ugandans through crowdsourcing and data management

In emerging economies around the world, new solutions are required to meet the growing technology needs of the people. Residents of these regions are both hindered and helped by the lack of traditional infrastructures and systems of more highly developed countries. Without the baggage of aging or obsolescent infrastructures, these markets are ripe for innovative solutions.

The growth of business in Africa is taking place at breakneck speed. Global companies are establishing outposts in every country on the continent and growing the knowledge base of its residents exponentially, while relatively young governments are struggling to keep up with and understand the increasing amounts of data being generated by this rapid evolution.

And what if you are a young African who is not part of a global corporation or a figure in local government? How can your voice be heard in the din and tumult of Africa’s rapid expansion and data boom?

Creating a generation of U-reporters

IBM Research and the U.S. Fund for UNICEF have collaborated with UNICEF Uganda to roll out a program that enables Ugandan youth to communicate with their government and community leaders simply by using their cell phones and a no cost application.

U-report, a free SMS-based reporting tool began in 2011 as a grassroots text-messaging system to conduct weekly polls for teens to share observations and speak out on issues affecting their lives.

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Meet the researchers

  • Thumbnail image of Solomon Assefa

    Solomon Assefa

    Research Scientist,
    Thomas J. Watson Research Center

  • Thumbnail image of Rick Lawrence

    Rick Lawrence

    Manager, Machine Learning,
    Thomas J. Watson Research Center

  • Thumbnail image of Osamuyimen (Uyi) Stewart

    Osamuyimen (Uyi) Stewart

    Chief Scientist,
    IBM Research - Africa

  • Enara Vijil

    Enara Vijil

    Machine Learning, Text Analytics,
    Thomas J. Watson Research Center


Creating a brighter future

Today, 386 Members of Uganda's Parliament (MPs) subscribe to U-report and receive updates on key issues pertaining to their constituencies. This helps MPs stay informed on their issues and to take actions to address them. By elevating the voice of youth to political levels, the U-report program has already resulted in notable policy changes in Uganda.

"This collaboration is a powerful demonstration of the value of analytics in handling these types of big data challenges. We are very proud that text-analytics algorithms developed by IBM Research have made U-report a smarter and even more innovative tool that allows UNICEF to pinpoint the most critical issues facing the population of youth in Uganda," said Dr Rick Lawrence, Manager of Machine Learning, IBM Research.

Based on the success of the U-report program, UNICEF has launched it in Zambia and Burundi, with a number of other countries soon to be rolled out, including the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan.

The technology collaboration with IBM will also continue to explore how to automatically assign action status to messages, making the system portable in other countries and understanding how the system could be implemented in non-English environments.

Cognitive computing

Text analytics is just one of the technologies that make cognitive computing possible.

IBM Solutions

Explore the underlying technologies that make U-Report possible.

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