Press 1 for Yes, 2 for No. Using Interactive Voice Response for Social and Behavior Change Programs

Written by: Susan Leibtag, Compass Curator, Breakthrough ACTION

It’s not often that an “old” technology resurfaces and gains fans—in our world of rapid technological growth we often dismiss older solutions and move on to the shinier, newer systems. Yet sometimes it’s the older solutions that come back to us as more useful, more practical, and yes…sometimes even more reliable.  For example, the old phone-based platform with the new name “Interactive Voice Response” (IVR) has resurfaced to claim its place among the many systems used for SBC projects.

In brief, IVR presents recorded prompts and the user touches a phone keypad to record responses. IVR systems can respond with pre-recorded or dynamically generated audio to further direct users on how to proceed. IVR also allows users to interact with the host’s system by recording a question. In addition, IVR platforms can be structured to contain anywhere from a single prompt to multiple navigation options. The degree of interaction can also vary significantly between platforms, from one-way information provision to true dialogue.

Public health programs are increasingly using IVR to reach populations with high penetration of mobile phone ownership, but with low levels of literacy and internet use. IVR offers an alternative to sending SMS text messages, which is especially relevant given the increasing numbers of registrants on “Do Not Disturb” lists, indicating growing user fatigue with text messaging. Research indicates that organizations today cannot even pay people to receive SMSViamo found that using IVR instead of SMS text messages in Ghana resulted in participation rates two times higher for women, four times higher for rural populations, and ten times higher overall.

In a new Trending Topic on Using IVR for SBC, the Compass offers several tools and sample project materials on IVR. We invite you to add your own materials to our collection—read the contribution criteria and upload a new material, or write to us directly.