Dial in for Info: How a telephone quiz can help us restrict the spread of coronavirus

Using simple technology in a clever way to protect people from pandemics: a team with GIZ colleagues is among the winners at the world’s biggest hackathon.

At the end of March, the German Government organised a hackathon to find innovative digital solutions to help cope with the coronavirus pandemic. Out of over 1,500 entries in the ideas competition, a jury has now chosen 20 particularly promising projects. These include ‘Call vs. Corona’, which was developed in part by our GIZ colleagues Uta Meier-Hahn, Sook-Jung Dofel, Lars Wannemacher and Franz von Weizsäcker. The idea is to hold a quiz on free telephone hotlines as a fun way of communicating some simple and effective coronavirus prevention measures, such as regular hand washing. 

How did you have the idea for the project?

Lars Wannemacher: In its hackathon, the German Development Ministry set a task. We responded as a GIZ team and sketched out a rough idea. Then we approached a colleague from Viamo who, like us, is part of the Impact Hub Berlin. We asked Viamo, a non-profit organisation, because they’ve already introduced interactive voice response technologies successfully in many African countries.

So how does Call vs. Corona work?

Sook-Jung Dofel: It’s basically an information campaign for citizens – a sort of educational quiz. We are going to focus mainly on the parts of Africa where not many people have access to the internet and where illiteracy rates are high.

Lars Wannemacher: We decided to use a low-tech approach. The telephone quiz works even on the most basic mobile phones. When they reach the hotline, callers use the phone keys to navigate through a series of spoken quiz questions, like in a game.

Uta Meier-Hahn: We use a voice response system because it lets us reach many more people than we could via SMS. For instance, people who can’t read or write would otherwise be left out. The important thing is to use something that people are familiar with – such as navigating a menu with the keys of a phone.

woman with phone

Why the focus on Africa?

Lars Wannemacher: In terms of coronavirus the number of confirmed infections, Africa is thankfully playing catch-up. That means there’s still a lot to be gained by providing information about prevention measures.

Franz von Weizsäcker: … and on average, only 36 per cent of the African population has access to the Internet. This differs from country to country, of course, but on the whole, having a technical solution that really reaches the majority of the people is very important. 

So what is the next step?

Franz von Weizsäcker: We want to start deploying this in Africa right away. That’s where we want to focus our energy now, developing the prototypes together with partner organisations in various different countries and establishing the telephone quiz.

Uta Meier-Hahn:  In our project team we complement each other perfectly. Viamo has developed its interactive voice response platform, and it has contacts to the big telecom companies. We need them in order to run the hotlines free of charge. For our part, thanks to our global activities, GIZ is well connected to governments and ministries. This is important because a lot of the information we want to share using these phone numbers needs to be developed and coordinated with government involvement.

Sook-Jung Dofel: On top of that, we can use this solution to help our colleagues at GIZ deliver a simple, consistent emergency prevention measure. That will save them a lot of time and effort which they would otherwise have to invest in developing a solution and finding cooperation partners. Success in the hackathon has helped us a lot, but the real benefit is that we can use our solution as a way of contributing to overcoming the coronavirus crisis.

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