Interactive voice response (IVR) is an automated, phone-based platform that can be used in social and behavior change (SBC) programs to provide individuals with information, pose questions and record user responses, and remind users of upcoming appointments or the need to take medication. After listening to recorded prompts, the user touches a phone keypad to capture their responses. IVR systems can provide pre-recorded or dynamically generated audio to further direct users. IVR also allows users to interact with the host’s system by recording a question.
IVR platform structure can range 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.
IVR technologies are not as common in low- and middle-income countries; however, 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 text messages, which is especially relevant given the increasing numbers of registrants on “Do Not Disturb” lists, perhaps evidence of user fatigue with the SMS system. Research indicates that organizations today cannot even pay people to receive SMS. Viamo found that using IVR instead of text messages in Ghana resulted in participation rates two times higher for women, four times higher for rural populations, and ten times higher overall.
Potential benefits of using IVR:
- Accessible regardless of type of phone, carrier, or internet connection
- Can serve audiences who speak different languages
- Capable of overcoming literacy concerns due to its auditory and oral nature
- Good for users who are comfortable using their phone
- Users don’t get “spammed” with many “calls” like with SMS
- Provides the possibility of collecting large quantities of qualitative and quantitative data for very little cost by asking questions of mobile phone users rather than having to interview respondents face-to-face
- Offers benefits beyond SMS data as it can also collect voice data
Potential disadvantages of using IVR:
- Can be more expensive than SMS since it involves an actual phone call
- Users not familiar with this format may be uncomfortable using it
- An SMS can easily be ignored, but answering and responding to a phone call involves time
- Possibility of dropped calls
- Expenses and time involved in data cleaning once responses are collected, and this usually involves hiring an outside firm
In this Trending Topic, the Compass offers several tools and sample project materials on IVR. We invite you to add your own materials: upload a new material, read the contribution criteria, or write to email@example.com.
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Footnote: (1) According to data from the International Telecommunication Union, an organization within the United Nations, the penetration of mobile line subscriptions reached 98.7% of the population in developing countries in 2017. The World Bank estimates that, in countries with low- or medium-level economies, there are more people with access to mobile devices than to water or electricity.
Banner photo:© 2012 Kuntal Kumar Roy, Courtesy of Photoshare