Magpi has two ways of sending data into our web-based system by sending SMS messages from any mobile phone: structured SMS and interactive SMS.  

These are not the same thing as Magpi Messaging, which allows you to send one-way messages to recipients. Structured SMS and interactive SMS are only available to Pro and Enterprise users (although any user can test these features with a single respondent phone number).

The big benefit for both methods: they allow you to collect data from respondents who are using any phone at all, no matter how low-end or inexpensive.  So we can now get information from, and provide information to,  populations of beneficiaries, clients, customers, and staff by sending and receiving text messages to the phone that they already own (rather than necessarily sending "data collectors" out to find them).  This extends the benefits of mobile data collection to additional groups of people, who may not have access to smartphone.

Below we'll explain both types of SMS data collection: first structured SMS and then interactive SMS. To learn more about the differences between collecting data with the Magpi apps and by the different methods of SMS:

Structured SMS

Structured SMS involves sending several data variables (i.e. the answer to several questions) in a single SMS message, as in this example where a health worker in the field can report information each week:


  • a lot of information can be packed into one text message
  • fewer text messages means lower costs


  • no "interface" so the user must be told in advance what questions they are answering, usually via training
  • limited to the amount of responses that fit in a single text message

Best Use

  • situations requiring the sending of simple data, especially if the data is sent repeatedly (because this reinforces the procedure in the user's mind)


  • clerk sending stock orders
  • health worker reporting health events
  • maintenance staff reporting maintenance issues
  • many more!

More about structured SMS:

How to Create a Structured SMS form with Magpi

How to Deploy a Structured SMS Form with Magpi

Magpi Blog: Magpi Structured SMS: Simple Data in a Single Text

Interactive SMS

Interactive SMS is like a conversation that Magpi has with a respondent.  You can provide information to the user during that conversation, including links to web pages or email, and you can ask questions and gather information.   This makes interactive SMS, or iSMS, a much richer experience than structured SMS (described above).

An iSMS session can be initiated by the Magpi system (if the Magpi user already knows all the phone numbers for possible respondents) or by anyone at all (if they are provided somehow with the information on how to initiate the session – this approach is called "crowdsourcing").

In the example below, a respondent visited an office (or shop or clinic or other organization) and saw a sign on the wall with information on how to initiate an iSMS session:

and if the visitor followed the instructions, this is what they would see (the gray and green text balloons):


  • more interface (e.g. the respondent sees each question) so requires little or no training
  • no limit to how many questions can be asked
  • respondents can initiate session themselves (for example, after seeing a promotional message in a public place) using the JOIN command
  • can seem like a conversation with a person, so less intimidating


  • multiple SMS messages back-and-forth can increase costs (though SMS is quite inexpensive)

Best Use

  • when you want to collect more complex data but don't want the respondents to install an app on their smartphones
  • when you want to collect more complex data but the respondents may not have smartphones
  • when you don't have the respondents' phone numbers (since they can use the JOIN command to initiate the iSMS activity themselves)


  • customer reporting their satisfaction with their experience in a store
  • follow up with patients after clinic visits
  • polling staff on their opinion about a new policy
  • asking stock clerk their current supply levels for a variety of items
  • many more!

More about interactive SMS:

How to Create an Interactive SMS Form with Magpi

How to Deploy an Interactive SMS Form with Magpi

Magpi Blog: Magpi iSMS: Quality Data, No App Required

IMPORTANT: Magpi iSMS works with almost every country and carrier, and more carriers are being added all the time, but you must test with your intended country and carrier to make sure that it functions.

IMPORTANT NOTE ON COSTS: Uploading data by SMS is typically more expensive than uploading using a data connection (like GPRS or 3G or wifi). For both of the SMS methods above, you will have to calculate the cost of sending text messages from the phones you plan to use. This cost depends on your local carrier, and is independent of our technology.

Magpi can, without any configuration, send and receive SMS messages from any country at all (except North Korea and Cuba), but this approach uses international SMS numbers and can cost in the range of USD $0.50 per message. If you wish to eliminate the costs of sending the SMS messages, you can set up a toll-free short code in-country but this might be a costly alternative. As an example, in the United  to set up a short code costs up to $16,500/year plus a one-time setup fee of $650.

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