Pulso: better data for human rights


Pulso is a web application for collecting and analyzing data on human rights through SMS surveys. Insufficient data is a barrier to advocate organizations in their quest to mitigate abuses and improve policy. Advocacy organizations are likely to conduct data-collection projects through resource- and time-intensive methods like field visits and in-person paper surveys. This tool will allow advocates to rapidly and efficiently collect large amounts of previously unavailable data about on-the-ground human rights conditions. In relation to migration, data could be used to research migration patterns, identify and address the most pressing issues faced by migrants, raise the voice of migrants in policy debates, and support the creation of migrant-focused legislation.


A critical barrier faced by migrant advocacy organizations is a lack of statistically-sound data about migration patterns and trends. In many instances, data on migration is not published or simply not collected by governments. In light of this information vacuum, many advocate organizations use resource- and time-intensive methods for collecting data, such as in-person interviews with migrants. While this method allows advocates to collect detailed, narrative accounts from migrants, it is not effective for collecting large volumes of data or for making statistical claims.

Pulso was developed to address this problem. Centro de los Derechos del Migrante, Inc. (Center for Migrant Rights, or CDM), a team member of Pulso, is a U.S. non-profit with headquarters in Mexico City and additional offices in Baltimore, Maryland, and Juxtlahuaca, Oaxaca. Part of CDM’s work involves research, education, and policy advocacy related to the H-2A and H-2B temporary work visa programs. In 2012, over 110,000 migrants workers were employed on H-2 visas in the U.S. and over 80% of those workers were from Mexico.

The H-2 visas and employer-sponsored programs, meaning that workers must be selected by an employer and are unable to self-petition for a visa. The recruitment process through which migrant workers are selected is highly problematic and rights violations are routine. However, very little information about recruitment for these visas is available to the public. Neither the U.S. nor the Mexican governments adequately monitor recruitment and the few regulations and laws that regulate it are under-enforced.

Pulso would provide CDM with the crucial ability to fill the information vacuum about recruitment under the H-2 temporary work visa programs. For the past 5 years, CDM has collected information on recruitment through in-person surveys with migrants. The in-person survey is costly and slow, when taking into account personnel time and travel costs and considering that many migrant-sending communities are located in remote areas of the country. In recent years, however, CDM has noticed a significant increase in access to and familiarity with mobile technology. Almost all temporary migrant workers, especially the younger generation, regularly use mobile phones and SMS technology. A short survey sent to CDM’s database of migrant workers would generate rapid results, with the number of responses likely topping the total number of surveys collected by CDM during the past 5 years. SMS surveys typically generate a higher response rate than email or web-based surveys.


Pulso is a platform to send short surveys to mobile phones via SMS. The platform allows administrators to easily create new questions and group questions into surveys. Administrators can select from three question structures: 1) multiple choice/single answer, 2) multiple choice/multiple answer, and 3) open text or number answers. Once a survey recipient answers a question, the next question in the survey is trigged to send. The platform allows for advanced question logic, enabling and disabling questions based on the participant's replies. This permits administrators to design detailed surveys without unnecessarily increasing length for the respondent.

Administrators upload mobile phone numbers of migrant contacts to the platform. Additionally, new users can register by texting UNETE to the designated phone number. Organizations can easily increase their survey pool through advertising and promotional campaigns in migrant safe houses, on public transit, through social media, and through traditional media. SMS service providers will charge the surveyor for outgoing messages (survey) and the migrant for responses.

The platform also contains a data visualization component that allows administrators and website visitors to analyze the survey results in real time, as well as downloading the data in a CSV file. The platform requires only phone numbers (no names, addresses, etc.), making the platform anonymous by default. The exported data will identify participants only by a unique participant ID, rather than including their phone number. In an effort to increase data transparency and foment collaboration in the civil sector, data collected through this platform will be made available publicly. Administrators can reserve the right to be credited in any secondary material published using the survey data.


  • Simple question syntax allows rapid creation of surveys.
  • Realtime question syntax validation feedback.
  • Actions and triggers can be specified for question options: ”continue,” ”go to question,” and ”end survey.”
  • Anonymous (no personal information beyond mobile phone number is collected).
  • Administrators can bulk import participant phone numbers.
  • Participants can join by texting JOIN/UNETE to register and EXIT/SALIR to opt-out.
  • Text INFO to receive more information about the survey and surveying organization.
  • Explanatory and invitation texts (YES/NO) before survey initiates.
  • Participant status and last activity date are tracked.
  • Surveys can be scheduled to begin automatically on a specified date or run immediately at the click of a button.
  • Surveys can be closed manually to freeze the dataset once it is determined enough responses have been received.
  • Data visualization displays summary of responses in real time.
  • Data available for download as a CSV file.
  • Participant status is maintained: they can respond now or later and their reply will apply to the correct question.
  • Dashboard gives overview and statistics of currently running survey.
  • Authentication system prevents unauthorized access. Multiple users can be logged-in simultaneously.
  • Searching, filtering, and sorting of record lists.
  • Extensive form validation ensures data is entered correctly.
  • Full system logging maintains a history of events and can alert administrators whenever an error occurs via email or SMS.
  • Internationalization ready: consistent use of gettext methods will enable the site interface to be translated into any language.
  • And lots more… go see the demo!


CDM envisions several uses for such data in its own work. These survey models could be easily replicated by other advocacy organizations working on migration issues.

  • Single-use surveys for research. Some of the most egregious abuses faced by internationally recruited workers are all but invisible to policy-makers and governments. For example, temporary migrant workers are often forced to take out exploitative, high-interest loans to cover recruitment, visa, and travel costs, meaning that they arrive in the U.S. with considerable debt. Using Pulso, CDM could design a short survey about the use of loans to highlight the problem. The research could be presented to government officials and policy makers to support the creation of policies that would mitigate this problem.
  • Single-use survey about a current policy proposal. CDM believes that migrant workers should be included in the policy discussions that directly affect them. For this reason, when lawmakers and federal agencies publish new laws and regulations related to the H-2 temporary visa programs, CDM often seeks out the opinions of migrant workers and includes them in public comments, briefs, and senate hearings. Given the short timeline associated with this process, CDM is often unable to collect a substantial response from migrant workers and instead relies on anecdotes from a handful of individuals. Pulso would allow CDM to gather significant feedback from the temporary migrant worker population in a timely manner. Findings would be made public and included in debates related to the proposed policy.
  • Ongoing baseline survey about recruitment. CDM would use Pulso to gather baseline data on recruitment patterns through a regular survey sent to workers every 4-6 months. In addition to monitoring trends in recruitment practices and abuses, CDM could use the data to evaluate the effectives of new legislation and regulations. For example, the Department of Labor implemented a prohibition on recruitment fees in 2009. CDM’s field work and survey responses indicate that the prohibition did not have a significant on-the-ground effect on the use of recruitment fees. Statistically significant responses through a Pulso baseline survey would allow CDM to collect critical information about the implementation and enforcement of new legislation and regulations.
  • Alerts and polling about urgent actions. In early 2013, CDM began receiving reports by migrant workers about a fraudulent recruitment company operating in over a dozen states in Mexico. The agency, called Chamba Mexico, was charging workers 7,000 pesos in exchange for an H-2 temporary work visa, though no worker ever receive one. Subsequently, the offices were closed and the agency owners fled. Thousands of workers have come forward as victims of the fraud scheme and, to date, none has received a reimbursement of their fee. Unfortunately, these fraud schemes are not uncommon. CDM could use Pulso to prevent and investigate recruitment fraud schemes by sending alerts and collecting crucial information about fraudulent actors through worker polls.

Possibilities for expansion

While Pulso is currently designed to draw information from the migrant population, it could be expanded in the future to serve as a dispatch center, connecting migrants and advocates. Migrants could use Pulso to submit requests for information and/or assistance via SMS. Keyword identification would allow incoming SMS requests to be sorted by theme and directed to the appropriate respondent. Either a single organization or networks of migrant advocacy organizations could establish these dispatch centers. The following examples demonstrate some possibilities for how the expanded version of Pulso could be utilized by NGOs:

  • A network of NGOs could establish a dispatch center using the expanded version of Pulso. Incoming requests could be sorted by keywords and directed to individual member NGOs, depending on the content of the SMS request. E.g., a member NGO that assists migrants in cases of deportation could be registered to receive incoming requests containing the word "DEPORTATION." By coordinating service provision under a network, a single SMS sent to a designated number would give migrants a direct line of communication to NGOs.
  • A single NGO could use the expanded version of Pulso to develop a tool that would connect migrants with resources. Incoming requests, tagged with keywords and location information, could either generate auto-responses with a list of resources/NGOs, be individually answered by the NGO, or be referred to other NGOs working on the issue in question. Such a tool would provide migrant workers with vital information about resources in their area or about a specific issue.



Pulso was the winner of the Mexico City Americas Datafest Hackathon and a finalist in the global awards.

Pulso is a winner of the Americas Datafest Accelerator.

“Great plan, implementation, very useful product, all-around really awesome product.”

“Solid engineering work, providing a fairly sophisticated survey infrastructure for designing, conducting, and analyzing surveys.”

Team Members

You can email us at

Live Demo

Not just a demo site; this is a fully functional tool ready for use. Careful: it really sends SMSs! =)

Source Code

Browse the source or git clone

Pulso is built on a LAMP platform using the Strangecode Codebase PHP framework.


This software is licensed under the GNU GPLv3.

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Last modified 8 months ago Last modified on Feb 14, 2023 10:52:17 PM