Appropriate Technology (Bridge)

Ensuring that technology was appropriate for stakeholders’ lives was an important communication-related bridge to meeting development goals. One aspect of this appropriateness was how well technology usage fit into the current routines of project stakeholders—particularly intended beneficiaries. For example, when considering which features to build into a hardware device, project leaders and team members conducted field research and reflected on potential uses that built upon existing practice:

“A postman would have a [project name device]. The postman could carry on a variety of transactions, and he is in touch with everybody often every day. He is a hub and can reach out to these people. In these villages, the men would go searching for jobs in nearby towns, and once a week they would send back money to their family. Middlemen would charge exorbitantly to carry it. We could do this through the postman for a small fee.” (Team member)

“We had a deal where a person has a smart card. All details about the family including health indicators would be on the card so if someone from the family wanted to visit the doctor, if the doctor is not in the local clinic, then people all queue up in front of the doctor’s office. And what could be done is that the person puts his smart card in the postman’s [project name device] and asks for an appointment at the doctor’s office.” (Team member)

In addition to providing benefit within the context of people’s current routines, other projects pursued appropriate technology by leveraging existing hardware as much as possible—particularly mobile phones:

“When we launched in 2003, the Internet we thought was going to boom through kiosks. It happened in the beginning, but then after that, the movement was replaced by mobile phones. And so it was a question of waiting for the Internet kiosks to catch up or capitalizing on the mobile cell phone momentum. Now the kiosks are slowly coming back, but still I think it will be a long way to catch up on the millions of new customers coming onboard with mobiles. So if we didn’t do what we did for the mobile, we’d be lagging behind in the reach.” (Project leader)

“Now the cell phone is so common in the rural area, you know, like using that for a central location from where they can ask questions and get the answers back.” (Member of partner organization)

“We started with kiosks to let farmers directly interact, but to increase reach we need to use mobile technology and also the broad reach of the Internet.” (Team member)

“Earlier in 2004-2005, it was a time where mobile phones started coming… Then [project leader] realized that programming can be done and publications can be linked up with mobile phones. Then we found out that mobile phones will be reached soon to all the people. The penetration will be very high... Then we came up that we should focus on this application.” (Member of partner organization)

Project technologists sought to leverage communication devices that were already available to many stakeholders, including intended beneficiaries. Particularly when mobile devices were paired with human mediation, this strategy created a bridge that mitigated barriers related to equipment access and the skills to use that equipment.

Another way that projects addressed the barrier of limited technology skills was to focus on making technology-mediated communication easy to use:

“[My role in the project is] improving the GUI [graphic user interface], making it easier. Farmers who have a background with nothing related to technology, making them an interface that lets them think in their natural way. Putting the interface where whatever they want, they get in a single step.” (Team member)

“We have workshops to interact with partners and understand their requirements… We develop something and show them and get their feedback.”

“Changes come based on feedback from farmers. Farmers gave us feedback on how they want information in workshops and other places.” (Team member)

“People don’t get one kind of learning. Different people learn in different ways. So we will put things in text, audio, video, so they can go with any of the possible things.” (Team member)

“You have to think of human-centered design and make sure they are comfortable with it. Children can take my phone and play the game with no instruction. That is powerful.” (Team member)

“Why TV? TV is the operating system. Computer is not suitable for farmers… TV level is a very popular instrument. Anyone can use and operate.” (Member of partner organization)

Several strategies to making technology easy to use are described in the above quotes. Some projects employed hardware already used by stakeholders, hardware like mobile phones and televisions. Some projects offered several paths to the same information, enabling stakeholders to select whatever communication channel suited them and their environment. All seven projects conducted extensive user testing and invited feedback from stakeholders to enable iterative development. All of these efforts are strategies to mitigate communication-related barriers to development goals through the bridge of appropriate technology.

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