Discussion Report 29 Christian Kreutz & Pete Cranston - Using mobile phones for knowledge sharing
Using mobile phones for knowledge sharing
== Convenor == Christian Kreutz & Pete Cranston
== Participants == Christian Kreutz, Pete Cranston, Verele De Vreede, Margarita Salas, Gauri Salokhe, Sabrina Erné, James Marchant, Michael Roberts, Luca Servo, Pete Shelton, Taline Haytayan, Danny Aerts, Damir Simunic, Carl Jackson and Peter J Bury.
== Key Discussion Points ==
Podcast with Pete Cranston on using mobile phones for knowledge sharing: http://www.switchpod.com//users/talinehay/PeteCranstonPodcast.mov
Podcast with Christian Kreutz on mobiles including recent Kenya Crisis http://www.wkg.uk.net/KM4DEV08/Christian_K.mp3 (2MB) - streaming version coming soon
Blog post about the session by Christian Kreutz: http://www.crisscrossed.net/2008/07/20/mobile-phones-for-development-grassroot-innovations/
Blog post with a list of mobile application for development: http://talksharelearn.wordpress.com/2008/09/12/who-is-using-mobile-phones-for-development/
Notes here below are additions from KM4Dev Discussion forum:
Mobile Phones for Social Change in Africa - a talk given by Dr Gary Marsden in March 2008, University of Cape Town
"Mobile interaction design for developing nations" or "People are people, but technology is not technology"
Gary Marsden is an Associate Professor in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. With a background of academic work in the UK on problems of computer usability and mobile computing, since moving to Africa he has focused on the design of digital technology for developing world contexts, and his current emphasis is on education and healthcare systems based on cellular telephone handset technology.
Not many people in Africa have access to the Internet: only 4.7% of the population, compared to the world average of 20%. Looking more widely across the developing world, we find that 10% of the population in those countries have access to the Internet, compared to about 60% in the developed world.
However, the proportion of people in developing nations who have a cellular handset is much higher: about one third. And Africa is the fastest-growing cellular market in the world, growing by about 40% year on year. What is more, the network coverage is surprisingly extensive, as Gary demonstrated, showing a chart of the 43 nations in Africa documenting the proportion of the population who live in a cellphone-enabled area. For example, Zimbabwe, in dire economic trouble with 26,000% inflation, has 50% of its population within a cellphone access area. (Note: there are more than 150 million cellphone subscribers in sub-Saharan Africa, but a further 350 million have cellphone coverage without having their own handset. - CT)
Why has cellular been so successful? Gary showed the audience a photograph of an item he had bought from a roadside vendor: a colourful bowl woven out of stolen trunk cable, which once had connected a fixed phone line subscriber to the exchange. Cable theft is a costly headache, and the cause of widespread system failure for telecomms operators across Africa...
The Western Cape region of South Africa is the second largest exporter of copper to China, the rade valued at 77 million rands (US $11 million) in 2006, without having a single copper mine. Replacing stolen cables in South Africa costs 500 million rands annually. (See article in Taipei Times: http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/world/archives/2007/06/21/2003366202)
There are also sociological reasons that favour the cellular network. If you are an itinerant or migrant worker, you can't have a fixed line, but you can have a mobile. You are not dependent on electricity either, which has become a big problem in South Africa recently. Cellphones are relatively robust, and because they are subsidised by the networks, they are cheap. The attachment of Africans to their cellphones is remarkable. Gary showed us a photo of an Internet cafe in north west Zambia, a remote region bordering DR Congo and Angola. The Internet cafe is collapsing. Why? Because there is no cash in the village. The village got cellphone coverage four month ago, since when everyone is spending their cash on cellphone airtime. The Internet cafe closed for lack of business; the grocery is teetering on the brink of survival; even the pub is suffering. Gary said that he had met people who would skip meals in order to afford airtime. In Africa, ICT = cellphones --------------------------- When Gary reads articles about ubiquitous computing that come from a Western, developed-country perspective, they talk about *depth* -- increased density of computers in a given area. He asked his audience to think about *breadth* -- spreading computers and computer-like devices throughout the world. Forget the PC; even forget the $100 laptop -- Gary showed us a photo of the Motorola C113a $20 mobile phone commissioned by the GSM Association with the aim of reaching "the next billion users", and its follow-up, the Motofone F3, with an E-ink electrophoretic "electronic paper" screen, giving extremely long battery life on standby. For these cellphone owners in developing countries, the cellphone is the first and only piece of technology in their lives; and they relate to it very differently to how cellphone users in the rich countries would. Gary owned up to being a white, middle-class, middle-aged nerdy engineering guy who loves technology; and he has loads of experience designing technology for other white, middle-class, nerdy people. However, the discipline of HCI (Human-Computer Interaction) introduces humility; and he has learned a lot of humility since moving to Africa. HCI methodology directs us to create technology based on careful observations of what people want and what they are doing; and then evaluating the technology in the light of whether it serves those users. This means we may have a significant amount of unlearning to do. Consider this: each of us at this conference has a cellphone, and it is that person's own cellphone. In South Africa, many people use shared cellphones, such as arte accessed through a phonecall-centre business like the one of which Gary showed us a photo, based in a goods container. The papers given at this Royal Society conference about trust and authentication all made the assumption that the devices in question belonged to just one person; but that would not be true in the townships... African cellphone users can be fantastically price- sensitive. While in Zambia making some observations, he saw a guy receive a call, look at the number as it flashed up on the screen, and immediately switch the phone off. He then extracted the SIM card, inserted another, turned it on and made a call... On asking this man for an explanation, Gary learned that of the three cellphone service providers in Zambia, it is cheap to make local calls on Celtel; MTN has the biggest coverage, and CellZ is free to receive calls on. So, you keep your CellZ SIM card in most of the time, but you swap to CelTel to make a call to a landline. In the West, we could not be bothered for the sake of saving a few pence. In fact these users could do with having phones with at least three SIM cards in them. In Africa, the cellphone is the computer ---------------------------------------- For many people, the cellphone is the only computing device they own. If they need a calculator, they will use their cellphone. You can even see employees in the banks doing their calculations on cellphones. Camera-phone usage differs, too. Imagine that the only camera you have ever owned is your camera-phone; and that you don't have the facilities to transfer photos from your phone to a PC, or put them on an Internet social networking site, or get them printed out. Therefore, for many Africans, their phone is their photo album. They have their wedding photos on their phones. Their phones contain a pictorial documentary of their lives. Getting to know someone, they may pull out their phone and say, Look, this is my wife; this is my house; these are my kids... So, one project they implemented at the University of Cape Town was a system that makes it easier to browse photos on a cellphone. They got the phone to broadcast the image to the screens of other phones in the vicinity, to help you show your photographs to your friends. People liked that, because it fitted into their culture in a very natural way. Most school-children in South Africa use a system called "MXit" (see http://www.mxit.com/web/whatis.htm) MXit is a basic Internet chat application for the mobile phone, and five million people use it; because in South Africa, the cost of sending a single character via MXit is one ten-thousandth of the cost of sending a single character via SMS. For two rand a day, less than 20p, these kids can stay all day on MXit, despite the fact that it has a terrible user interface that the likes of us wouldn't put up with. Many of the schools have banned use of MXit. But Gary and his colleagues discovered that the kids use MXit to do their homework collaboratively. Therefore, they added functionality to the MXit system, having reverse-engineered the protocol, and added these features and functions into some of the chatrooms. The kids loved it. Remember, they have no Internet access. They added an equation-solver, for solving quadratic and linear equations, and an interface to Wikipedia. Harnessing the cellphone for healthcare delivery ------------------------------------------------ Gary introduced another of the projects his group is involved with, a healthcare company called Cell-life that was set up to address South Africa's serious HIV problem with electronic health technologies. Cell-life (http://www.cell-life.org) uses mobile phone technologies in many innovative ways, e.g. to provide a free information service via SMS, and to let people book clinic appointments. If a person is diagnosed HIV-positive, they are interviewed for acceptance into an AntiRetroviral treatment programme and assigned a therapeutic counsellor. These ladies liaise with 15-20 patients, collecting essential information on the basis of which a doctor will make a prescription and a care manager will direct a programme of care. Various approaches to information-gathering were tried, and met with problems, until someone noticed that all the health visitors had their own cellphones. So Gary's team translated all the forms onto the cellphone: forms about adherence to treatment, about symptoms, about appointments... these generated SMS messages. Of course the screen is so small, and it might have been nicer to deploy the system on a handheld computer... but the health visitors were comfortable with their mobile phones, and this ensured a very enthusiastic acceptance. But the University of Cape Town team has had its failures too. Another healthcare-related problem which they tried to tackle was in the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu Natal, a very poor area, where there was a 100-bed hospital with ten outlying clinics that were affiliated to it: and for all of this, there was only one doctor. (That doctor was Cuban: South African doctors have been emigrating in droves to work in the British National Health Service where the money is better.) The team found that nurses would frequently come across a condition which they did not recognise, and where the opinion of a doctor was required. For example, suppose a man had come in with a purple, swollen leg. He would have to be told to take a taxi over to Mtata, and then another taxi to the hospital, all of which he could not afford... So the team thought, why not put in a wireless network, and the nurse could take a digital photo of the purple leg, and send it to the doctor; and they managed to get some aid funding for this, and built the system. There was even a nice feature whereby when one of these requests for diagnosis arrived on the doctor's PC he would be alerted via SMS. The nurses had never used a computer before, and it took six months to train them. As good HCI practioners, of course they did an evaluation of the system and they did find there were some problems with it, so they set about making improvements. And at least one nurse, in Gary's words, "freaked out". "Don't change it!" she pleaded. "But it's very hard to use..." "No, I have spent six months learning how to use this system -- do not change it!" Hmm, they thought, that's not what it says in the HCI textbooks... Once again, they decided to try porting the application onto cellphones -- Windows cellphones using the .NET Compact Framework. And this time, the nurses didn't need any training. The irony was, it was exactly the same piece of software, but they found it easier to use on the phone. The problem was: they never ever used the system. Why? After two months of study, and a lot of interviews, they discovered that nurses do not talk to doctors. That is not how their social structure operates. The technological "fix" which had seemed such a good idea was, in that context, useless; and all they had succeeded in doing was to upset the nurses. Finding & using the "bridge" person ----------------------------------- There is an approach to interface design called User Centred Design, in which the user and developer work together as co-creators of the technology, right from the start. It sounds like a wonderful idea, but they are finding that it doesn't work in Africa. Because that methodology assumes that the user of the technology understands it on some level. So, the people that Gary and his colleagues often deal with know nothing about the technology; on the other hand, people like Gary know next to nothing about the culture of the community, which really gets shown up when the application operates in the context of a social structure. The gap is just so great that often we don't even know what are the right questions to ask. Besides which, there are just not enough people doing the kind of application design work that Gary does. Consider the Cell-life information gathering project: every clinic in Africa which had read about that system phoned up and wanted a version for their clinic. There was just no way they could have done that. So now, they have a new way of working, and he suspects it is the only way to make computing ubiquitous in the developing world. They have found that within each community they can identify a "bridge person", a human access point. Consider, for example, the owner of that Internet cafe in north west Zambia, Roy. He's lived in that village all his life, but he got some kind of scholarship and received training about IT and the Internet. Now Roy can understand the computing world, and the world of the African village. So now, Gary's team works with people who can act as a "bridge"; they create software with them and for them, rather than for the end users, and they make sure that the software is sufficiently easy to customise, so that the "bridge person", the "human access point", is empowered to support the end users. So, for example, for a development of the idea of using cellphones to capture health-related information, one of Gary's research students interviewed 150 doctors, got them to sketch out how they would embody the task of information capture, and then embodied that in his software. The development system that they used took these electronically-sketched ideas for interaction screens, and turned them (by clicking on the "Deploy" button) into an actual application ready to be burned into the SIM cards of the users: it's just a matter of giving the application the mobile phone numbers of the phones onto which the application should be burned.