UN Special Envoy to the Western Sahara Christopher Ross landed in Morocco last Wednesday. While the international community anxiously waits to see where his next round of negotiations go, here's a peek into the lives of those affected most by the outcome - Sahrawi refugees. For once, a little hope for the future coming from the Sahara...
The MFarmer SMS service, a project of the Nakaseke Community Telecentre in Uganda, helps farmers in rural areas to connect with better markets. It encourages two-way feedback with farmers, buyers and agro-processors, and other service providers. The project is designed to help farmers access agricultural market price information and weather information through their mobile phones.
I had my first mobile phone in 1999, a metallic blue Motorola M3888. Its street name was “phone booth” because it was the cheapest mobile phone available, even though it was a luxury. It cost 14,000KES ($160) – a gift from my father bought during a Safaricom Valentine’s Day special. I could make calls - for 40KES (50 cents) per minute, and send SMS, and that was it; I loved that phone!
Although I find myself intrigued by the convergence of computer science, human computer interaction (HCI) design and international development, it's not often that I find myself in a room of experts. They're just not places I tend to mix, most likely because I have no professional IT qualifications, let alone a computer science degree, and I've done most of my own software design off-the-cuff, much to the dismay of people who hoped there was a robust process behind it. Last August I got my first taste of the very real challenges that the computer science world faces when it comes up against the equally real challenges of international development. The meeting - convened at UC Berkeley - was an eye-opener for me to say the least, and as I left I blogged about how thankful I was that it wasn't me who had to come up with the answers. You can read that post here.
A little later in the year I was invited to speak at the First International Workshop on Expressive Interactions for Sustainability and Empowerment, held at one of Vodafone's London offices. The topic of conversation was similar, but here the focus was on how to build mobile tools that work in difficult, challenging, 'foreign' environments. Following my talk I was invited by the Editor of Interfaces, John Knight, to contribute an article to the next edition of their magazine.
For the article I teamed up with Joel Selanikio, co-founder of DataDyne.org and the creator of the EpiSurveyor mobile data collection tool. It made sense working with Joel for a number of reasons. Not only have I known and admired him and his work for some time, but Joel is first and foremost a paediatrician. For him - like me - understanding the problem takes priority over the technology, consideration of which should always come last. FrontlineSMS and EpiSurveyor have both evolved from time spent in the field - observing, experiencing and understanding before designing, developing and building.
You can read our thoughts on the process - "Ten things you might want to know before building for mobile" - in the current edition of Interfaces magazine (PDF, 2.5Mb).