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Posts in category 'Africa'

5 August 2009

A user perspective on mobile banking in Tanzania

Voucher agent in Arusha
Gunnar Camner and Emil Sjöblom recently spent three months in Tanzania for their master’s thesis in Media Technology at the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) in Stockholm, Sweden, to investigate mobile banking services from a user perspective.

In which contexts do alternative uses, e.g. savings, become popular and why?

The final report will be presented during autumn 2009 and made available at the project blog. Meanwhile, they sent a dispatch to the CGAP blog:

“While M-PESA in Tanzania has had a hard time competing with its sibling in Kenya in user uptake, there is one way of sending money via the mobile phone that is very popular in the country. That is by using airtime top-up vouchers. The most common way to do this is to buy an airtime voucher, scratch it in order to get the code and then text the code in an SMS to the person you want to send money to. It is then up to the recipient to go out and sell the code to people who want to buy airtime, or resellers and shops that in turn will sell it to people wanting airtime.”

Read full story

You can also more about the project here or download the whole project outline here (pdf).

23 July 2009

TEDGlobal updates

TEDGlobal
Both the Guardian newspaper’s PDA blog and TED itself are posting regular updates from the current TEDGlobal conference in Oxford, UK.

(TED stands for technology, entertainment and design, and it’s an exclusive conference that brings togethers thinkers and doers from around the world. The TEDGlobal edition is directed by Bruno Guissani.)

Here are some selected highlights:

Manuel Lima
An interaction designer at Nokia, Lima looks at how complex interconnectedness can be understood. He is compelled by the divide between information and knowledge. So he looks at information visualization.

Rebecca Saxe
In her talk at TEDGlobal, cognitive neuroscientist Rebecca Saxe presented her breakthrough discovery of a particular section of the brain that becomes active when we contemplate the workings of other minds.

Aza Raskin
Aza Raskin is the head of user experience for Mozilla Labs (the people who created Firefox), and today he’s giving us a demo of a whole new kind of Internet browser. Instead of asking us to become computer literate, he’s making the browser learn our language.

Stefana Broadbent
Technology anthropologist Stefana Broadbent analyzes how we text, IM and talk.

Jonathan Zittrain
TEDGlobal director Bruno Guissani takes the stage to welcome Jonathan Zittrain who is a lawyer that specializes in technological, and of course, Internet-based law.

Gordon Brown (video)
Speaking to an international conference of technology entrepreneurs, academics and artists at Oxford, Prime Minister Gordon Brown called for the creation of global institutions to deal with the global problems.
>> See also Guardian PDA post

Also check out the Guardian PDA blog post on a new mobile phone search service for Uganda. It talks about the work of Jon Gosier of Appfrica, who has launched a simple project using a corp of mostly volunteers with mobile phones to find out what Ugandans want to know.

14 July 2009

For Uganda’s poor, a cellular connection

Banana query
In a country where people don’t have electricity, much less Internet access, the Grameen Foundation partners with Google to relay information through mobile phones. Dara Kerr reports from on the ground for CNet:

“The research for this project began a year and a half ago at the Application Laboratory, AppLab, which was set up in Kampala, Uganda, by the Grameen Foundation. It has done field research, quantitative needs assessments, prototyping, and focus group testing to figure out how to design and structure mobile applications that could deliver the information.

Since most cell phones in Uganda have only voice and SMS capabilities, the technology was built for SMS. A person texts a question to a specific code, which goes to the database built by AppLab, then using Google’s algorithms, keywords are identified and the most suitable answer is sent back to the cell phone. ” [...]

“For the next few months, there is a promotional period and all texts are free, which helps AppLab continue to build its database of queries. When the promotional period ends, MTN and Google have agreed to charge agriculture and health queries at half the cost of a normal SMS message, while all the other services will have the standard rates. Meanwhile, Google will be supporting an on-the-ground assessment to make sure these services are having a beneficial impact for the people of Uganda.”

Read full story

14 July 2009

What you don’t know about M-PESA

M-PESA usage
Olga Morawczynski, a doctoral candidate at the University of Edinburgh and has spent more than a year investigating customer adoption and usage in both urban and rural Kenya, and has been sharing some of her insights on the CGAP blog. This time she talks about a third player, Sagentia, who was behind the M-PESA success:

“There was also a smaller player that had a vitally important role in the conceptualization and development of the application. That is, Sagentia, a technology consultancy firm based out of Cambridge. The firm not only wrote the software for M-PESA, they also designed the business processes, and provided operational and technical support during the pilot and after launch.” [...]

“They assured me that M-PESA was just the beginning. Using the mobile as a platform, they plan to create developmental services that penetrate other spheres —m-health, agribusiness. They further predicted that the mobile will soon begin to revolutionize these other spaces as well.”

Read full story

See also these earlier CGAP posts about her work (oldest posts listed first):

Morawczynski is the author of a forthcoming CGAP brief on M-PESA and recently co-authored Designing Mobile Money Services: Lessons from M-PESA with Ignacio Mas.

9 July 2009

Google on designing useful mobile services for Africa

Africa post
Last week Google announced a suite of SMS services in Uganda. In a follow-up post on the main google blog, the company explains that it is the result of more than a year of true user-centred research and design.

“We knew we wanted to build useful mobile services tailored to the needs of people in sub-Saharan Africa, but how could we find out what people want from the Internet when they don’t have access to it already? What would people who had never used search before want to search for if we gave them a mobile phone and said “Ask any question you like”?

In early 2008 we set out with colleagues from Google.org, Grameen Applab and MTN (a network carrier in Uganda) with this challenge in mind. Our research needed to be able to assess the feasibility of delivering information via mobile in Uganda as well as evaluate the content “appetites” of local people. Since no search engine existed for testing, we did the next best thing: We decided to mimic the experience of using a search engine using human experts.”

Read full story

You can find more background information on the Africa Gathering site.

1 July 2009

Tools of engagement: the new practice of user-centered design

Searching for companionship
In a short essay on Core77, Robert Fabricant is not afraid to tackle some big questions: “What role did Design play in contributing to our current global crisis? What role should/will Designers play in leading us out of this mess?” and “Do we need to shift the conventional notion of User-Centered Design (UCD) and rethink the very foundation of contemporary design practice?”

The article, which also describes two emerging design practices (catalyst design and performance design), is a highly recommended read.

A few quotes:

“We have been operating under the assumption that the primary challenge is to convince businesses to focus on fulfilling user needs with higher quality products, with more meaningful experiences. But what if the ‘users’ themselves are the problem? What if users represent not a coherent set of needs but a messy mix of desires and influences? What, ultimately, is the role of the designer in sorting through these desires to determine which should drive our design decisions? And what frameworks, other than intuition, should we use to make these judgments?”

“What we are beginning to appreciate is the degree to which user behavior is ALWAYS subject to influence. We should not assume that our role is to somehow remove those influences so that the user can act in a free and unconstrained manner to achieve their own needs, as that is impossible. The user is not a self-contained actor in the system, but one who is largely and continually open to influences, the most important of which he/she is generally not conscious of. Our design decisions are just one influence among many, not categorically different, and often not the most effective in motivating the user to achieve their desired aims.”

Read full story

1 July 2009

Africa’s poor: Google’s premium SMS in the crossfire

Miller
Katrin Verclas of Mobile Active points out that the new Google/ MTN/ Grameen collaboration on mobile information services in Uganda is very expensive, and this is creating some problems:

“This will, be definition, limit access of such services to the poorest individuals in the country who are least likely to afford an SMS almost eight times the cost of the cheapest SMS in country. Which means that Grameen Foundation’s headline for it’s press release “GF, Google and MTN Uganda Launch New Mobile Services for Uganda’s Poor” might just be a bit misleading.”

But Erik Hersman, who reflects on the same issue on his blog White African, doesn’t agree:

“The question posed is if people who are claiming to help the poor should charge, and if so, should they make a profit?

I think we’ve seen from the Grameen model in Bangladesh (ex: Grameen Bank and Grameen Phone’s Village Phone program) that you can (and possibly should). By doing so you help both parties; first, by providing a service that consumers value and are willing to pay for, and second by making the business of running an operation self-sustaining. Many good business, or project, ideas die due to lack of sustainable cash flow. .”

24 June 2009

Intel’s Genevieve Bell on humanising technology

Genevieve Bell
Malaysian newspaper The Star devotes plenty of space to user-centred design in three stories that feature the work of Genevieve Bell, Intel’s user experience director.

“Marrying” anthropology and science

“I still write and publish my work in academic journals. To me, what we do in companies like Intel is the cutting edge of anthropological study.

“We form a relationship with the consumer and represent their needs. It’s a moral obligation to tell their stories.

“We find out what makes people tick, not just so that we can sell them things, but to make life better for them by ensuring that people in small towns and emerging markets can afford it. We want to help create technology for more people.”

Annoying things device-users do

“The top responses for strange mobile etiquette behaviour ranged from making a cashier wait until a cellphone call was completed and texting while driving.

Other responses included using a laptop in a public toilet, as well as hearing typing and conversations at church, during a funeral, and in a doctor’s office.”

Better television

“My engineering colleagues were desperately convinced that everything was a PC waiting to happen.

“What is needed is to meaningfully blend television and the Internet. My research conclusion was clear – consumers love television and only put up with their PCs because they want to connect to the Internet.

“It’s clear that people care about social networking and its technologies so how to we bring that into TV sets?

“Imagine accessing Flicker or Twitter on your television without turning it into a PC ? We desire for television to do more but it must not be too complicated. The challenge is to create technology that can accommodate local content,” she says, noting that there is a huge space for advancement in consumer electronics, especially to “make television better”.

15 June 2009

Nokia to offer Life Tools for rural mobile users

Nokia Life Tools for farmer
Nokia plans to roll out its Life Tools group of services to more emerging markets following a successful pilot program in India, a company executive said Monday.

“Nokia plans to roll out its Life Tools group of services to more emerging markets following a successful pilot program in India, a company executive said Monday.

Nokia is now formulating plans to roll out Life Tools, which includes agricultural and educational services for rural mobile users, in other emerging markets following the “great success” of a trial conducted in India, said Mary McDowell, executive vice president and chief development officer at Nokia, speaking at a company event in Singapore ahead of the CommunicAsia conference and exhibition, which opens on June 16.”

Read full story

12 June 2009

The participatory web – new potentials for ICT in rural areas

The participatory web
Web 2.0 solutions offer people in rural areas a platform for networking and knowledge exchange.

This brochure, published by GTZ, provides a systematic overview of Web 2.0 experiences made to date in Africa, Asia and Latin America. It serves as a practice-oriented introduction to the theme and discusses both the potentials and the possible limits to the participatory web.

Read press release
Download brochure (44 pages)

11 June 2009

R&D 2.0: fewer engineers, more anthropologists

Navi Radjou
Navi Radjou argues on the HarvardBusiness.org Voices blog that R&D in emerging markets needs fewer engineers and more anthropologists.

“To effectively identify and address the explicit and unmet needs of the broader consumer base in emerging markets, I believe multi-national companies [MNCs] must adopt a new global innovation model. Let’s call it global R&D 2.0.

This global R&D 2.0 strategy calls for a talent recalibration in MNCs’ R&D labs in emerging markets. I suggest that multinationals, besides employing technically-oriented engineers and scientists, begin to staff their R&D units in developing nations like India with two other types of experts, namely:

Anthropologists and ethnographers. By having anthropologists study and interact with end-customers in their natural settings, Western firms can learn to tailor their business models and offerings to match users’ socio-economic and cultural context. [...]

Development economists. [...] To effectively lure low-income buyers into procuring their low-end goods and services, multinationals need the help of development economists who can concoct creative pricing and financing mechanisms, such as microcredit schemes.”

Read full story

11 June 2009

From little things…

Uganda van
The Future Tense programme on Australia’s ABC Radio features bottom-up, user-generated innovation in Africa:

“In this program we’ll highlight several interesting initiatives, one in Africa and one in the South Asia region, initiatives which have had success largely because of their responsiveness to people needs. And we’ll also question the West’s preconceptions about the future technological needs of the world’s poor.”

The programme features Nathan Eagle, a research scientist from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Santa Fe Institute in New Mexico, whose “area of expertise is exploring ways in which the lives of people in the developing world can be enhanced by creatively using a simple piece of everyday technology, the mobile phone”; Jerry Watkins, a senior lecturer in design at Swinburne University in Melbourne, who is the co-principal investigator of the ‘Moving Content’ project in India; and Archie Law, CEO of ActionAid Australia, which is “in the process of setting up what they call a ‘blog outreach post’ where the idea is “to send someone to a remote part of the developing world, in this case Tanzania, and have them establish a communications point there.”

Listen to audio or view transcript

11 June 2009

Barclays on less becoming more in product and service design

Barclays 360 magazine
Barclays 360 magazine, a quarterly thought leadership magazine for senior management within the Barclays Group, is devoted to simplicity in product and service design.

Here are the feature articles (of which the last one, which is excellently written and directly dealing with the current state of user experience, is my top recommendation):

Education: Business is increasingly plugging the skills gaps of the world’s workforce
by Sarah Richardson and Paul Tyrrell
With skills shortages affecting both developed and developing countries, business is increasingly stepping in to help educate the workers of tomorrow – feature includes examples from the Fashion Retail Academy (UK), BP Angola, Intel Corporation. and more.

Small sums, big benefits: microfinance brings banking to untapped markets
by Sarah Murray
Across Africa, Barclays is giving fledgling entrepreneurs access to modern financial services for the first time.

Simplicity: new designs focus on making complex products easy to use
by Rob Tannen
Leading companies are realising that they need to refocus on what consumers actually want and need, rather than stuffing more into products and services than their rivals.

View and download magazine

11 June 2009

Video interview with M-PESA pioneer Nick Hughes

Nick Hughes
The people of Microfinance Podcast have just posted a short video interview with Nick Hughes, Head of International Mobile Payment Solutions at the Vodafone Group, who has been instrumental in getting M-PESA up and running.

Watch video

(via CGAP)

11 June 2009

The Bottom of the Pyramid

Anti capitalism pyramid
This week the Institute for Money, Technology & Financial Inclusion hosted a conference about the “Bottom of the Pyramid” and Elizabeth Losh, author of Virtualpolitik and writing director of the Humanities Core Course at the University of California, Irvine, has an excellent and long summary on her blog.

“[The conference] frequently explored and critiqued the thesis of CK Prahalad in The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid: Eradicating Poverty Through Profits, which argues that aiming corporatized products at those living at the very bottom of the social ladder will enable markets to alleviate poverty while giving do-gooders a respectable profit by aiming for a kind of long tail that aggregates small sums and micropayments and often uses mobile phones and other kinds of ubiquitous computing technologies to foster exchange.”

Read full story

1 June 2009

Thinking about an Ushahidi-for-mBanking platform

m-Pesa
After Patrick Meier, a doctoral research fellow at Harvard University, a PhD candidate at The Fletcher School, and an active contributor at Ushahidi, participated in a high-level mobile banking (mBanking) conference in Nairobi, he reflected on the issue of trust in mobile banking in emerging markets, and presents a crowdsourced solution in a piece on iRevolution.

“One of the issues that keeps cropping up when discussing mBanking (and branchless banking) is the challenge of agent reliability and customer service. How does one ensure the trustworthiness of a growing network of agents and simultaneously handle customer complaints?

A number of speakers at Fletcher’s recent conference highlighted these challenges and warned they would become more pressing with time. So this got me thinking about an Ushahidi-for-mBanking platform.

Since mBanking customers by definition own a mobile phone, a service like M-Pesa or Zap could provide customers with a dedicated short code which they could use to text in concerns or report complaints along with location information. These messages could then be mapped in quasi real-time on an Ushahidi platform. This would provide companies like Safaricom and Zain with a crowdsourced approach to monitoring their growing agent network.”

Read full story

(See also this Reuters story)

1 June 2009

FT special report on connectivity

Connectivity
The Financial Times has published a special report on connectivity, analysing the implications of a connected planet.

My preferred pieces:

Skills: Business must learn from the new tribe
So-called ‘digital natives’ are bringing down the barriers to collaborative working, finds Jessica Twentyman
(If you read one article only, this is the one.)

Mobility: Flexibility is driven from the bottom up
But organisations must ensure employees are not slaves to mobile devices, notes Stephen Pritchard

Overcoming the fear of connectivity
Some organisations, fearful of untoward consequences such as reputational damage, ban social networking websites. Others embrace them enthusiastically and try to persuade others to do likewise.

Developing world: ‘Have-nots’ no closer to catching the ‘haves
Cellphones are nearly ubiquitous but internet access is still very patchy, says Paul Taylor

Case study: Text messages give shopkeepers the power to bulk buy
Stroll through South Africa’s villages – as steeped in ancestral tradition as they are deprived of basic services – and you will come across the convenience store, writes Tom Burgis.

Opinion: IT makes poverty a ‘curable affliction’
Olav Kjorven of the UNDP argues that innovative programmes in developing nations have helped people increase their choices and opportunities

Donor programmes: Sponsors can now view benefits online
Non-governmental organisations and government bodies can see exactly how their money is being spent, writes Danny Bradbury

Developed world: Those with no access miss out on opportunities
Jessica Twentyman examines the evidence that digital exclusion and social disadvantage go hand in hand

Connecting the world: Ubiquity will be a hard state to reach
Network access for all requires money but there are also significant technical hurdles, writes Stephen Pritchard

(Note that without subscription you can read only 10 FT articles a month. But you can double or triple that by installing more than one browser.)

31 May 2009

Round. The World. Connected. A video series

Round. The World. Connected.
The Nokia Siemens Networks has created an extremely well produced website and video series, entitled “Round. The World. Connected.” that sets out to understand what connectivity means to different people and cultures across Europe, Asia and the Americas. The project focuses specifically on how the latest communications technologies are touching peoples lives and on the socio-economic impact of connectivity.

“Adrian Simpson discovers the future of TV entertainment in Belgium; how the mobile phone camera revolutionizes healthcare in Kenya; the way in which government processes are facilitated through internet access in Mexico; and the political influence of SMS and social networking sites during the Obama election campaign in the US. But that’s not all – in the second half of 2009 Adrian will continue to travel to the corners of the globe, to find out how connectivity is impacting people’s lives from Austria to Zimbabwe.”

Currently the site has five 10 minute video episodes up on Europe, Africa, Latin America, USA and India (with China and Jakarta/Tokyo following soon). Each episode comes with clearly marked additional footage, plus interviews of Nokia Siemens Networks customers in those areas.

Mira Slavova of the excellent mmd4d blog that deals with mobile services for emerging markets, reports extensively on the African episode and its additional footage.

30 May 2009

Considering the future of mobile phones

power
Ken Banks, creator of FrontlineSMS, writes in PC World on the future of mobile phones and believes that many future mobile innovations will be borne out of the realities of the developing world.

“In order to understand what users need and want from their next mobile device, we need to get in the field and ask, as some mobile manufacturers do. Anthropology, with its human-centered approach to research, has become quite a trendy discipline in the mobile world, particularly when it’s done in exotic emerging markets.

The irony of this approach is that, perhaps for the first time, the needs of the consumer in the developing world are beginning to drive innovation and thinking at home. With concerns about global warming, energy dependence and the environment rising up the political agenda, mobile manufacturers find themselves tackling the very same problems as they design for the developing world. These markets by their very nature demand greener, recyclable, longer-lasting, energy-efficient mobile phones. Today technology transfer works both ways, and it’s increasingly heading in our direction.”

Read full story

30 May 2009

NPR: mobile phones do much more than make calls

Ethiopia
In Asia, Africa, Europe and elsewhere, cell phone technology has always been way ahead of what’s available in the states. Around the world, people use their phones in innovative, creative ways.

For example, mobile phones help rural farmers gather information about crop prices, and bargain shoppers download coupons on the fly.

For this NPR Talk of the World program, guests and listeners from around the world discuss innovative ways they use their cellular phone.

Guests are:
Natasha Elkington, journalist for Reuters. She uses her mobile phone to pay her farm manager in Kenya.
Amy Webb, principal for Webbmedia Group
Alieu Conteh, founder of Vodacom, a cell phone company in Congo
Hiram Enriquez, independent consultant focusing on mobile technologies and digital media strategy

Listen now