Tag Archives: mobile

Content and mobile: Four key considerations

MWA2014-LOGO

I recently participated in Mobile Web Africa 2014, sitting on a panel about Mobile content, users and consumption. Below are the four key points that I think are important when thinking about content and mobile today.

Content is back

  • It used to be important, then it became cheap, throw-away. People created sites and services with bad content, flooded the mobile web. In education there are SO many apps, so many mobile learning services and products. Are they all good? No.
  • People are coming back to the notion of quality content. It stands out. It is appreciated. Whether this is financial or not is another story.
  • Quality content is a differentiator.

Content is contextual

  • We are moving from mobile to multi-device usage.
  • How it is consumed is crucial to how it is presented. Now more than ever, despite designing for mobile first, we need to think about the context of use for the different platforms and media.
  • Pearson has a single body of content, how is it presented, layered, animated across platforms and media?

Content is social

  • There were fears, and to an extent many of us in education are still cautious, about intruding into the social media lives of learners. Kids smell school, and My Space for them means their space. However, I think that with the rise of social media, the door has opened.
  • “Social media is changing the way people interact, present ideas and information, and communicate.” Social media has grown beyond anyone’s expectation. This is where (young) people are “living” online, and they connect via mobile. According to Flurry Analytics, overall app use in 2013 posted 115% year-over-year growth. The segment that showed the most dramatic growth in 2013 was Messaging (Social and Photo sharing included), with over 200% growth.
  • From an education perspective, we must include socialness in learning experiences. Peer-to-peer support and connectivity, tutoring, knowledge sharing. Content is social.

Content is layered

  • We know that people scan the web. But you can’t scan all educational content. Much of it requires deep reading. What do to?
  • Create layers – one for scanning, one for digging deeper, one for reference. We need to allow for multiple readings, multiple views.

UNICEF Report on Children, ICTs and Development

Yesterday a new UNICEF report Children, ICT and Development: Capturing the potential, meeting the challenges was officially launched. Dorothea Kleine, one of the authors, presented the key findings at Harvard’s Digitally Connected Symposium. I was one of the interviewees for the report.

The short description of the report is as follows:

ICTs are not a technical sphere detached from the complex realities of children’s lives. They are increasingly woven into the very fabric of life, in income-rich and increasingly in income-poor countries. It is clear that if there is no targeted engagement with these socio-technical innovations, they are likely to reinforce existing inequalities. It follows that a focus on children and on greater equity leads to an active and reflective engagement with the potential and challenges of ICT for development, targeting in particular marginalized children. This report serves as a key contribution on which to build informed dialogue and decision making, developed jointly between research, policy and practice.

The launch included a panel with Chris Fabian, UNICEF; Gurumurthy Kasinathan, IT for Change; Chisenga Muyoya, Asikana Network; Gerrit Beger, UNICEF – with all the tweet responses recorded. From the handy list of the report’s key messages, a few stand out for me:

ICTs and development

  • ICTs on their own cannot offer quick wins for child-focused development objectives. Technological innovation, however, can be crucial for strengthening social networks, disseminating information and linking disadvantaged communities with vital knowledge.
  • Change at the systemic level in many cases requires a combination of technological as well as societal change. Achieving this synergy requires buy-in, and ideally participation in design, from intended users. Understanding the social context and rooting ICT for development efforts in existing incentive systems is vital if systemic changes are to be supported.

Equity

  • Many projects are either equity-blind or end up working with relatively more privileged children in order to reduce the risk of project failure. In order to change this, funders have a role to play: they must demand equity-sensitive approaches and also recognise/reward risk-taking with harder-to-reach children.

Gender issues

Pilots

  • To increase the chances of project success, key steps include assessing what other development initiatives are ongoing, what the existing usage patterns of ICTs are and indeed what the landscape of stakeholders looks like. [This is so obvious, and yet so often overlooked]
  • Implementing pilot projects in child-focused ICT for development, while paying insufficient attention to social and cultural context and not involving people actually located within the anticipated beneficiary community are leading reasons to the failure of a project.

Failure

  • The study highlights the importance of making sure failure is a recognised part of innovation within ICT for development – and not only recognised but also proactively discussed.
  • If project success is understood to often include elements of failure, then development planning can move away from binaries of successful or unsuccessful projects and instead move to an approach which is open to ongoing learning.

It is obvious that a user-centred design approach that is contextually aware, equity and gender sensitive, not too influenced by commercial interests, and open to sharing (failures and successes) are key elements for successfully leveraging ICT for child-focused development. Given that this is so hard to achieve (based on the overall ICT4D track record), the last point above is particularly important. ICT4D is a living, breathing field, characterised by its many failures, genuine successes, and results in between (what Dorothea calls a “graveyard of successful pilot projects“). The only way the field will grow is if it is open to ongoing learning.

The points about funding being limited in time and scope from governments/foundations, or being driven — and dictated — by the private sector, are not at all new to ICT4D. I wonder, though, for how long we will still bemoan them. If governments/foundations have not changed their funding habits by now, and private companies continue to ultimately be driven by profit, then the change may never happen. We need to have a more open and honest debate about how to incentives these stakeholders to change, or, acknowledge that they will never change and explore how to source funds outside of these structures.

The best panelist quote of the day was by Chris Fabian: “We need to get away from the idea of projects and ‘projects for people.’  It’s not about some people doing a project for others.”

The report was written for UNICEF by the ICT4D Centre at Royal Holloway, University of London and Jigsaw Consult.

The glue of it all is cheap, reliable internet access

I was interviewed for the November edition of City Views — “your free Cape Town central city newspaper” — about the importance of affordable connectivity for ideas to spread and innovation to flourish (drawing on the ideas of Clay Shirky and Steven Johnson that I spoke about in my TEDx Stellenbosch presentation). Pull quote:

Lots of innovation is happening totally under the radar – in people’s garages, in backyards, in shacks – but these are all pretty small-scale and the lessons aren’t really communicated out. If you can provide a network to connect these people – help them research what others are doing, find that someone down the street who is working on the same thing – then good ideas can be amplifi ed and businesses scaled up. The glue of it all is cheap, reliable internet access.

The whole edition is dedicated to connectivity and creativity in Cape Town — it’s worth a read.

TEDx Stellenbosch presentation: People, Connectedness and Mobiles

TEDx StellenboschPeople, Connectedness and Mobiles: How the streets of the mega city will innovate is a presentation I gave at TEDx Stellenbosch on 29 July. The theme of the day was imagining Africa as a vast mega city. The transcript and slides are on the mLab SA website.