On 23 May, as part of the VU ICT4D course, for the 6th time, W4RA and SIKS organized the annual symposium “Perspectives on ICT4D“. This year’s theme was how to tackle “Global Challenges” in a collaborative, trans-disciplinary way. Food Security is one of the Global Challenges Lia van Wesenbeeck – Director of the Amsterdam Centre for World Food Studies – gave a great presentation on “Tackling World Food Challenges”.
Our international speaker on the same topic, Mr. Seydou Tangara, coordinator of the AOPP, was unfortunately not able to join due to visa problems. He was replaced by prof. Hans Akkermans, who presented the Vienna manifesto on digital humanism and its relation to ICT4D.
Andre Baart from UvA talked about the CARPA project and challenges in developing applications for people in Mali while Jaap Gordijn discussed the need for business modelling for developing sustainable services, with interesting case studies from Sarawak, Malaysia.
The ICT4D students presented their voice application services during the coffee break. They demonstrated applications ranging from equipment-lending services to seed markets and weather services.
[This post describes the Information Sciences Master Project of Hameedat Omoine and is based on her thesis.]
In the quest to improve the lives of farmers and improve agricultural productivity in rural Burkina Faso, meteorological data has been identified as one of the is key information needs for local farmers. Various online weather information services are available, but many are not tailored specifically to tis target user group. In a research case study, Hameedat Omoine designed a weather information system that collects not only weather but also related agricultural information and provides the farmers with this information to allow them to improve agricultural productivity and the livelihood of the people of rural Burkina Faso.
The research and design of the system was conducted at and in collaboration with 2CoolMonkeys, a Utrecht-based Open data and App-development company with expertise in ICT for Development (ICT4D).
Following the design science research methodology, Hameedat investigated the requirements for a weather information system, and the possible options for ensuring the sustainability of the system. Using a structured approach, she developed the application and evaluated it in the field with potential Burkinabe end users. The mobile interface of the application featured weather information and crop advice (seen in the images above). A demonstration video is shown below
Hameedat developed multiple alternative models to investigate the sustainability of the application. For this she used the e3value approach and language. The image below shows a model for the case where a local radio station is involved.
Kasadaka (“talking box”) is an ICT for Development (ICT4D) platform to develop voice-based technologies for those who are not connected to the Internet, cannot not read and write, and speak underresourced languages.
The ICT4D project CARPA, funded by NWO-WOTRO had its first stakeholder workshop today at the Amsterdam Business School of UvA. From our project proposal: The context for CARPA (Crowdsourcing App for Responsible Production in Africa) lies in sustainable and responsible business. Firms are under increasing pressure to ensure sustainable, responsible production in their supply chains.. Lack of transparency about labour abuses and environmental damages has led some firms to cease purchases from the region
.With an interdisciplinary partnership of local NGOs and universities in DRC, Mali, and South Africa, this project aims to generate new evidence-based knowledge to improve transparency about business impacts on responsible production.
Co-creating a smartphone application, we will use crowdsourcing methods to obtain reports of negative social and environmental business impacts in these regions, and follow them over time to understand access to justice and whether and how remediation of such impacts occurs. Data integration and visualization methods will identify patterns in order to provide context and clarity about business impacts on sustainability over time. A website will be developed to provide ongoing public access to this data, including a mapping function pinpointing impact locations.
Francis Dittoh talks about the need for specific information for farmers in their own language and discusses ongoing research into our Kasadaka system. Anna Bon talks more about the web of voices. Very nice to see our work recognized by international media!
As part of the ongoing W4RA efforts, the VU ICT4D team visited West-Africa once more. This time, we visited Mali, Burkina Faso and Ghana. I personally went to Ghana to talk to external PhD candidate Francis Dittoh and his colleagues at the University of Development Studies (UDS) and the SARI institute in Tamale, in Northern Ghana.After first flying to Accra, I first was able to have a short meeting with my good friend Nana Baah Gyan, who is now an ICT for Development expert in that city. I then flew to Tamale,. where we met up with Francis to talk about his PhD work on information systems for rural farmers.
After colleagues Anna Bon and Hans Akkermans arrived from Burkina Faso, we met with UDS vice-chancellor as well as the Dean of the Faculty of Engineering to discuss the ongoing collaboration of W4RA and VU with Prof Saa Dittoh, and Francis. We hope to formalize these collaborations in a Memorandum of Understanding between the two universities. We also discuss the ambition of UDS to set up a curriculum in software engineering as part of the undergraduate programs. Such a programme would include a yearly community service courses, where students go into the field. This is very interesting for us as it aligns well with the goals of the ICT4D course at VU. The programmes also include a French language course to allow for smoother cooperation with other Sahel countries (specifically Burkina Faso).
We also visited the Savanna Agriculture Research Institute (CSIR-SARI). The situation is comparable to that in Burkina. SARI governs the use of hybrid seeds, which cannot be reused year by year but result in a higher yield. SARI is interested in educating farmers on how to handle these seeds (fertilization, planting etc). There are three classes of seeds: 1) breeder seeds – grown at research institutes, 2) foundation seeds and 3) certified seeds – produced by ~1000 farmers monitored by ~10 seed companies, and certified by an external agency.
Potentially interesting for us is their connection to rural farmers. SARI now mostly does this through extension workers from the ministry of Agriculture. However, because of budget cuts, these are now reduced to roughly 1 extension worker to 2,500 farmers. Therefore, SARI is open to the idea of commucating with farmers directly, for example through a voice-based system. An interesting opportunity could be two-track strategy with a smartphone app for extension workers to allow them to do their work better and a companion voice app for farmers. SARI is very much interested in developing applications in a co-creation process. This would match the research proposal that Francis has submitted to SARI and UDS.
A personal highlight was the 10hr road trip that Francis offered me to join instead of taking a flight back to Accra. Ghana is a beautiful country that changes before your eyes on such a trip. My sincere hope is that the proposed collaborations will lead to many more visits to this great country.
[This post is written by André Baart and describes his MSc thesis]
While the internet usage in the developing world is still low, the adoption of simple mobile phones is widespread. A way to offer the advantages of the internet to these populations is voice-based information systems. The KasaDaka voice-services platform is aimed at providing voice-services in the context of ICT for Development (ICT4D). The platform is based on a Raspberry Pi and a GSM modem, which enables affordable voice-service hosting, using the locally available GSM network. The platform takes into account the special requirements of the ICT4D context, such as limited internet connectivity and low literacy rates.
This research focuses on lowering the barrier to entry of voice-service development, by reducing the skill set needed to do so. A Voice Service Development Kit (VSDK) is developed that allows the development of voice-services by deploying and customizing provided building-blocks. These building blocks each represent a type of interaction that is often found in voice-services. (for example a menu, user voice input or the playback of a message) The researcher argues that the simplification of voice-service development is an essential step towards sustainable voice-services in the ICT4D context; As this increases the potential number of local voice-service developers, hremoving the dependency on foreign (and thus expensive) developers and engineers. This simplification should ideally be achieved by providing a graphical interface to voice-service development.
The VSDK was evaluated during the ICT4D course at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, where students built applications for various ICT4D use-cases using the VSDK. Afterwards a survey was conducted, which provided insight on the students’ experiences with voice-service development and the VSDK. From the results of the evaluation is concluded that the building-block approach to voice-service development used in the VSDK, is successful for the development of simple voice-services. It allows newcomers to (voice-service) development, to quickly develop (simple) voice-services from a graphical interface, without requiring programming experience.
The VSDK combined with the existing KasaDaka platform provides a good solution to the hosting and development of voice-services in the ICT4D context.
More details can be found in the complete thesis.A slidedeck is included below. You can find the VSDK code on Andre’s Github: http://github.com/abaart/KasaDaka-VSDK
During the National Day for Sustainability (Nationale dag voor duurzaamheid in het hoger onderwijs 2017), the ICT4D team presented our current research and educational activities to the many participants of this event, hosted at VU. Anna Bon and myself presented our work on sustainable methodologies for ICT4D as well as current work on small and sustainable ICT platform (Kasadaka), see the slides below.
After this, the participants got a chance to meet our students and their very nice projects up close in an interactive demonstration session. Selected ICT4D students presented the voice-accessible services.
Yesterday, 18 May 2017, the 4th International ICT4D symposium was held at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. The event was organized by the W4RA team and supported by VU Network Institute, the Netherlands Research School for Information and Knowledge Systems SIKS, VU Computer Science Department and VU International Office. Invited speakers from Ghana, France and the Netherlands highlighted this year’s theme was “Sustainability and ICT4D”.
Keynote speaker Gayo Diallo from Universite de Bordeaux discussed the possibilities of ICT for African Traditional Medicine (ATM). In his talk, he showed how semantic web technologies can play a role here to connect heterogeneous datasets for analytics and end-user services. Such services would need to be based on voice-interaction and localized technologies. His slides can be found here.
Chris van Aart from 2Coolmonkeys discussed a number of smartphone applications developed in the context of W4RA activities, including Mr. Jiri a tree-counting application. He proved there is a market for such applications in the African context (Slides).
After the break, Francis Dittoh from UDS Ghana discussed issues around sustainbility for a meteo application he is currently developing for Northern-Ghana (slides). Wendelien Tuijp from VU’s CIS then presented multiple perspectives on ICT4D (Slides). The symposium was closed by a video presentation from Aske Robenhagen, showcasing the ongoing work in Nepal around mapping knowledge networks and developing a smartphone application supporting information exchange for local accountability extension workers. More information on that project can be found at nepalnetworks.org/
The presentations of the day can be found through the links above. The entire symposium was live-streamed and you can watch it all on youtube or below.
Below is a lost of the approximate starting time of the various speakers in the video
6m19 Dr. Gayo Diallo – Université de Bordeaux (FR): Towards a Digital African Traditional Healthcare using Semantic Web.
56m28 Dr. Chris van Aart – 2CoolMonkeys BV (NL) : Developing Smartphone Apps for African farmers.
1h52m00 Francis Dittoh – University for Development Studies (Ghana): ICT business development in rural Africa.
2h23m00 Wendelien Tuyp – CIS-VU : Sustainable Community Initiatives and African Farmer Innovation.