[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.
At the DHBenelux 2018 conference, students from the VU minor “Digital Humanities and Social Analytics” presented their final DH in Practice work. In this video, the students talk about their experience in the minor and the internship projects. We also meet other participants of the conference talking about the need for interdisciplinary research.
All good things come to an end, and that also holds for our great Horizon2020 project “Big Data Europe“, in which we collaborated with a broad range of techincal and domain partners to develop (Semantic) Big Data infrastructure for a variety of domains. VU was involved as work package leader in the Pilot and Evaluation work package and co-developed methods to test and apply the BDE stack in Health, Traffic, Security and other domains..
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.
Two weeks ago, ICT.Open2018 was held in Amersfoort. This event brings together Computer Science researchers from all over the Netherlands and our research group was present with many posters and presentations.
We even won a prize! (Well, a 2nd place prize, but awesome nonetheless). Xander Wilcke presented work on using Knowledge Graphs for Machine Learning. He was awarded the runner-up prize for best poster presentation at ICTOpen2018. Congrats!
[This post is based on the Bachelor project by Jurjen Braam and reuses content from his thesis]
The value of Augmented Reality applications has been shown for a number of different tasks. Most of these show that AR applications add to the immersiveness of an experience. For his Bachelor Project, VU student Jurjen Braam researched to what extent AR technology makes sense for the task of annotating artworks.
To this end, Jurjen built a mobile application which allows experts or laypeople to add textual annotations to artworks in three different modes. One mode doesnt show the artwork, but allows for textual input, the 2nd mode shows the work in an image and allows for localised annotations. The last mode is the AR mode, which projects the artwork in the physical space, using the device camera and screen.
Jurjen evaluated the three modes through a small user study, which showed that immersion and enjoyment was highest in the AR mode but that this mode was least efficient. Also, participants indicated that for annotation tasks, larger screens would be preferable.
This research was a unique endeavour combining a proven technology (AR) and well-known task (Annotation) which identified interesting possibilities for follow-up research.
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