Bridging the GAP using mobile phone

Enriched information and effective communication have always played a crucial role in development and have created avenues for innovation at large. Be it enabling effective governance or creating opinions for social causes, Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) have managed to put their foot print wide and larger.

Take recent examples of the Arab Spring or the London riots or the summer of anti-corruption unrest in India, ICTs have managed to amplify local causes of public interest beyond national borders, making the issues truly global.

Internet penetration in India and counterpart developing countries started in the late nineties, and today has found mainstream place in most urban areas, adding qualitative betterment to peoples’ lives at large. There are ample instances where we use internet in our daily life, like in booking train/ flight tickets, accessing matrimony services, and referring to Google while teaching our children.

There was another paradigm shift in this regard when mobile phones were introduced to the masses in India by creating conducive government policies and opening up the domestic market. During this time there were quite a few optimistic ideas of empowering the poorest and the most neglected by using ICTs and building bridges in service delivery.

The fascination of integrating mobile with internet has spurred a many discussions and debates amongst the intellectual masses. But the potential to reach the unexplored market at Base of Pyramid (BoP) is yet to be demonstrated in scale.
If we see the root cause, it seems there is a lack of capacity to develop & customize web-mobile applications at various levels, along with an inadequate framework to support the same. Simply speaking, a Civil Society Organisation based in a remote place cannot think of developing a mobile application for mass awareness on a social cause, or to provide contextual adaptation knowledge on climate change.
The good news however is that this is becoming possible, and for ICTs there is a ray of light in the near future so far as bridging of heterogeneous tools and techniques are concerned.

Android, an operating system and development framework for mobile devices is emerging in potential to break this barrier. Unlike other mobile Operating Systems, it is not difficult to learn. It is an open-source framework with a convincing degree of quality control mechanisms in place. And the most interesting fact is that it may be deployed in mobiles costing less than INR 5000 (Around 100 USD).

Using Android Framework, applications are working on GPS enabled android mobile phones to monitor sanitation behaviour of rural people in India. The data collected comprise of behavioural information on sanitation, with photographs, and latitude and longitude details, which get transferred to a central server using GPRS connection without any delay.

In case the GPRS network is not available, it resides in the mobile until the connectivity is established. A copy of the same remains in the sqllite (A light-weight database) mounted on the phone for future reference and editing.

In traditional research or field survey, the data collected from the field takes months to be represented in an actionable format to the policy maker. And many a times the research finding becomes irrelevant due to this delay. OneWorld’s mobile innovation for data collection looks promising in this regard to bridge such critical time gaps, while enabling greater accuracy.

I always believe, technology if engineered properly, proves to be quite instrumental in facilitating development. This simple innovation reinforces the same.

This story is also published in Eldis and may be seen at http://community.eldis.org/.5a305d9c .
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By Kedar Dash
Katwarai Sarai, New Delhi
Author may be contacted at kedar dot dash at gmail dot com