MobileActive08: Using mobile tech within existing communities

Trying to extract some ideas from interesting discussions during first session, and over lunch. The idea is that technology on its own often fails, but in existing social networks it is more successful — particularly in Africa, where existing networks are often very social.

Amazing system being run in Uganda, by BROSDI (the Busoga Rural Open Source & Development Initiative). The model has groups of small scale farmers form local collectives. One person in that collective receives SMSs with agricultural information from government. They write it down in a book, and discuss them at the next collective meeting. Reply as a group by SMS if needed. Interesting of course that mobile technology can affect people even without cellphones, via the group leader. But the key point is it is adding on top of a social network, and so works well! They sound very organised — they distribute laminated instructions sheets on how to use SMSs on various handsets.

At lunch, a representative from the South African government information service was talking about how they really can’t send out broadcast SMSs: they aren’t relevant, they aren’t trusted. People are interested in things that can directly affect their lives. One successful model is the Imbizo that uses the “meeting of the elders” model to raise issues in communities. Submitting issues raised there to government using mobile technology could work well, if of course the issues are acted on.