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Human-Centered Design Approaches in ICT4D

By Guest Writer on June 12, 2013


I am Adele Waugaman and recently I traveled to Dhaka, Bangladesh, for a project exploring the use of the mobile phones to amplify citizen feedback on the delivery of public services.

There’s an old mantra in the ICT4D community: technology is only a fraction of any solution to any development challenge. What percentage? That depends on the project, but one estimate puts it at just 10%.

Like any other tool, the success and impact of a technology-based development intervention will largely depend on adjacent factors like effective project planning and management, or the suitability of selected tools given the local context.

Design thinking emphasizes the importance of building solutions with the users’ needs in mind.  The excellent Internews and Reboot report report, Design Research for Media Development, breaks down the core principles of human-centered design and shows how they can be applied in development projects.

Key tips include: Understand users’ needs first, be willing to discard erroneous assumptions, and be flexible and adaptive as your understanding evolves the further you go.

In Bangladesh I learned that while mobile network coverage is nearly ubiquitous and most homes have access to at least one mobile phone, significant barriers to mobile use remain.

  • Because illiteracy rates are high, particularly in rural areas and among older populations, voice calls are by far the most-preferred method of communication.
  • Yet while voice is a preferred channel, IVR (interactive voice response) is not commonly used and can lead to user confusion.
  • Due to high illiteracy rates, and because a number of handsets in use in Bangladesh do not support Bengali-language text, SMS is not commonly used.
  • For similar reasons, USSD (unstructured supplementary data) is not a widely used channel, although the emergence of mobile banking in Bangladesh may help bring USSD to the fore.

Local ownership and buy-in is key to the sustainability of development interventions. In the context of ICT for social accountability projects, this means anticipating and meeting customers’ needs by collecting the right information at the right times through the right channels.

As colleagues in the humanitarian space frequently say: Information is aid. In the broader development context, information is empowerment. This is true both for citizens and for public service providers, for whom increased consumer insights can lead to greater efficiencies.

Barriers to mobile phone use may look different in Bangladesh than in other countries. But groups like DNet, the technology company behind Aponjon, one of the country’s largest direct-to-citizen mobile health education programs, have demonstrated that when designed correctly, mobile can still lead the way in changing how information is shared with and received from citizens.

Adele published this post previously as Human-Centered Design Approaches to ICT for Social Accountability

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