Concepts and Prototypes

Based on the surveys and discussions with councilors I came up with a few ideas and tried to build quick prototypes for them.  I had seen two Frugal Digital projects which could be re-purposed for performing the function which I want to achieve with my project. 1) The box with Android phone: Originally the box was designed for delivering information service in the developing countries. The box has an Android phone inside which is the processor and the display for interfacing with the box. People can sign up for various information services by choosing options displayed such as weather forecast, new offers for fertilizers in the market etc. by paying small amount through the coin acceptor and typing in the mobile number. The android phone has internet connectivity either using GPRS or 3G network. It receives information from the net and sends it out through text messages to subscribed users. The interesting part with this is that people are enabled to access the relevant and rich information from the internet without owning a smartphone or having internet connectivity. Having only one phone connected to the internet with almost zero costs for sending out text messages makes it a very economically viable concept. So to build upon this platform, I came up with various ideas where different media could be used since we have a phone with display, microphone, speakers and internet.
  1. People could view images and videos broadcast by the municipality regarding any notices or projects.
  2. People could feed in information (images, videos, text, voice) about any of the ongoing projects, input their opinions or complaints about them.
  3. Above things could be done by physically being present at the box or sending in text message/calling the phone inside the box/sending in images or videos via MMS or internet.
  4. Using the internet connectivity of the phone inside the box, all this information could be uploaded to a single web domain without any human interference which would create transparency. The data could also be shared on various social media platform to reach greater masses and main stream media.
  5. The feedback could be provided through text messages directly to the person reporting issues/opinions.
There were a few challenges which I could see in this concept. First of all having various methods and media for input of information/opinions/complaints might become confusing for the people. It is better to have one clear and simple way to interface. About text messages, many people can read and forward the messages they have in their phone but composing new messages and sending them is not an easy task. The broadcast of the information is limited as well in the sense that it would be either through text messages or viewing the content at the box. 2) LoVoCo mobile radio: (link) The original concept for this project was making radio public where people can broadcast to a frequency using a cellphone connected to FM radio and antenna which can cover the radius of 1-2 km. People could also have on air discussions by calling on the cellphone connected to the radio. This is interesting because it has a very simple interaction of just calling in or talking on the phone. It would reach people in the community and would have a localized content. This type of setup could given to the councilors to communicate and broadcast information to the people of a particular ward. Since all the conversations are broadcast on the radio, it has transparency but looses privacy and anonymity. The idea itself originates from the research done in Cape Town, South Africa and is very relevant to that context but according to my survey and discussions with people from the town which I am considering as a context for my project, newspaper was voted as the favourite source of information/news rather than the radio. Radio is still prevalent but not to the extent of newspapers. 3) Call in the government (based on CGnet Swara) CGNet Swara is one of the most successful and easily implemented project in rural India. The original concept is that people can call a particular phone number from their mobile phone and either choose to record a message or listen to other recorded messages. These recorded messages are uploaded on the server and Swara's website. People working at Swara's office create transcripts for these voice messages. There are many success stories based on this systems due to main stream media picking up stories from Swara. The project wins at simplicity and scalability but still there are few things that are left to chance. Such as someone/main stream media picking up the story, pressurising the local government and then issues being taken care of. I was looking at how this loop could be closed so that this system could directly connect/report to the government yet the content remains publicly available retaining the transparency. People could call-in in the same way and report issues/suggestions and could receive personalized response from the government through voice mail. Government could broadcast messages on the voice mail for all the people in community. 4) Teletext/Text TV/TV ticker Television sets are a very commonplace equipment in India. Many times one can see that people would not have some basic amenities but will have a satellite TV. There are many locally run channels as well in small towns and villages which broadcast Hindi movies and have a ticker for very localized advertisement. I was looking at leveraging  this popularity of TV as medium to create the platform. Creating audio-visual content for TV is difficult, requires equipment, manpower and time. So, I thought of using TV as a platform to communicate through text messages. Each community could have their own text page on  TV with various tabs for different sectors like roads, power etc. Once the messages are in, people can read them and comment on them, which can turn into a forum. People can +1 any comments and suggestions to show the support and issues could be prioritized.  The biggest challenge with using TV as platform  is that it will be competing with all the other attractive content which user might prefer than to spend time on these text pages. This came through the research as well that people do not use TV for getting news/information as much as newspapers. 5) Re-purposing the post system Post service is the one service that reaches corners of India. It is still very much relevant for people in small towns. There could be a way to submit one's opinions through post to the government. There could be a particular name to address to or having a different compartment in the post box. And these boxes are emptied everyday, sorted according to departments and directed to the appropriate authority. But the content is digitized and published on web for people to see. But again in this system the current issues are not solved such as transparency, I cannot be sure about what happens to the paper I dropped in the post box. The sorting, digitizing and feedback mechanism is slow too. 6) Newspaper + Billboard This idea was building upon the earlier one with adding newspaper system to it. In this concept the government could provide feedback and ask for opinions through news paper. Then people can cut that part of the newspaper and submit it in the post box. The results are publicly displayed on a billboard where everyone can see them. This creates transparency to some extent. Still gathering, digitizing and analysing the information will consume time. The user does not see the immediate effect of their action while submitting the form. I tried to quickly prototype this last concept in the studio. It was a perfect time to do so because we had a meeting in with administration about things we require and things that are not needed. Even after 2 days of this meeting the small things mentioned in the meeting were not available to us. So, I created a system where people can post their requirements and the admin is able to see it as well. I tried to place it in a way that it would always be in people's sight. I had put up a few things for starters such as need for masking tape, more post-its, need to clean the printer room etc. Since this board was placed on the door of the studio, every time anyone entered or left the studio they could see it. Even people who are not a part of the studio were able to see it as they went up/down the staircase. This added another layer to it. As we wanted to portray ourselves as an efficient studio without any problems it was better if we had least number of issues posted on the board. I also had explained the system in the administration office so that if they wanted to comment on any of the things or write about why some of the demands cannot be met then they could do so on the same board. People started contributing to the board and things started happening! We received a box full of post-its within 15 minutes. The printer room was cleaned and arranged by a few of us in the studio. This was a successful experiment, people did write things but they did things more than writing (as the culture goes CIID). Even from the admin side, things were delivered to us rather than posting responses to the issues/demands. But after a few days it started getting stale and people stopped using it even though it was on their way and did not require much of an effort. In that sense it was a bit far from them and not reaching to them where they were. The provocation of the board did not last for long. Another thing that I noticed was people need some kind of direction/example/someone to start the process and then they join in. So, there was a room for improvement. I tried to do similar experiment digitally with larger crowd to see how they respond. It was similar to the fix my street initiative. I shared this with all of my social networking sites. It was a very simple interaction to carry out but there were a few limitation to it as well. The users need to have Instagram which mean they need to own an iOS or Android device, plus they need to have internet access on their phones. I received a few 'like's on Facebook for sharing this system but there was only one picture taken by me on the website. People did not contribute and there was no way for me to know why they did not. I needed to create something which doesn't involve high end technology on the user side to contribute or be a part of the system. Something that reaches the user rather than user needing to go somewhere. Something that educates and guides the user in a way that user can take the decision/action knowingly.

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