Tag Archives: human centered design

ICT4D Semester Reflections

Entering this course, I was unsure what I would get out of it.  I am not particularly interested in ICT or ICT interventions in development.  I think I expected the course to focus mainly on ICT4D projects alone.  I am happy to say that I was wrong in this assumption.  This course has forced me to think critically about the role ICT plays in every development project.  It is important as a hopeful international development professional to consider all aspects of interventions and adjust as appropriate.  When living in such a technology dependent and abundant society, it can be easy to take it for granted.  Development professional must not only think about what technology a community may need for their own growth, but what technologies the individuals and organizations will need to achieve their goals and complete their project.  Perhaps one of the most important lessons is that ICT4D is all encompassing – it is not just an end, but also a means to reach an end.  ICT4D means both enhancing and improving access to technology for development, but also using ICT for the successful implementation of all development projects.  It was especially interesting for me to take what we learned in class and apply my experiences abroad last semester in Thailand.  I found it easier to internalize and think about these big issues and how they manifest in different countries.

I appreciated all the different theoretical frameworks we looked at, because I think it is important to understand how development professional think about development and solutions, as well as formulate our own opinions about the different frameworks, what they mean, and the best way to approach the field.  I think that capabilities approach and Human Centered Design are incredibly important and are on the right track to the way development should be approached.  With so many failures, it is imperative that we are critical about what works and what doesn’t.  Development professionals should also place an emphasis on valuing the local culture, knowledge, tradition, wisdom, and wishes of whatever community they are working with.  This helps ensure that projects are successful and appropriate.

In future semesters I think it would be interesting to look at ICT in civil society and how NGOS, non-profits, and civil and social organizations can use ICT in developing countries.

Lessons Learned in ICT4D

I have always heard of IT as an abstract concept, something that I believed was reserved for people who had extensive knowledge of computers or circuit boards. Through learning about ICT in the development context, I realized that it is so much broader and more relevant than what I had originally believed. I now am under the impression that ICT4D is one of the most important concepts in developing countries as it can tackle problems in every sector. The ability of ICTs to connect people is especially important as it allows for a greater network of learning and understanding between countries and between people. Especially important as well is the idea of e-governance, as it has the potential to increase transparency, reduce corruption and increase dialogue between citizens and government.

One of the most salient take aways in looking at case studies especially, in addition to reading the Human Centered Design (HCD) framework is the fact that citizen and local input is one of the most important aspect to the successful conjunction of ICTs and populations in the developing world. In looking at what worked throughout the semester, such as farm radio and the cell phone use by fisherman in India, it is clear that it must come in part from pre-existing infrastructure and what is already easily accessible to the people. Farm Radio International was effective because of the prevalence of radios in the areas, which they utilized to their advantage.

I believe that instead of throwing ICTs at the people, there must be at least a dialogue to understand how to best use pre-existing infrastructure to their advantage, in addition to creating dialogues to understand what they need most. As opposed to project implementation such as One Laptop Per Child (OLPC), I think a lesson learnt is that to use ICT4D effectively, it must be implemented using design strategies that consider pre-existing conditions. Merely giving people ICTs and then backing off may be one of the greatest flaws in projects. Using local knowledge could be of the greatest asset. If rural areas hardly have electricity connectivity, how can we attempt to implement Internet? I believe patience may be a virtue, and teaching people how to use the tools they already have access to instead of introducing entirely knew and foreign technology is what ICT4D project should be about.

BRIDGEit in Tanzania

Bridgeit is an ICT initiative (specifically mEducation), which aims to, increase the quality of education specifically mathematics, science, and life skills in primary school though the use of mobile phones and television. Teachers are provided with access to a digital catalogue of short educational videos. They are also provided with a Nokia mobile phone, which they use to download these videos (via a server). The mobile phone is connected to a television in the classroom, so that the videos can be broadcasted for the class to view. Additionally, the videos come with interactive lesson plans for the teachers to follow, which address key concepts/ideas that the video introduces (erumi). Some of the schools were focused on just mathematics and science, while others were focused on mathematics, science, and life skills.

What is interesting to note about this project is that the education aspect of it does not focus on the mobile phone like those in the past; the mobile phone is just the medium in which the educational video is downloaded through. The main aspect of technology here is the television where the students watch the educational video.

Another interesting part of this program is that its implementers worked in collaboration with the Tanzanian government, as well as community organizations. By involving respected community members in the research process of the initiative, this project adhered to the human centered design toolkit’s phase “hear.” Additionally, because of government involvement this is a more dynamic approach to the legitimate implementation and sustainability ICT’s in Tanzania’s education sector, which was a main goal of their ICT policy.

An Evaluation was done for the first year. Overall, test scores of students in BridgeIT and BridgeIT + Life Skills in both math and science increased. Some other results that came back from the attitude questionnaires indicated that teachers received a lot of support from various outlets. Although the above results came back positive, there also were negative results: the teachers had decreased satisfaction with their jobs, and the students initially thought the video content was boring. But when students became more accustomed to the video learning, they found that the videos increased their understanding of math and science (Enge &Kjell).

Although I believe a proper evaluation was conducted, it did not mention anything about infrastructure in terms of electricity with this program (main problem in Tanzania), which was a main component of it. Additionally, it did not mention anything about what happened when the mobile phones were broken, or if there was a problem with theft.

Human Centered Design vs. Activity Centered Design

After reading the Human Centered Design toolkit, I decided to research the idea a little more and I sort of stumbled upon this article. The article gives a fairly comprehensive comparison of the Human Centered Design versus an Activity Centered Design and how they are similar and how their differences make them more or less effective.

The Human Centered Design is driven by the person or population we are trying to serve and their specific needs. As a development student the idea that projects should be based on the specific needs of a given population has been drilled into my mind since my very first development course. This, the author argues, is cause for a serious development problem. He says that when things are treated as “accepted wisdom” as the Human Centered Design has been in the development world, it can be problematic and “dangerous.”

The alternative he offers to Human Centered Design is Activity Centered Design. This would mean that the priority of focus for the developers would be the activity or technology itself, rather than the people it would be serving. He argues that the technology or activity is not as adaptive as a person, and therefore it is more effective to create a program around the activity. Therefore, people can adapt to meet the needs of the technology. Essentially, he believes a deep understanding of technology will get people farther than projects that focus on peoples’ current understanding.

He goes even further than talking about how Activity Centered Design is superior, and states reasons why Human Centered Design could actually be harmful. Firstly he states that focusing a project on one certain group’s needs could be helping them, but harming another group of people. By picking one population, we are limiting the ability of that project to help other populations. If we created a project centered on activities, several populations could adapt to that one project, rather than creating projects for each population. Additionally, since people are so dynamic, a project that helps a population today, could be outdated by tomorrow. In sum, he expressed that Human Centered Design is too static for the dynamic nature of humans, activities and applications.

That being said, the article also seems biased towards Activity Centered Design from the very start when the author states frankly in the opening paragraph “Activity Centered Design is superior.” The language used in the article clearly represents the authors point of view favoring the Activity Centered Design, and his personal bias is quite evident. Despite that evident bias, the article does bring up some interesting and thought-provoking points that I had not thought of prior to reading this. As development students we are constantly told to revolve our projects around those we are trying to serve, but this gives a very different point of view. This article basically goes against anything I have ever been taught about development, and I had some trouble coming to terms with a lot of what he was saying. While I understand his point that it is easier for a person to change than a technology, it still seems so wrong to me given what I have been taught. Hopefully you’ll find this as interesting as I did.

HCD Connect: Facebook with a Mission

A new project called HCD Connect is allowing problem solvers across the world to connect and share solutions. Designed by Ideo.og and funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, HCD connect has been created to open up possibilities for human e-design in the fight against global poverty. A hard copy of the toolkit is available for $21.99, or as a free download. The program uses the format of an open access social network that will allow people across the world to bring tips, ideas, and strategies together. It even allows community members to link up to their Facebook (like just about every website out there today).

A brief look at the home page reveals a friendly, colorful display. The mission statement is “where optimists take on our world’s challenges by sharing stories, questions, and resources.” You are offered the option to connect with people in (fill in location) working on projects in (fill in focus area). Options at the top of the page include people, stories, methods, ask, and grants. In short, HCD Connect seems like Facebook with a mission. Especially with the right funding sources, this project has some potential.

One of the largest setbacks in the development world is the lack of shared information. This is mentioned countless times in Elke de Buhr’s Approaches to Sustainable Development Course. If those attempting to solve problems of poverty across the globe are easily able to share information about development projects and their results, hopefully others will be able to benefit from their learnt lessons.

The original article from good.is can be found here. 


All over the world, people are using the internet as a way to communicate and share information. However, over two-thirds of the world’s population still do not have access. This is due to the digital divide that exists between urban and rural areas. In the developing world, the impoverished  living in rural areas do not have the infrastructure or money needed to gain access to the internet. Thus, they are not able to access the information available on the internet that would improve their livelihoods. Also, many development organizations are not able to reach these marginalized areas because of geographic difficulties, lack of reading and writing proficiencies, and other language barriers.

An innovative software program, awaaz.de, allows development organizations to connect with these poor, rural and marginalized communities by providing on-demand information access through mobile phones. These organizations use awaaz.de to host voice-based information portals, forums for discussion, classifieds, and to broadcast market prices and weather reports to help with crop cultivation. The only thing the members of the community will need to do is to know how to use a phone. They have to dial a regular phone number through their mobile phone and navigate through an automated message board to listen to messages about the particular information that can benefit them. This program is very beneficial for these communities because it allows them to access similar types of information that other people in the world have through the internet.

This development initiative represents a very well thought out plan as it is very human-centered. It takes the wants and specific needs of these rural communities to help improve their livelihoods. The use of voice content makes it much easier for these people to use it because it is conducted in their native languages and they do not have to worry about their literacy. So far, awaaz.de is implemented in six states throughout India. So far it is working out really well and hopefully it can be implemented in other parts of the developing world very soon.



I know I know… more potentially controversial acronyms are not what we all want to see right now. However, Human Computer Interaction for Development seemed like too cool a concept to pass up, so here it is! HCI4D is unique, and awesome (in my opinion) because it focuses on the user above all other entities. Finally, a branch of ICT4D that puts the user before all other factors! This means that projects are designed and geared specifically toward the target population ensuring that they can get the most out of the project. All too often we have seen projects fail because the technology they are delivering is either not compatible with the infrastructure of the area, not in line with the cultural beliefs of the target population, not needed or wanted by the target population, not understood by the target population… and so on and so forth.

All of this in mind, “the question (for HCI4D) becomes how can ICT’s properly be designed with the customs of third world users in mind? How can ICT’s be properly designed that take into account local technical, economic, cultural and financial aspects and what other socio-technical constraints should be addressed?” (Edozie, 2011). For me, these aspects are incredibly essential and all too often ignored in a number of ICT4D projects. These projects are almost doomed to fail, upsetting and possibly deterring stakeholders and sponsors, and leaving ICT4D with a less favorable reputation.

HCI4D falls under the broader category of “user centered design” which places a much higher emphasis on putting the needs and capabilities of users above other aspects of the project. User centered design focuses on things such as:

“Interaction Metaphors: exploring beyond the Western-centric Windows, Icons, Menus and Pointers (WIMP) metaphor to other interaction metaphors that are more culturally and socially relevant to the intended user groups. User Analysis: Developing methods to most effectively understand the users and their context, practices, and wants, by understanding SocioCultural and Economic differences unique to them. Interaction Methods: Localization and customization / alternatives to traditional input output methods. Evaluation Methods: Thinking outside traditional methods by making evaluation more appropriate to the target user audience to elicit accurate and actionable feedback” (Edozie, 2011).

This fresh approach to ICT4D is a welcome reprieve from many of the usual projects, and I feel that it has enormous potential. Im a strong believer in human centered designs, since it only makes sense for the project to be centered around the people we are trying to help, right? HCI4D Article