Miguel didn't dive deep into cost calculations during his TEDxBuenosAires talk, but this seems like awfully low numbers. I am curious to see how they are controlling the costs - perhaps Internet access is affordable due to a competitive marketplace (wish we had one of those in the States) or existing subsidies for educational access. Do these costs include Ministry-level overhead and teacher training, or have those been rolled into existing budgets? I wonder not so much as a criticism of their cost calculations - clearly CEIBAL is a shining star in both OLPC distributions and educational technology projects - but rather as a best-practices interest.
OLE Nepal has put together a great TCO of the laptop program, based on their pilot project. Where I pieced together training budgets from USAID ICT4Edu projects and Internet connectivity estimates from UN/ITU global averages, they have on-the-ground numbers, (and a few ideal estimates on repair costs). The total for a 5 year program in Nepal? We're still looking at $753, if you read carefully:
One of the competitions we run over at Ashoka's Changemakers is now up for voting - it's focused on the use of Football (Soccer) for social change. The finalists are an amazing bunch, and thanks to a consortia of amazing developers from enomaly and We The Media, there's an equally amazing voting widget!
"In any cluster of mobile phone shops you find someone who offers repair services. This typically starts out as people fixing displays and speakers, which tend to break first. People then come asking if other things can be fixed, and over time there’s an increased awareness of how to fix different models. Nokia tends to be the dominant player in those markets, so people tend to know how to fix them, right down to soldering bits of the circuit board. It’s from those repair services that a street-hacker culture originates. "
This also sounds curiously similar to early stages of import-replacing industrialization, where with domestic reverse-engineering of imported technologies in support of increasing support, repair, and eventually production and innovation of the technology.
Oh wait, we're already seeing innovation:
"However the demand is there, and we’ve seen street services that offer to take two physical sim cards, and re-engineer the circuitry to fit into one sim card slot – effectively allowing multiple phone numbers on one device. You could argue that the cutting edge of mobile technology and use is happening on the streets of places like Accra, rather than Tokyo or San Francisco. "
Is hardware hacking becoming more accessible in the development context?
A positive psychologist friend once explained the concept of (watch as I butcher the terms and descriptions) "flow" to me. I understood it as working on things which are interesting, difficult, but not so overwhelmingly difficult that you can't make clear progress on. Importantly, also not so easy that you just breeze mindlessly through. Good logic puzzles, programming, and such things are often found on this razor's edge between too difficult and too easy.
Hardware hacking has long been a task which only a small, geeky set of people can really enjoy a flow state while exploring the dark magics of hardware.
Last night I shared some pints with DC-area OLPC fans , Mike Lee showed off an Acer he'd hacked a Pixel Qi screen into. Now, this is not a hack for the faint of heart (yet), but it's pretty amazing in the world of the mostly-sealed, non-user-hackable laptop setups to be able to swap in a new screen, especially not one provided in a kit from the original manufacturer.
Mobile is hardly "new" anymore, but we're seeing increasing tools for peer-to-peer communications and decentralized development. Instead of SMS reporting for mHealth metrics or election observation (both amazingly powerful), we have Ushahidi and a team of volunteers from colleges and Haitian diaspora communities across the world saving lives in Haiti after the earthquake by synthesizing and translating reports from on the ground into actionable, trustable pieces of information.
Instead of training-and-visit agricultural extension work, we have tools like Patatat which are building group email lists through SMS messaging, enabling farmers (or anyone) to collaborate on their work, market prices, crop diseases, and so on - with increasingly little need for anything at the center. And of course there's twitter, which, while still "centralized" as a website, enables un-mediated communication amongst basically anyone in the world with a cell phone and a good text-messaging plan.
Where the last SMS4D Technology Salon reminded us of the unique gift of mobile technologies to be based where there impact will be, The Cloudy SMS4D Salon really drove home mobile as a multifunctional tool whose true impact is tied more to the usage than the technology itself. While we gathered to discuss SMS4D, we really talked about heath reporting and outreach, education, and community-building through knowledge management and sharing. It just so happened that these health projects were using SMS codes to report longitudinal child health statistics.
Data gathering in health, and even knowing when to gather data, is a huge burden, often relying on community health workers doing the healthcare version of the T&V system of the agricultural extension world. Waiting around for a planned infrastructure is hopeless, but working with the more incremental nature of mobile can improve reporting rates and reduce errors -- "utter chaos works everywhere" being the best quote of this tech salon. Childcount builds on existing SMS reporting to enable community health workers to rapidly register children, note any symptoms or diseases they might have, improve patient tracking (and thereby reducing duplication), and schedule immunizations and outreach. The SMS "encoding" builds off of a simple and familiar paper form, which is handy for training (but less useful than a mango tree, as we'll see). The runner-up quote from this Salon dealt with discussion around the potential risk of intentionally fabricated data -- "humans are awful at falsifying data" -- digitizing and quick, auditable reporting exposes both errors and lies.
Winning the award for innovative ideas in mHealth was the HappyPill project -- instead of boing old SMS, HappyPills uses "flashing" - where you call a number and hang up immediately to "ping" someone. Usually, flashing is just a free way to ask someone to call you back, or you can sometimes work out extensive codes -- one missed call is just saying hi, two is call me back, three means an emergency, etc.. HappyPills takes this basic, essentially binary interaction and applies it to help improve adherence rates for prescription regimens. A medical center can send out flashes to their patients, and the patients are reminded to take their pills and would then flash back to signal that they took their medicine. It's naturally not foolproof, but hugely more cost effective (almost cost-free) in comparison with sending a community health worker out to the patient on a motorcycle to witness their pill-taking.
It turns out that people are not just willing, but economically motivated and excited to use (and pay for) basic SMS-based services to improve their numeracy and literacy skills, improving their ability to communicate cheaply over their phones as well as better navigate market prices. In these low-technology communities, Tostan's Jokko Initiative is creating a curriculum to enable this via SMS, and they have also come up with an amazingly simple methodology to introduce people to menu systems using a mango tree metaphor which gracefully transitions from the concrete (planning a climbing route on a real tree to get to a specific mango) to the semi-concrete (the same, on a diagram of a tree), to the abstract (the tree diagram becomes the menu diagram, the mango a specific function). Anyone who thinks that is basic has never shown their grandparents a new shiny piece of technology, or had their entire worldview of user interface challenged by someone physically pointing a mouse at a screen).
Patatat is an early-stage solution which puts SMS into the role of a community town hall/newsletter/email list. It removes not only the normal geographic barriers that a listserv gets around, but also infrastructure barriers, so (for example) farmers across a region or the world can share knowledge around their crops without relying on the grid and hardwired phones/Internet to do so. This also centralizes costs to one "host" and minimizes it to the community, so a farmer could send one SMS (free to receive, costs to send), and the host would re-broadcast it to the entire "community." With Twitter already showing that it can (technically) report earthquakes faster than the earthquake itself spreads, this rebroadcasting tool also has clear applications in emergency announcements, citizen journalism and a myriad of other fields.
So, was this technology salon about technology, or was it about development projects? Sure, all of the projects discussed at the salon happened to use server and cloud-based SMS technologies. They also probably use paper, transportation, and people. That the technology is now moving from the focus of a project to being a (cool, exciting, powerful, still new-and-shiny) tool in the toolbox is truly heartwarming. It means it is maturing into a cross-sector role and not into another silo (sorry, a "cylinder of excellence" in the parlance of our times).