Day 2 of the IST Africa 2012 Conference continued with paper presentations using a parallel stream approach that started yesterday, with six on-going parallel sessions. Overall session topics today included: Internet of Things; M-Health; EGovernment & eDemocracy; Broadband Access in Africa; TV White Space Spectrum; Living Labs; ICT Entrepreneurship in Tanzania; M-Learning; ICT for Environmental Risk Management.
One interesting mobile application was discussed during a morning session on m-health. Brian Omwenga (Nokia Research Center, Nairobi, Kenya) presented “Buzzenger,” a free messaging platform based on missed calls (i.e. flashing). The platform basically formalizes the already established informal culture of “flashing” to tell people to call them back. The application does message encryption and decryption based on missed call durations. The application was developed in partnership with University of Nairobi and based on incremental prototyping. User feedback found that the application should be extremely fast (users didn’t want to go through a long process to send a message) because the flashing is often done because it is a very fast way to get a message across.
A big challenge for this application is the flooding of the operating network, which can come with sending of longer messages. This is the reason why Nokia Research decided to label this application as an “emergency” messaging system in order not to destroy relationships with mobile operators. Nokia Research realized while piloting the application that they cannot make “Buzzenger” a commercial product because it would get killed by mobile operators who do not make any money off of the application and whose networks would get flooded with the missed calls. Therefore the best use case for the application, Nokia Research decided, is for emergency situations only.
Another interesting presentation was during a session on “Sensors, Empowerment and Accountability,” SEMA for short. All presenters during the session came from ITC from the University of Twente, Netherlands and spoke on different aspects of the 3-year project that they have recently launched. The SEMA project looks at enhancing the relationship between citizens and government agencies through mobile communications and web technology in Tanzania. One of the project managers, Jeroen Verplanke, spoke on “slow burn” (I’m using an Ushahidi term here) versus crisis reporting. Ushahidi states that “slow burn” issues are ongoing over an extended period of time and don’t look to improve in the short-term. Verplanke noticed this phenomenon stating that daily needs that are not events do not often trigger app use because even if these daily needs are not met, coping mechanisms exist. On the other hand, a disaster or crisis situation is much more emotionally engaging as a reminder to report or act.
At the end of Verplanke’s presentation, he highlighted an often-repeated challenge that “technology can be an enabler, but you need the right processes and support in place.” This is so important to keep in mind in ICTD discussions; it deserves to be often repeated.
Follow #istafrica2012 for the last day of the conference tomorrow.