E-Agriculture

stephane boyera

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stephane  boyera
stephane boyeraSBC4DFrance

Hi Megan,

Concerning your first point, you are totally right. However, enforcing the requirements in grant agreement can only be imho half of the strategy. It must be easy for practionner to do so. So i think there is a need for a first global steps:
*developing tools and extensiosn of existing tools that make the sharing of data easy for non-technical people
*developing an architecture with a (set of portals) where it is easy to publish and make available the data to the community.

Concerning all other points, I think there are critical too, but not specific to the domain. All initiatives in the open data world are facing these issues.
For instance, privacy/anonymization is not only important but legally required in most countries. However, there are now processes in place that allows e.g. government to publish all their data in such anonymized form. 
About business practices, there are different levels. You may well have data that are critical to your business models, while their anonymized version has no real value but are good for measurement.
About competition, you are right again, competition is happening, and this will not change. But it is essential for the domain to define the right boundaries of competitions, to ensure that while competition exists, it is not detrimental to the domain, or more speicfically to the development outcomes in the ground. This is where enforcing the need of sharing in grant agreement is imho the best way to define those boundaries.
About situational factors and consistency, this is again fairly common in the open data world: you may have lots of data that are very specific to the culture, communities and people you are working with, and in that case those data might not be helpful for people working in other regions. However, it is likely that those data are helpful for other organizations working within the same context but in different domains (health, etc.). 
About consistency, i'm not a big fan of standardization here, and in practice this is not the way e.g. government portals work. You publish data, and as far as your datasets are correctly documented, anyone can reuse them and mash them up with other sources. However, it would help if for a core set of informaiton, such standardization in vocabulary and semantics happens on the model of e.g. IATI for aid spending (http://www.aidtransparency.net/ ).

All in one, this discussion is bigger then just measurement. I think that there is a need to go for an holistic approach where publication of data is only one part of the equation. The other part is about increasing impact by reusing other org. data. It is about taking advantages of what other have done and not restart from the beginning. In my experience, you can convince more easily people to publish their data when they understand the value and ues the data of others. 
Moreover, it is important to note that because this open data revolution is already happening at government level and at international organization level, there are already tons of information available for free. Therefore, part of the ecossytem is already in place, and opportunities are already here.

cheers
steph

stephane  boyera
stephane boyeraSBC4DFrance

I think the question is key, but the challenge is how to have a measurement process scalable and trustable?
I don't want to hurt anybody, but i feel that the measurement process of the MDG as done in the past is close to a joke. Government are reporting about heir evolution of the different MDGS, but this is usually disconnected from the field and from what is happening on the ground.
Here again, i'm a great fan of bottom-up approach: I'm convinced that the definition of a new measurement process is possible through the aggregation of data from the different initiatives in the ground. This is where a revolution is possible: if each and every initiative would have a simple and easy way to share their data, ala open data, it would then be possible to use the collective intelligence to extract interesting trends and evolution. Unfortunately we are still far from this, mostly because all the popular tools, while often free and open source, are not making easy the release of anonymized data in open formats.
There is a new initiative just launched few weeks back called GODAN (Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition godan.info) that looks promising in that regards.
I would be happy to hear what people would feel about a measurement process based open data & data sharing?

steph  

stephane  boyera
stephane boyeraSBC4DFrance

Michael,

it is very good to copy relevant previous discussion!
your experience in Uganda is relatively similar to mine in Mali with few differences & specificities.

*Engagement
As it happens in many domains, people are more enclin to engage with a particular service (mobile service or radio program) if they can associate themselves with wha tis presented. Integrating women voices or contribution to the program is a successfull way in that regards. Using e.g. a female voice in IVR is also a way to leverage this identification. As a side note, that was one of our finding when testing voices in IVR system: some topics are normally covered by men or women, and therefore a same gender must apply when providing information through  IVR.

*Access to devices
In our experience, and this was largely underlined in a few posts, the access to mobile devices is harder for women or poorest fraction of the farmes. Mixing radio programs and mobile is a way to bridge this gap, instead of focusing on mobile only. Carefully selecting the time of the day where people have more likely access to a device is also a way to leverage call-in in radio programs

*technology
We found where we were owrking in Mali that the level of literacy was largely lower within women than men. The use of IVR technology vs SMS was a way to empower women, instead of using SMS intermediaries that in our case could only be men

steph

stephane  boyera
stephane boyeraSBC4DFrance

Hi Meg,

In my experience, experts, because it is not their primary job, and it is also usually their own job to disseminate their expertise, are not really impacted by the decrease of demands. In the two cases i experienced, in fact experts were more happy to have less answers to provide.
About, accessing knowledge base: in the best world, users should be able to access directly the knowledge base. However, this is still a major technology research topic (how to guide effectively a user without ict experience to find the right information, either through text or voice, without discouraging him). In our experience, we extracted faqs (most requested information) per type of users and geographic areas and the system was proposing this upfront. For all other questions, the user ask his/her question. Then a knowledge worker asynchronously search the knowledge base and either associate the answer or send the question to expert (it does the association expert/question based on tpics/language). The expert then answers and the connection is made. When the user call back he does not know if the answer was retrieve from the knowledge base or answer by the expert, he just retrieve the answer to his question. In our case, teh expert adds directly to the knowledge base, and there is no quality check over expert input.
The expert answers using his prefered communicaition channel: it could be email, web, ivr or sms (even if sms is usually inadequate to capture the answer). He receives an alert when a new question has come for him (through again the channel he prefers).
(you might be interested in a piece of research on this: http://public.webfoundation.org/2012/02/VBAT_Pilot_Report_Public.docx )

Now about voice, here again you may be interested in a more deep answer at http://stephb.org/2013/03/demystifying-voice-technologies-for-development/ 
To be honnest, in my experience in about 8 countries, the cost of IVR has never been a challenge.
Well this needs to refined. What is essential is the return on investment. If the service behind has a direct value for the user, he will place the call. 2 very specific examples: the helpline i was mentioning, where people  were paying for the call plus a service fee. A second example is a business matching service  same model (phone cost+service fees), and no problem, if there is a direct revenue. in the case of business matching, we realized that our model (collecting offer and disseminating them by radio) was very successfull for some products and very unsuccessful for some others because of different challenges in the value chain. so obviously you see those who see a direct benefit calling,a nd the other not calling.
In another domain, i worked with radio stations setting up an ivr system for personnal communique. Broadcasting personal messages is a huge business for community radio, that can go up ot 20 or 30% of their revenue. we worked with 5 radio in mali. 4 failures 1 success. here again it was only the business model: people could call and let a message, but in hte case of 4 failures, the radio will not broadcast them, because they need to be paid for that, and just doing the travel to pay, was not worth it for most people, and for those close to the stations it was cheaper to go to the station. So nobody was calling and the cost of call was mentioned, while it was the service behind not carefully designed. In the case of the success, the radio was already structured with 50 local correspondents in different villages. So people were visiting the correspondent paying them the cost of the broadcast and then they were calling the system to drop the message. Here total success: not only people can have access to a service they didn't have before (or it was far less easier) but there was a great side effect: now it is their own voice that is broadcasted, and being heard on the radio was a great thing. In such case again, the perceived gain compared to the costs of the call was perceived as a great deal by users.
In very few words, i've experienced lots of success and at least the same amount of failure with IVR, and the cost is sometimes identified as the failure factor, while it is not the case, and it is the overall busienss model or the value of the service that is problematic.
(but there are also lots of other possible factors for IVR to fail miserably, see the post I mentioned above)

Steph

stephane  boyera
stephane boyeraSBC4DFrance

Hi Meg,

very interesting discussion indeed.
First of all, I feel that people are not mixing the device with the people at the other end of the channel. In another words, If people trust an NGO, an dhte ngo is building a mobile service, trust will be here. If it is e.g. a mobile operator which is a brand more than someone, it is more difficult. This explains, imho, why lots of ICT startups are failign short in terms of usage. mostly because farmers are not trusting them.

Then, I'm convinced since quite a long time, that it is far more efficient to rely on existing trust links rather than trying to create new ones. For instance, I'm convinced that it is a mistake for service providers to target farmers. I'm sure (and my own approach/business model) that it is easier to target intermediate structures, would it be ngos or cooperatives, and equip them with services for their consitutencies/members/targets. then these intermediate organizations are in charge of services to their members. This imho leverage existing structure and trust links.

Steph 

stephane  boyera
stephane boyeraSBC4DFrance

Hi Megan, all

I just wanted to react on one small element of your post.
you wrote:
"Does anyone have any examples of a project that "connected" underserved stakeholders to existing services rather than attempting to create an isolated island of service?"

From my experience, this is touching a very sensitive point related to trust. There is a big difference between information and knowledge. I mean here that you can send informatin to people, but then it is up to them to decide whether this information is knowledge that helps them or not. In my experience, this is where trust is essential. Farmers would e.g. change their palnting technics only if they trust the person telling them that this will be effective, and also if they can witness it. Just to say that just focusing on conencting people to existing services is not necessarily the way to success. I've experienced this on a particular project related to business matching (people posting sell/buy request): setting up a business matching service is technically doable, but i realized the hard way that it is not only a question of connecting buyers and sellers, it is about ensuring that both buyers and sellers are trusting the system in terms quality, reliability of information etc. This aspect was the most important part, and it is very similar to the ype of relationship farmers have with their cooperatives.
So from my perspective the key question is how to have global services but keep/establish a trust link?

steph 

stephane  boyera
stephane boyeraSBC4DFrance

Hi Michael,

There are three key points in your post:
-content
-scalability 
-sustainability

About content, all my points is that, in my experience in e.g. India or Mali, there are "experts" (would it be NGOs or research institution or innovative farmers) that are able to help. It is not imho possible to extract the essence of this and "build content".  Instead, those experts are great to answer farmers questions, and thus capturing the questions and answer is how you build a knowledge (aka FAQ). SO it is not really "demand-driven content' but closer to user generated content. As an illustration, I've worked with Lifeline India I mentioned in my previous post, and in that case after 4years of operation, 85% of the requests have already an answer in the knowledge base. 

About scalability and sustainability this is clearly a major issue. See a post I wrote a 2 years ago about it (http://www.webfoundation.org/2011/10/review-of-the-new-vodafoneoxfamaccenture-report-on-mobile-for-agriculture/ ).  There are a few examples particularly in India about similar initiatives that are successfull in terms of scale, being able to reach a huge number of people. However, the financial sustainability is problematic with current set of technologies (traditional call centers) as explain in the link above. But there promising options that need to be explored further. I'm convinced that recent progress in e.g. voice technologies made such approaches promising in terms of sustainability, as soon as it will be possible to enable people to find the answer they need in the knowledge base. 
The beauty of such approahces are two folds:
1- the initial investment can be very low: you just have to setup a service and involve a group of experts that can be remunerated per request, but you don't have to make major initial investment to source content. Moreover, this is a very scalable option that could fit an ngo that is supporting a small community, and that would have to invest only a few k to setup such a system. 
2- as mentioned in few posts, you can imagine that such a Q&A service is not restricted to one topic only, but could be kind of generic one-stop-shop option where you can ask health, legal or agri questions. That are answered by different team of experts.

steph

stephane  boyera
stephane boyeraSBC4DFrance

John,

very great post, and very well summarized. Allthe points you are making are indeed essentials.
I would like to react on the first one, about content. I started to mention it in a previous post, but I'm not entirely convinced by the need of content as such. 
In the few places I worked, I've experienced that people (agri stakeholders) are vrey ready to pay for extension services if it helps them resolving their issues. This seems obvious, but not that easy. It means that people are far more interested in getting answer to their questions, rather than getting general tips. This is very general, and it is usually relatively hard to give answer to people in a Q&A mode, but in my experience, there is a demand for such service, provided that a trust link exists between the provider of services and the farmers.
Then starting from this, I believe that building content could also be bottom-up instead of top-down: you can start without content, but experts, and based on the requests, the knowledge base grows, requirign less expert advice over time. Moreover, the knowledge is then very localized, and is also a gold source for tracking evolution based on the type of questions. It is the model that e.g. lifeline india (http://lifelines-india.net/agriculture/ ) has put up. 
I would be happy to get opinions on such approaches?

steph

stephane  boyera
stephane boyeraSBC4DFrance

I cannot agree more on the importance of linking radio and mobile. It is imho a perfect fit with a broadcast media that can reach everybody at low-cost. Then mobile is the perfect feedback loop to provide personalized services to people, or allow them to contribute to radio programs.
Now I would be happy to know if anybody has implemented such scenarios in m-agri?
While working in Mali (tominian district), we have designed such an approach, but at the end fo the day we had to go far far beyond our original objectives, because we foud out that integrating radio broadcast in the ecosystem is not that easy, and here again, technology was sligthly a problem. The provision of audio content to radio was very difficult due to lots of radio not having any computer (sometimes) or no connectivity at all (most of the time). So originally we had to walk to the radio with usb keys, which was killing the overall process. To improve this we had to work vrey closely with the radio and design a dedicated paltform using voice tech for them to be able to call-in and broadcast live through the mobile phone the content. At the end, this was very successful, but not planned at all.
Just to say that in my experience integrating radio was not as easy as it seemed, particularly when you want to cover a whole with different stations that are far away each other.
I'm wondering if other people/initiative have experienced similar challenges?

steph 

stephane  boyera
stephane boyeraSBC4DFrance

Hi Alvarez,

This is another very interesting discussion around the importance of what is communicate to farmers versus how it is communicate.
To be honnest, I meet quite often people that are looking for "content" (e.g. mobile phone operators) for their services. So their questions is about what should be sent to farmers to help them. 
On the opposite, my own experience, sometimes content is not an issue. What i mean here is that what is needed by someone is usually available from someone else. you have innovative farmers that have solved some of the local issues (in that regard i strongly recommend the movie "the man who stopped the desert http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xvxk07_the-man-who-stopped-the-desert_news ), there are NGOs that have acquired lots of local knowledge, there are local experts at the cooperative or regional level. They are able to advise farmers. The key issue here is how to share this knowledge resource and how to leverage knowledge sharing, but not how to put new knowledge in the system.
I would be happy to hear from the audience about their own experience whether content/expertise is something available in the ecosystem, or if that should come from outside?

steph