When Children Speak – The lives of children in contact with railways

The Indian Railway System is one of the largest in the world, averaging 21 million passengers per day1. At every station, along with railway passengers, are innumerable children, many of whom appear to be homeless. And it is this appearance of homelessness that attracts organisations to come forward to rescue the children, and restore them to their families.

However, many organisations working with children, have observed that the children so rescued—as high as 50% of them—run away from their homes again. In this episode of Design Talks, Dunu Roy, founder & director of Hazards Centre, explains why this is the case.

Continue reading When Children Speak – The lives of children in contact with railways

Virtual Reality – A Disruptive Equalizer for India’s Education Emerging economies need inclusive education for the large percentage of their populations that can neither afford conventional education nor can they fit it into the contexts of their lives and livelihoods. Can Virtual Reality be a leveler? Can this ‘elitist’ technology be a game changer in bringing education to their doorsteps?

This is a long read.

1. The new world of Immersive Experiences (IE)

13 year old Priyanka* looked around in wonder as she entered Delhi’s International Airport Terminal 3, with her three schoolmates in tow. Teach for India Fellow Manyata,  accompanied them through customs and security to board a flight to Poland for the month-long Brave Festival, an international cultural exchange program.

“Their excitement was palpable,” exclaims Manyata every single time she reminisces the awe and wonder with which the teenagers soaked in their very first flying experience. “From the time we entered the Terminal building, all the way through to Poland and their stay with local families, interacting with their ilk from across the world, performing pieces of India’s rich dances, collaborative choreography, et al, it was an experience few of their lot can even begin to imagine. These kids live in urban slums adjoining the most affluent neighbourhoods and yet may never have visited the local shopping mall. Could all the other 400 kids at Nai Disha—the foundation that runs their school—have an experience “nearly” the same as Priyanka and her friends had.”

Why nearly? Because Virtual Reality. Continue reading Virtual Reality – A Disruptive Equalizer for India’s Education Emerging economies need inclusive education for the large percentage of their populations that can neither afford conventional education nor can they fit it into the contexts of their lives and livelihoods. Can Virtual Reality be a leveler? Can this ‘elitist’ technology be a game changer in bringing education to their doorsteps?

Mobile technology for Disease Surveillance

smartapp_healthwatch_01

In a previous post, we highlighted the importance of data, and the inherent flaw in collecting data through paper forms. We also suggested that technology can improve the integrity and timeliness of data.

Real world application – tackling Dengue

The past couple of months have seen a rise in the number of dengue cases in Delhi. Given the sheer size of a city like Delhi, disseminating civic agencies to every nook and corner, in equal measure, is neither feasible nor useful.

The most affected localities would take a higher priority and need a higher number of resources. Identifying such areas through traditional data gathering tools will result in data which is likely to be too late.

What is required in such a scenario is a tool through which accurate data can be captured and analysed in near real time.

Mapping diseases in real time
Mapping diseases in real time

Imagine if diseases were reported as soon as they were diagnosed, and each diagnosis could be displayed as a pin on a map. The more the number of cases, the higher the number of pins. A locality with a high concentration of pins will draw attention immediately, thus making it easy to identify where resources need to be deployed urgently.

Enter HealthWatch.

HealthWatch is a disease surveillance platform for capturing real-time data about the spread of diseases and visualization of the data captured.

With domain expertise provided by St. Stephen’s hospital, HealthWatch was designed to replace the existing system of data gathering used in the Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme.

The HealthWatch platform (pilot in Delhi-NCR) consists of 2 parts:

a smart phone app
a map-based analytics dashboard

Doctors can use the App to report diseases as they diagnose them. Each disease and associated symptoms are mapped to the doctor’s location. Data obtained through the App is aggregated and presented in real-time on a map for healthcare professionals to identify vulnerable areas and take appropriate measures to manage the spread of diseases.

Read more about the HealthWatch platform here.

The form of data

Lost in transit
Image Source: Evaluation Toolkit for Magnet School Programs

The classroom
As part of a high school statistics project, our teacher gave us a form to collect data about customer automobile preferences. We had to analyse the data collected, and present it as a report.

While some were honest enough to actually go and get the forms filled, there were quite a few students who were getting dummy data filled by other classmates.

A few years later
I was walking near a market when a lady holding a bunch of papers asked me if I could spare a few minutes to answer questions about potato chips. She filled the fields of the survey form with my answers at great speed — a great time-saving skill, no doubt.

However, when one of my answers seemed unfavourable, she said ‘Oh no! I can’t record that.’ And then, she changed my answer!

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Statistics form the core of almost every article we read. But behind numbers like 83.7% and 4.8 million, there is data collected by field staff.

While statistical reports talk of error margins, how reliable is the data on which they are based? It is hard to tell. Can we improve their quality? Definitely.

One of the projects we have had the opportunity to work on in the recent past, addresses this very issue.

Before we jump to the solution, here’s a look at the problem in a little detail.
Data typically goes through several stages before becoming a meaningful number — capture, display, interaction and analysis.

Data Chain
The typical data chain

Data capture, more often than not, involves paper forms. And paper forms have several inherent problems.

The first is the time lag between when the data is captured, and when it is available for analysis. The second problem is that of data integrity. Forms filled in manually are susceptible to errors during data capture, as well as during data transfer, as illustrated in the two real scenarios mentioned earlier. The third, and perhaps the most critical problem, is that of data authenticity. Paper forms can very easily be used to generate false information.

Raw aggregated data – typically tabulated – is not user friendly. It requires filtering in order to be useful for decision and policy making.

All this seems a lot like a game of Chinese Whispers. By the time the data can actually be analysed, it may lose its value.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could skip a few steps? As it happens, that is how technology can help. This was the subject on which our CEO, Mr. Sunil Malhotra recently spoke about at the 124A Bilateral Training Programme of International Centre for Information Systems and Audit (organised by Comptroller and Auditor General of India). While interacting with the delegates of FBSA, Republic of Iraq, during the session on Disease Surveillance and the Role of Technology, Mr. Malhotra emphasized the need to shorten the data collection timeline, as well as ensure integrity of data, through the use of mobile technology.

Here’s an excerpt from the companion presentation, explaining the common challenges involved in data collection, as well as how mobile technology can help solve them.

Stay tuned for the next post, detailing our own working solution!

Become rich by designing products for the poor?

Earlier this year, Amit Gulati, who runs Incubis Consultants, invited me to participate in an interactive session to think through design ideas for a low-cost washing machine. The workshop brought out some very interesting and fascinating ‘ways of seeing’ that completely overturned the engineering / tech / product way of approaching design problems. Did we need to redesign the washing machine (Product) under stricter constraints [this is the way most people think – start with an existing product, strip it of features, use cheaper materials and processes, reduce quality and make it low-cost], or did we need to go up a level and reframe the problem itself.

Orbits of Influence

 

Image Courtesy: Incubis Consultants 2013.

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In the old days — as recently as the dying years of the last century — technology was trying to keep up with our needs. But instead of playing catch up, its pace overtook our needs. In the end, technology, especially those products that were powered by the silicon chip, won the race. Today we have more technology than we need and yet, rather than using what already exists to solve societal problems, we still go after creating more and more technology for the narrowest part of the pyramid — the top. Continue reading Become rich by designing products for the poor?

Social Apps – the small ideas, BIG Difference

We hope you had an opportunity to read our previous post on Social Apps. Carrying on from there, we thought we’d share with you some examples of Social Apps (apps using new-age digital technology and mobile apps to offer aid for emergency situations or Social causes) we came across and really liked.

These are three examples in three very different contexts. What qualifies them to be a part of this list together is that they are simple and relevant enough to make you wonder – “Hey why didn’t I think of that?!” – and have the potential to really make a difference. Or as we like to call it – #smallideasBIGDIFFERENCE.

So without further ado …

1. The Casserole Club

Arguably most might think that sharing food with those who can afford to order it out does not qualify as a Social Cause. But the potential of this idea combined with its simplicity is what makes it a part of this list. In their own words –

Casserole helps people share extra portions of home cooked food with others in their area who might not always be able to cook for themselves.

Casserole was born out of a desire to help bring communities together. There are a lot of people cooking food and many others who would greatly appreciate a home cooked meal. Our goal is to connect the two.

You can read up more on their website – http://www.casseroleclub.com/about. How it works is, you simply update whatever you’re cooking for the day on their website. The site builds up a menu of the various food updates for the day and anyone looking for a home-cooked meal can take their pick and order from the site. Eliminates food wastage and helps people staying away from home get a simple home-cooked meal. If this isn’t a neat Social App idea, then what is! If you’re from India you can just imagine the potential of something like this for the thousands staying by themselves away from home and craving “Maa ke haath ka khaana” – Mom-made food!

[Incidentally and its funny how these things work – came across this tweet just before posting this article 🙂 ]

2. Notfound.org

Another very simple and very brilliant idea. Which site does not after all serve up a 404-page every once in a while. And when there is no way you can control that, why not at least donate your 404 page for a greater good and donate it to notfound.org!

Across the European Union, thousands of children go missing every year. Thanks to the NotFound project, you can make a difference. Install our application and a picture of a missing child automatically gets published on every ‘page not found’ of your website.

The idea can be extended to so many different social causes. Wish it were applicable in India too. We would’ve gladly donated our 404 page! Dear Satyamev Jayate team, are you listening?!

3. Babajob.com

This one is a start-up operating right out of our own country – India – where understandably the need is greater. A focused job portal aiming to connect people from the middle and lower income group with employers looking for trustworthy, qualified workers. Job information in the informal sector usually spreads through word-of-mouth and technology intervention here helps job seekers find out about jobs they could not have known about otherwise and for employers to increase their range of finding trustworthy workforce. A great idea which helps people from lower strata of society find livelihood and improve their living standards!

Babajob.com is a web and mobile start-up dedicated to bringing better job opportunities to the informal job sector (cooks, maids, security guards, office helpers, etc.) by appropriately connecting the right employers and job seekers via the web, mobile apps, SMS, the mobile web and voice services.

Babajob was born as an experiment by Sean Blagsvedt, his step-father Ira Weise and Microsoft colleague Vibhore Goyal, to leverage the web, the mobile and social networks to accelerate the escape from poverty. It is an experiment — a possible solution to provide all levels of job seekers more with job opportunities while efficiently helping employers find suitable employees.

One look at their site though and you can see people using the site even for some more main-stream jobs like Sales and Marketing. The site provides a mix of web and mobile technology with ample human intervention to enable even the uneducated. We have not used the service ourselves yet but do plan to whenever we have a suitable opening and urge you to do the same. Do share your experience with us.

There are also other sites like “Rozgar Duniya“, “Village Naukri” and “Rojgar Mantra” we came across that help people from villages or Rural India look for employment.

[Translations for non-hindi speaking readers – Rozgar/Rojgar means Employment ; Naukri means Job ; Duniya is World]

Do let us know what you think about these ideas and share with us any other that you came across and found interesting or are working on yourself. We’d love to know more about them! We are especially interested in ideas where smart phones and smart apps are innovatively being used to provide help in the social sector.

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