Working with three different youth centers and local partners, An Xiao Mina and I tested phases of an approach to ICT introduction and uptake that empowers youth to design their own engagement with technology. Our initial findings suggest the potential for a radically different approach from existing youth ICT center models.
“ICTs from the Ground Up” encompasses a body of work that resulted from five weeks of additional field work in Uganda, building upon the previous design research entitled “Arc of Services.” The work required several preparatory meetings with our main local partner Log’el Project, both remotely and in-country, as well as introductory in-person meetings with the three different youth groups.
Research Question: What would an engagement with technology look like when co-developed directly with youth over multiple years?
Methods: Several full-day workshops coordinated with each youth groups incorporated large and small group discussion, critique, and editing of the Arc of Services and Booklet of Services, small group research assignments, one-on-one interviews, small group Internet and computer skill development, and testing of the Client Survey and physical BodaNet prototypes
Participants: Approximately 80 youth, 12-35 years old
“ICTs from the Ground Up” aims to shift ICT4D’s approach from drop-in ICTs to long-term engagements led by the youth themselves. Based on our design research, “ICTs from the Ground Up” considers the following five attributes as requirements for long-term, youth-led, co-developed engagements with technology:
Created in collaboration with An Xiao Mina, the first BodaNet prototype used readily available materials: cardboard and black masking tape.
Resting on the back of a motorcycle taxi, secured by straps, the prototype’s first compartment contains a small Canon printer to provide portable printing services. The second main compartment folds out to form a platform, revealing chargers, tablets, netbooks, and other supplies. A retractable post provides further stability as users crowd around the waist-high platform.
Extensive research of similar projects and relevant literature was conducted as a follow-up back in the States. An overarching question arose around the sustainability of the business model: If BodaNet replaces the passenger, can the boda driver generate revenue comparable to, or exceeding that of his prior passenger-focused business model?
In order to make our model more affordable and sustainable, the second prototype was designed for bicycle taxis (as opposed to motorcycle taxis) and allowed for the business model to include a passenger.
Despite a thorough materials investigation with Marshall Hamachi from Art Center College of Design’s Colors, Materials, and Trends Exploration Laboratory (CMTEL) back in the States, An Xiao Mina and I chose to continue to work within a Ugandan design framework. The second BodaNet prototype one again used re-purposed, readily available, and affordable materials. It remained raw and unfinished in order to enrich the co-design process and provide entry points for our collaborator Herbert Lwanga from Log’el Project to contribute his input over Skype.
Aware of the need to establish trust, the second prototype was also paired with a blue vest to mimic an already familiar, trusted network. Food vendors cluster along the main roads in Uganda, proudly sporting blue vests to show they are part of a reputable network.
Workshops with the three different youth groups focused primarily on user testing the second prototype, Booklet of Services, and Client Survey, as well as engaging youth-led research questions. Witnessing the second prototype travel from the studio to the field was thrilling.
The second prototype was accompanied by a co-created, paper-based Booklet of Services. Using the booklet, youth leaders can initiate a discussion with their members, gaining an understanding of how ICTs can be applied to their specific context and the interests and needs of their youth group and/or community.
The booklet as a conversation tool also explores opportunities for BodaNet to provide additional services beyond just Internet access, computers, or even technology in general. For example, perhaps a rural Ugandan would invest in the delivery of pre-printed content based on a chosen topic of interest, such as a Wikipedia entry or the weekly international news from The Observer. As individuals and communities become more comfortable with computers and the Internet, perhaps their requests through BodaNet and modes of access would change.
Read more about youths’ initial responses, questions, and ideas: