While in the field, I began testing out a system for asychronous communications between youth centers. This will form the basis for my thesis project in the summer.

I am focusing on designing for asynchronous, delay-tolerant networks that leverage existing infrastructure. I look at how a tailored system installed in youth ICT centers can enhance network effects between centers and creativity and social learning amongst youth. It will be piloted with Aber Youth Center in Oyam, a rural district of northern Uganda, before being installed in centers around the region.

/ (1 of 1)

Most of northern Uganda is emerging swiftly after two decades of war, and civic infrastructure, such as roads, water, electricity and mobile internet has been installed in urban areas such as Gulu and Lira but has only sporadically reached rural areas. Within this context, however, data transfer and the internet occur regularly via two major routes.

The first follows a path familiar to internet users in industrialized nations: mobile 3G access is accessible with varying degrees of accessibility via large phone towers that dot the landscape. The second relies on more direct, device-to-device transfers, as media are passed via cables and Bluetooth onto memory cards and flash disks, and those devices are in turn carried by foot, bicycle or automobile around the district.

Early designs for youth ICT centers in rural areas have assumed either zero connectivity, thus loading up centers with static, preloaded content; or constant connectivity, with dynamic accessibility dependent on a regular internet connection. However, the reality in Oyam lies somewhere in between.

My system assumes sporadic access and can tolerate regular delays in the network. At the same time, this system can and should follow the existing device-to-device file transfer network common amongst youth in the area.

In addition to the technical specifics of asynchronicity, I'm expecting the system to offer:

/ (1 of 1)

The ability to share the music and media youth are consuming. This can be a simple way to build social bridges between centers based on this common media interest.

The ability to take a photo with the built-in camera that can be shared online. The photo would automatically be resized to travel over the limited network connectivity.

A simple gifting system based on local gifting practices. I intend to experiment with the ability to "gift" livestock to other youth centers, as a way of showing thanks. This is a highly experimental feature that I'm eager to try in the field.

The project has evolved rapidly from what I first expected would be a phone-to-computer communication system, allowing youth in the back of the room to communicate with the computer using text messaging. Although this system worked technically, I found that youth were not interested in using their phones because of two reasons. Firstly, the expense of sending a text message was prohibitive relative to their personal budget. They preferred to spend that money for the usual uses, like communicating with friends and family or conducting business. Secondly, they were simply not interested in engaging with the phone to use the computer; they just wanted to use the computer.

Working with youth from three different youth centers, my project partner Elizabeth Gin and I tested phases of our ground up approach to ICT introduction and uptake. The first phase of our approach involves designing a paper-based booklet of web services. By co-creating the booklet with the youth, we develop a better understanding of their interests and how ICTs could serve them in their specific context. Outcomes from the first phase of our approach are guiding how we design and prototype a fully-fledged ICT experience that is portable, tailored for each youth group, creative and open, and entrepreneurial.

Through using a booklet of web services to first better understand the youths’ interest in the Internet, we learned that the youth group in Mawale valued opportunities to “advertise [their] skills and connect with others doing similar work” through networks such as LinkedIn and Blogs. They also had a deep interest in international news, specifically the wars in the Middle East.

The Eden youth group in Wobulenzi wanted to learn how to use Google Sketchup, as they currently draw architectural plans by hand. The youth also have their own music, dance, and drum team, and they were eager to use Audacity to record and mix their performances.

The Aber youth center in Oyam has a tailoring program, and youth could use open source drawing software to mock-up their designs. Also, many of the youth are farmers and wanted to research plant pests and diseases on Wikipedia and the Uganda Content Portal by Unicef.

/ (1 of 1)

Based on the diverse initial feedback from the booklet of web services, we are prototyping an ICT experience which emphasizes the following:

* Portable. A mobile system can travel to communities rather than limit access to those who have the time and resources to visit an ICT center in a fixed location.

* Tailored. Youth centers are not one-size-fits-all. Just as youth centers tailor services for their clients, so should ICT centers tailor their technology-related content and capabilities.

* Creative and Open. While structured training is important to develop basic skills, creative and open use is key to the youths’ satisfaction, engagement, and sustained interest in technology as they integrate it into their daily lives.

* Entrepreneurial. Working with youth directly to design the portable ICT system based on their interests and the attributes of their context cultivates a sense of ownership from the start, and empowers the youth as entrepreneurs and responsible caretakers of the technology.
During my time in Uganda, I spent approximately two and a half weeks total in northern Uganda at my field site, Aber Youth Center. In addition to my summary of findings for the mobile computing center, the asynchronous chat and mapping desire paths, I took a closer look at different models for engaging youth with technology. What follows is a brief summary.

Training of Trainers
The Training of Trainers (TOT) model is a commonly-applied one in youth centers in Uganda. Working with research associate Daniel Nanghaka, I was curious how it could apply with a focused group of 20 youth and 5 trainers. Thus, each trainer could train 4 youth around a single laptop or computer.

I found that the TOT model has a lot of potential for a more ground-up system, co-designed with the youth. In addition to training their peers, youth leaders took feedback from them and communicated that feedback to me. As well, they felt more confident in their work and began taking a more active leadership role, including training the local chair in computer usage.

Further work to validate the training and assess its effectiveness will be necessary, but the results are promising.

Uniforms and Appearance
It's difficult to underestimate the role of uniforms and appearances in creating a sense of ownership and responsibility amongst youth leaders. Youth wore uniforms to communicate their skills, and this had a particular effect on young women, who were able to leverage their skills for more influence in the community.

Uniforms can and should be developed locally, by the youth center itself. Firstly, assuming they have a tailoring program, this gives them business and encourages youth who are making the products when they see them in use immediately. Secondly, uniforms must be tailored for the situation. In Aber, for instance, they advocated for dark uniforms that would not easily get dusty in the environment.

Overcoming Language Barriers
As Daniel speaks the local language of Aber, he was able to facilitate more engaged trainings with the youth. However, I noticed that youth still struggled with the operating system, as they have limited literacy with the English language. Until local language solutions can be developed, it is ideal to have a bilingual trainer. Youth have enough facility with English that they can understand prompts such as "Name", "Message" and "Subject" (such as for email) with a slight nudge from a local language speaker.

Overall, however, more time is needed to foster computer literacy. In addition to language barriers, basic skills such as typing, navigating UIs and understanding simple processes like closing a window require time and practice. I experimented with a paper model to help youth practice without a computer, but real time at the computer is the best solution.

Laptops and Space
In the fall, we proposed spatial arrangements to help facilitate group usage of the computers. Bringing in three laptops, I was able to test this out in the limited space of Aber. I found that more youth could gather around, and they often took detailed notes of what they saw. They were clearly eager to learn.

However, computers remain designed for one person to use, and only three people--the main user and two people standing next to that person--can actually see the screen clearly. The rest were relegated to looking over someone's shoulder or just listening without being able to see the screen.

One way to overcome this challenge is using a projector, but even a projector presents limitations due to striking a balance with light. The north is a semi-arid environment, and bright light throughout the day makes it difficult to see the projection.

As of 2007, the UN estimated there were 1 million people in Uganda accessing the internet at least once a month. injust four years, that number has grown to more than 4.5 million, or 13% of the population. Although this growth is highly concentrated in urban areas, existing social teas between urban and rural populations allow individuals in rural areas to hear about the internet and what it might afford them.

What we want to investigate is a method or process to overcome some of the economic and infrastructural obstacles of computer and internet access in rural Uganda. Specifically, during our next field research visit in February and March, we want to prototype a system for assessment, training and development of technology spaces. This system would allow people the choice to explore their curiosity and understand the benefits--and drawbacks--of new technologies, so they can have a more informed understanding of how computers and the internet can affect their lives.

/ (1 of 1)

We began with an idea for a mobile technology center called BodaNet, which would travel to rural areas to deliver internet access. Envisioned as a mobile platform on the back of a boda boda, or motorcycle taxi, it would eliminate the physical barriers to accessing technology while providing an additional source of income for boda boda drivers.

Realizing that this idea did not encompass broader issues of engagement such as education on technology, business costs, and cultural barriers, we expanded our idea. Envisioning technological engagement as an arc of services, we proposed a model by which a young early adopter of technology could deliver paper-based services to rural areas. This paper service would allow them to assess community interest and develop a viable business model. If people, for instance, begin ordering print outs of international news, the entrepreneur could gauge how much they would be willing to pay for the service.

/ (1 of 1)

Moving up the arc, the entrepreneur would then slowly increase his or her investment, with smartphones, projectors and eventually computers with internet. By front-ending questions of economic sustainability and community interest, this process could help ensure that UNICEF's ICT Centers have viable community investment from the get-go, with more people from many backgrounds, especially women, more likely to engage.

/ (1 of 1)

We developed this arc in collaboration with individuals at the Log'el Project. Taking their input over Skype, we further refined the bag that would be used to transport materials. We also added to the arc the option for translation, as not all Ugandans are literate in English, and we realized the importance of receiving buy-in from the Local Council.

After our Monday symposium, I developed two speculations. In one speculation, I imagined that a young entrepreneur might find himself as a community liaison between the village leaders and incoming technology businesses. This could be a path toward gainful employment as a technology broker, helping the community negotiate fair prices and services.

On the other side, I imagined a world where a community might refuse to accept computers and the internet, due to their impact on the environment, access to pornography and other potential negatives. Resisting the advances of technology is quite difficult in any context, and after a few visualizations, I realized that the best solution might be a conscientious decision not to use technology, even while the services appear all around you.
/ (1 of 1)

Internet Cafes
Our investigations began in urban internet cafes in a part of Kampala known as Wandegeya, next to Makerere University. Designing a chat interface, we developed a simple way to interact with others on screen. One of us would sit at a chat screen and the other would invite patrons to join the chat room in exchange for 20 minutes of free internet time. The chat screen would allow us to work within the internet to foster discussions.

Although there was not as much community-wide discussions, we gathered a great deal of data about how visitors use the internet, costs associated with internet usage, common sources of employment, etc. We also found that the chatroom context helped us get past a number of cultural barriers, as a number of visitors, though shy and reserved in person, were happy to speak with us online. Further, the chat room has served as an additional source of discussion while we are abroad. Upon chat room visitors' suggestion, we created a Facebook Page to help continue the conversation. It has proved quite helpful throughout our time in Pasadena, as we can quickly and easily connect with folks back in Kampala and ask questions to fill up gaps in knowledge. It's important to remember, though, that they are a biased groups, i.e., the ones passionate about sharing.

We found that internet users tend to purchase the lowest amount of internet time--20 minutes--and add throughout their session only as needed. The internet is therefore more like a gas station, a place where they fill up their data needs as they can. Some came in to do work emails. Others came in to download readings and movies onto their thumb drives to peruse at their leisure on their personal laptops. Others came for prayer and church services. Most were students and young professionals. Much of the uses were practical, but we did observe social uses such as Facebook and video chat. But when queried about this, users we spoke to noted that they limited their net time to essentials due to high costs (about 20 US cents for 20 minutes).

It will be important in the future to engage in spaces other than those around the Makerere University area to see a wider variety of communities and uses. Given the costs, however, I suspect time is the most significant barrier. I began to think of internet cafes more as business centers than cafes.

/ (1 of 1)

Business Incubators and Tech Hubs
We also visited multiple business incubators and technology hubs. This included a Ruby on Rails workshop at Outbox Hub, an Apps4Africa brainstorming session at Hive Colab, and a business plan training class at Mara LaunchPad. We also visited the Log'el Project, a local NGO focused on technology solutions for rural areas. Further, I gave a lecture on internet memes at the Makerere University Student Business Incubator in the Computer Science Department as a way to get to know the different businesses and ideas people had at the school.

These proved to be highly fruitful discussions and interactions that gave us many perspectives of technological engagement amongst urban youth in Uganda, from app development to hacking solutions for solar panels and sanitation. Amongst elite youth, there is a strong interest in the potential for technology-based solutions in a variety of areas, from health and sanitation to education to gainful employment to gaming and music. Although there were a limited number of sustainable businesses emerging from these spaces, it is also important to note that most of these spaces have existed for less than five years.

Of interest to me is how similar these spaces feel to spaces I've encountered in Shanghai and New York. There is a decided optimism in the potential for technology and a focus on community and mentorship. Most of these spaces in fact borrow from the Silcon Valley incubator model, and I'll be eager to see how they develop in the coming years.

/ (1 of 1)

UNICEF ICT Center, Oyam District
Finally, I visited UNICEF's ICT Center at Aber Youth Center in Oyam, in northern Uganda. Providing the only internet access in the entire district, the ICT Center consists of three solar powered computers with mobile internet. Youth often bike up to an hour to visit the center, which provides job and life skills training in addition to the computers. As many as 20 youth at a time gather in the room (and even outside) to use the computers and observe.

What I found was that, far from the UNICEF model of accessing educational and work information, many youth were watching Nigerian comedies dubbed in Luo (significant because Luo is not a majority language in Uganda), mixing music and practicing their typing skills. Of course, some were engaging with the UNICEF-developed Uganda Content Portal, but they were also finding a number of social and creative uses.

I then led a discussion amongst a number of youth on how they use technology. Collecting written notes and using Post-its to facilitate conversation with people who did not speak English, I gauge their interests in the social and creative potential of their computers. They expressed a desire to be able to upload photos to Facebook, mix music, print and save documents and access international news and entertainment.

After only two days of field work, I found that their interests in computers were quite broad. This is something I wish to investigate further when I arrive.

Across the Board
Across the board, whether internet cafes, rural ICT centers or elite business hubs, young Ugandans I encountered had a strong interest in computers and the internet. They used the internet as much for business and educational opportunities as for social connection and creative expression. This is not at all surprising, as it reflects how most of my peers in the US and China also engage with computers and the internet. However, most NGOs are not focusing on uses beyond those that directly benefit one's economic prospects.

For future field work, I'd like to understand how individuals prioritize these different benefits of computing. I also think it will be critical to engage with non-adopters of technology.