Community-generated media for the next billion

Lead Research Organisation: Swansea University
Department Name: College of Science


This project aims to contribute significant insights into how social-media sharing systems should be designed and deployed to benefit many billions of people beyond the mainstream developed world. Our target communities live in both developing countries and those that are marginalised in places such as the UK. We will do so by exploring a series of novel information ecologies for media sharing in a highly populated, but remote, rural development context. Working with Transcape, our main project partner, we will build on a current wireless network to establish digital media libraries connecting multiple locations across 5 villages in the Wild Coast of South Africa. We will use this infrastructure to examine the interplay of mobile phones, pico-projectors, situated displays, word-of-mouth storytelling and paper-based artefacts to create and exchange multimedia content for education, health, agriculture, local social welfare and community decision-making. We will ground our innovations in local social systems, undertake participative design activities and iteratively test novel solutions and ecologies. This project will deliver a well-documented toolkit to allow organizations like Transcape to establish community media sharing infrastructures. The toolkit will also be highly applicable in marginalised communities in the UK and other developed counties. We aim, then, to provide a practical way for many others to put our research results into immediate action. Further, by directing the collaboration of interdisciplinary experts towards the particular technological challenges of rural communities this project can dramatically re-shape: 1) the ways we conceptualise the Internet in community information sharing; 2) how the rural poor in developing regions experience media-centric computing; and, 3) methods to localize ICT design and development in marginalised communities.

Planned Impact

This project will enable us to expand conceptualizations of the Internet in rural societies. This can impact on the socio-economic opportunities provided by ICT in rural places, globally. By addressing how impoverished rural people experience media-centric computing this project will enhance understandings of the role of technology in alleviating poverty. The project takes place in an area that has not had access to media, such as community radio, which has been effective in alleviating poverty elsewhere. By finding new ways to address the technological requirements of subsistence-living and isolated people we can directly improve information for health, education and food-production and other interconnected problems. Our insights into the use of the proposed technologies will enable us to create a solid impact plan for follow-on research. A sound understanding of rural people's use and experience of technologies ensures that beneficiaries, locally and more widely, can access the outcome of our research directly through well designed and appropriately distributed software. We also aim to create technologies to enable those with low literacy to have a digital voice to record, and distribute and share their experiences in a way compatible with their style of expression. The development of a free and robust toolkit for the creation of community-generated media systems is a major deliverable of the project. This will allow communities hearing and reading about our work to try out the reported techniques for themselves, and adapt the technology to their situation and needs. Delivering methods by which we can localise design activities across the digital divide will be integral to the project's impact and is achievable through sound relationships with our project partner. By pursuing ways to successfully relocate accountability in technology production, we are introducing new opportunities for creativity. Transcape, our main partner, can play a major role in exploiting the project technology locally. In addition, the ICT4D centre in Cape Town has links with development agencies and many NGOs throughout South Africa. Jones, Frohlich and Lalmas have good links with prior NGO partners Voices, Myrada and Maraa in India, and also with Aptivate, a UK NGO working to disseminate state-of-the-art approaches to applying IT in development contexts. Working through these channels and others will ensure that developed tools and techniques have a high chance of uptake and use in both developing countries and marginalised sections of the community in developed world contexts. As well as impacting on future living in developing countries, our project has direct benefits to the UK. In the UK people often participate in community generated content (e.g. Flickr) in isolation, at their PC or on their mobile phone; yet, media in Africa's digitally-sparse environment is encountered in a community-rich context. Thus, we expect to uncover novel interaction techniques and styles, media creation and sharing practices, and information access methods that will inform the design of future digital experiences in the developed world. Managing content and supporting interactions with information that is not text-based or easily abstracted tackles notorious and pervasive challenges. Contributing solutions to retrieving knowledge that cannot be formalized and frequently performed will provide insight into bridging the structured information on computers and the more informal ways we organize information in everyday life. It can offer valuable insights into the unsolved problem of effectively managing non-textual content, such as that created in platforms like YouTube and Flickr.


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Bidwell N (2013) Walking and the social life of solar charging in rural africa in ACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction

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Wilson M (2011) Pico-ing into the future of mobile projection and contexts in Personal and Ubiquitous Computing

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Robinson S (2011) TapBack

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Robinson S (2012) PicoTales

Description Devices, systems and services that used individually or together, allow groups such as NGOs, community associations and governmental organisations to facilitate digital content creation and establish community media sharing infrastructures within rural and other hard to reach populations the world over.
Exploitation Route See toolkit and impact assessment:
Sectors Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Healthcare

Description Toolkit downloaded and used in schools, NGOs etc, globally.
First Year Of Impact 2015
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy,Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Economic