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Posted by on Sep 15, 2012

MobiMOOC: #m4d, community, expanding definitions of developing, FrontlineSMS

Introduction to M4D and Plea for Expanding the Definition

I just wanted to post this before I commence packing in earnest for my upcoming relocation to London. It is no small feat to perpetually stick your life in one small suitcase, one carry-on, and one bike bag. I might miss a bit of the discussion for Week 2 of MobiMOOC, which is a shame as I was quite curious to learn more about mobile learning frameworks/curriculum and participate in the session on global issues in mlearning, including a discussion (I hope) on the ethics of technological intervention. If you have never considered the ethics of using technology in particular communities, particularly in light of how disruptive it can be (both good and bad), then I urge you to join in.

I am facilitating the Week 3 session on using (mobile) technology for development. In that week, I want to explore some of the trends, the lessons learned, and even the tools being used by some of the better projects. I struggled to include too much on the ethics of technological intervention, but I can see that becoming a separate discussion all by itself. In my introductory video (below), I make the assertion (and feel free to disagree) that M4D (mobiles for development) can be used in developing regions and developing pockets of developed nations. I don’t like those terms (developed/developing), but that is the hand I have been dealt so I will run with it. My argument is that developing is too broad a context in which to extract consistent patterns or best practices. So I think including developing pockets of developed regions is warranted. I am thinking situations where technology (namely the communities that are enabled by technology) can alleviate socioeconomic realities, or empower participants, or both. That, however, is my opinion. Feel free to disagree on the discussion board.

FrontlineSMS: Context through the prism of a tool

Once we work through the introductory materials on what mobile projects in developing regions might look like, I wanted to drive through a discussion on that same process as told through the lens of a particular tool. In this case, I am going to focus on FrontlineSMS because it is accessible, open, free, etc. and because it is flexible enough to allow for some creative applications across a few different walks of like (medicine, agriculture, education, finance). I hesitated to focus too much energy on particular tools as the real focus is about the context first, a disciplined needs assessment, and a thorough analysis of the cultural receptiveness of the project in question (is this how people in this community interact? learn? will this run without outside motivation?). But I would be doing a disservice if I didn’t introduce a tool and how it is being used. I also have a wonderful speaker from Malawi, Limbanazo Kapindula, discussing several mhealth projects there and it should make for some interesting discussion.

What I want to demonstrate, perhaps more than anything else, is the relentless creativity that is taking place in these regions for improving the socioeconomic condition. You would be hard pressed to find more creative approaches and workarounds towards pressing issues anywhere in the world. In this video, I introduce FrontlineSMS briefly mostly to highlight some of its current and potential applications. The video is designed as a conversation starter and will hopefully spur a dialogue on the discussion board.

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