Designing effective mobile services

Alvaro Valverde, Oxfam GB's Private Sector Adviser on ICTs, was interviewed by Accenture for a Vodafone report on: 

"The potential of mobile technology to deliver economic, social and environmental benefits for farmers"

Read Alvaro's contribution below, or click on the image for the full report.

Designing Effective Mobile Services

Mobile agricultural services are becoming more valuable for development because they can increase the reach, while reducing the costs, of implementing livelihoods programmes. In agriculture they can play a key part in improving access to knowledge and farming practices and linking farmers to markets.

In designing and implementing mobile services, we have found that partnership is central to success. This avoids duplication, increases efficiencies and is more likely to promote behavioural change. Governments must be on board from the start to create the right policy environment, while the involvement of mobile network operators provides the drive to roll services out at scale. Information services will succeed or fail depending on the quality, relevance and timeliness of their content, so working with the right content providers is also critical.

It is essential to really understand the true needs of farmers and to create simple-to-use services, based on human-centred design principles. This sounds obvious but these principles aren’t as widely applied as they should be.

We also need to address hidden constraints for farmers in emerging markets, including financial, cultural and technical barriers. Some of these we’re just beginning to understand. For example, time constraints are a particular barrier to women working in agriculture because they also shoulder most of the burden of running their households and taking care of family members. This can severely restrict their ability to act on new information to improve their farming practices and limit uptake of mobile agricultural services.

A paradigm shift is needed to move us to a sustainable agricultural system, in which we can increase productivity while protecting the environment. For that we need behaviour change on a huge scale, from the political economy to transformation in practices. Achieving this is extremely time and knowledge intensive. Mobile agricultural services could and should play an important role in making this systemic change possible.

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