Updated: Oct 13, 2022
by kate mcalpine
As part of establishing Citizens 4 Change (a community of East African citizens who protect children from harm) I have worked with my team to develop a hybrid tech platform that uses off the shelf apps to enable us to learn from the wisdom of the crowd. Having built a minimum viable product (more about its functionality here) this post reflects on what I wish I had known before & considers what I will do moving forward.
The tech’s potential lies in its ability to
Use SMS messaging to listen to a big and diverse crowd of citizens who protect children from harm.
Tap into the wisdom of the crowd so that we learn how individuals resolve the dilemmas they face when taking action to keep children safe.
Aggregate the knowledge and problem-solving capabilities contained within the crowd of child protectors.
We plan to use that knowledge to inform the wider eco-system of government, development partners and child protection practitioners working to address violence against children.
There is a reason this hasn’t been done before.
Just because something is possible, it doesn’t make it easy. Yes, off the shelf apps can be adapted on a shoestring to build a bespoke tech platform. But it takes time, is frustrating, and causes multiple moments of profound self-doubt.
There are many bulk SMS message services in East Africa but none that enable two-way dialogue with people. None that also allow for complete control of survey design & targeting. None that enables tracking of an individuals’ change in attitude & behaviour over time. And none that enables aggregation of all individual responses so that group wisdom can emerge.
Building backwards is more challenging that building for the future.
SMS messaging that uses data (The OTT services that we know as Whats App, iMessage etc) is the future. But traditional SMS is what our target group in rural and underserved regions of East Africa require now. Data is expensive. Telecoms networks are patchy. Data literacy is nascent.
Most of our users are laggards in their adoption of technology. The tech needs to resonate with their comfort levels. Our programmers’ strengths lie in designing for the future; and it has been challenging for them to design around users’ needs now; whilst also building the functionality that would enable us to slowly nudge users towards greater adoption of data.
The brief will always expand.
As a client you don’t really know the extent of what you want until you see the range of things that are possible. And as you want more the brief expands. As the brief expands the programmers come up against more design challenges; and the brief expands even more.
Managing one’s own comfort and budget about an ever expanding brief is a financial challenge; an exercise in risk management; and a relational journey to manage expectations of all parties.
Next time I would…
Recognise that tech development is largely emergent; you can’t predict what obstacles you will come up against nor where you need to pivot;
But intentionally pause at each pivot — reflect & document as a team on why we are changing direction & the costs & benefits of that decision.
Lower expectations — my own; those of seed investors; those of the team — that we can get the tech to seamlessly function straight off the bat.