OpenIDEO is an open innovation platform. Join our global community to solve big challenges for social good. Sign Up / Login or Learn more

Sona - information within reach [Update 12/22 - Final question & reponses to expert Feedback]

Provide a “go to” call-based, public information service along with curated health, public safety, and education modules.

Photo of SL Rao

Written by

EXPLAIN YOUR IDEA

The Internet is changing how we access and consume information; from DIY tutorials to learning new languages, we can learn from experts within a moments notice. However, this model leaves behind the most vulnerable population, poor communities who don’t have access to the Internet. We are proposing to deliver a call-based service aimed at urban slum dwellers with cellular devices. The service will have two modes: active and passive. The “active” mode is when a user actively seeks out the information by calling in; this active mode will cover information about public services, making it available to all. The “passive” mode of the service will include two different sub-services: 1. Emergency alert broadcasting 2. Curated voice-based informationals that are built, in partnership with educators and local NGOs, to disseminate information that slum dwellers will benefit from. The curated information will be a progression of core knowledge, mainly engineering (structures and materials), health (preventive, afflicted), and environmental science, presented periodically the way one might consume education material from a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) in a developed country. As the service grows we will be able to see trends on information accessed by the public. This data will be shared with urban decision makers to supplement their strategies affecting city residents and influence public spending.

WHO BENEFITS?

The main beneficiaries are slum dwellers in Dhaka, Bangladesh who can access information they need to adapt to climate change and population growth. NGOs working in Dhaka will be able to reach out to more people with educational information through our service. Urban decision makers will have access to data relaying salient needs of slum dwellers, so they can better focus their efforts. Better demographic data will help drive better public services and smarter funding decisions.

HOW DOES YOUR IDEA TAKE INTO ACCOUNT THE CONTEXT OF URBAN SLUMS AND CLIMATE CHANGE?

Our idea presents a solution to connect a rapidly growing city together in a time when its ecosystem is quickly changing due to environmental and industrial changes. The mobile information service will create awareness of these pressures, as well as equip those in the city with the knowledge to prepare for imminent impacts to people’s health and home. Together with the message broadcast system and the DIY education material, people can begin to take control of their own life and future.

IN-COUNTRY EXPERIENCE

  • Yes, for two or more years

EXPERTISE

  • I’ve worked in a sector related to my idea for at least two years

GEOGRAPHIC FOCUS

  • Yes

TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOURSELF

We're a team of a designer, a researcher and a business consultant from different industries - tech to non-profit. One of our team members, Tazin Shadid, is the founder and CEO of a non profit based in Bangladesh working in slums of Dhaka - http://spreeha.org/

IS THIS A NEW OR RECENT IDEA FOR YOU OR YOUR ORGANIZATION? HOW DOES IT DIFFER FROM WHAT YOU ARE ALREADY DOING?

This will be a new idea for the team and our partner, Spreeha. Currently, Spreeha community mobilizers go door-to-door in slum areas to provide important health services. Our idea will help the organization scale beyond certain locales by mobilizing additional critical services, in order to help the slum dwellers become more resilient to the effects of climate change. Through handset communication, we can solve one of Spreeha's major issues, which is that they can only reach ~20,000 people (~5,000 families) when they estimate ~80,000 families live in the area that they service. Scaling beyond the slums that Spreeha currently works in will create a larger impact on the slum population across Dhaka.

HOW IS YOUR IDEA DIFFERENT FROM OTHER SIMILAR INITIATIVES? WHAT ARE YOU DOING DIFFERENTLY? WHAT UNIQUE ADVANTAGES DO YOU HAVE?

First and foremost, we will provide a wide range of call-based information from healthcare to emergency alerts, to cite a few examples. Secondly, there's a component of both on-demand and broadcast service, reducing the barrier to entry for people to access this public information. Most importantly, our biggest advantage is that our partner, Spreeha, has built a strong and trusting relationship with these communities for the last eight years. Our idea will be to augment Spreeha's existing services, which people love and depend on, thereby reducing the time to implement this project. There are a couple of similar initiatives in Dhaka. Another organization has a mobile-based service for pregnant women which they can subscribe to for weekly tips through text messages. Their model is a paid service, but the cost is minimal. However, the adoption and usage of this service is low at this time. Again, another initiative similar to ours is a health information service provided by mobile operators and these are too expensive for slum dwellers.

WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR UNANSWERED QUESTIONS ABOUT YOUR IDEA?

1. What policies exist that allow for non-government institutions to broadcast city-wide messages for emergencies? 2. What services exist to set up a toll-free number and server/data storage system in Dhaka? What redundancy methods are appropriate for this model and geographic area? 3. What partners exist for translation services of our education content? 4. What topics interest people the most for piloting our content, specifically for the curated education material? 5. What would motivate someone to seek out this education material: money, cost, time, and/or accessibility/travel?

WHY DO YOU THINK THE PROBLEM YOUR IDEA SOLVES FOR HASN'T BEEN SOLVED YET?

A high-tech solution doesn't match the reality of the context in Dhaka, and a more holistic approach will be needed to mobilize the residents. The traditional approach to education has been framed in the context of a physical classroom. In the slums of Dhaka, physical classrooms and the support around education cannot handle the growth rate of this population. Additionally, demographic data around the population is difficult to obtain in Dhaka, preventing the city's providers from accurately estimating demands and budget to support them. We hope our service will support data collection.

HOW HAS YOUR IDEA CHANGED BASED ON FEEDBACK FROM YOUR COMMUNITY?

The community is in bigger need of a single source of information than we had previously anticipated. Today people are seeking out services in physical spaces, which have a fixed capacity for handling requests on a daily basis. We’ll need to get the highest priority content out there as soon as possible to alleviate some of these critical needs. For those calling into report events, we will need to ensure that our system respects the anonymity of those callers. Our data collection needs to maintain the utmost anonymity while at the same time capturing enough data points to serve up to partner organizations who can better handle these specific concerns.

WHAT WOULD YOU ULTIMATELY LIKE TO ACHIEVE WITH THIS IDEA? WHAT IS YOUR NEXT STEP TO GET THERE?

Inspire slum dwellers to educate themselves and their community on topics of climate change, environmental damage, and globalization affecting health and wellness. Global warming will have an impact on their region and the people will need to be mobilized with the right skills to prepare, adapt, and overcome those obstacles. Flooding will continue to plague this area and while a small portion of the population can react to the effects of flooding, that will not be enough to sustain their lifestyles in the long run. Our hope is to empower slum communities with decisions they make everyday, but most importantly with their future ones.

How does your idea connect to the broader system of the city where you plan to implement?

People will be able to access information they need through Sona that is normally provided by disparate sources across the city; often these information sources are outside the proximity of a slum dweller’s locale. The connection Sona can create may allow for NGO’s, and other non profits, to reach a wider audience with their own curated content and services, thus spreading a positive impact across the city. Spreeha, which provides health services, can only handle a limited number of people given the doctor's’ time and the capacity of their health center. Through Sona, doctors can make preventive information available to their customers on the mobile service as well as to others who might not necessarily fall within their typical service area. We can gather data about what kind of information is being accessed and requested based on demographics which can hopefully lead to more efficient budgetary spending by both NGOs and government agencies to improve services for slum dwellers.
View more

Attachments (2)

UserExperienceMap2.png

This experience map shows the experience of Anzar, another slum dweller who dials into Sona to get information he cares about. He is able to use the information at home to keep his family safe.

UserExperienceMap1.png

This experience map details the experience of a slum dweller, Shahida, who comes across Sona and then becomes a regular user of the service.

12 comments

Join the conversation:

Comment
Photo of Chioma Ume
Team

Hi SL,
Below are some feedback and questions from our experts. We look forward to you responses! 

This does seem like it might provide a useful service in terms of reaching populations whose needs are maybe not being addressed through digital platforms. In terms of feasibility, have you done any demand testing and assumption testing to better understand if people would use this service?

How do you propose to make this a sustainable business model? Can the data you collect eventually be sold to cities in order to improve services? Or will you charge users a fee to call in to the passive voice line? Who owns the mobile phones within families? Does every member of the family have a mobile phone or is it limited to one per household? If so does the whole family have access or are women and girls in anyway excluded from access? How do you ensure the information you provide can be trusted and is the truth? How do you ensure users don't receive false information? Or come to take the system for granted in case it crashes/fails? Can you crowd source emergency information?

Photo of SL Rao
Team

Hi Chioma,

Sorry for the delayed response. The phone penetration is pretty high. In most families both the parents have phones. In some cases older kids (college/ high school) have phones as well. Most of these are really cheap phones that cost about $10 for a brand new one. Used feature phones can be a few bucks.

As for the demand, our team member Tazin had the opportunity to research the need for the information we're providing. There is definitely a demand for information around health, employment and legal information. We're hoping to continue to add to that list with different kinds of information that will be useful in urban slums.

Photo of SL Rao
Team

In terms of the business model, we investigated a few options. Talking to one of the largest telco operators in Bangladesh we found two options, if we chose to go this way:
1. Implement a short code, for which we will have to go through the government but we will have full ownership over the service ad we can work with any operator.
2. The second option is go with only one telco, this case they will own the service and we will provide the content.

Both of these will be a little expensive but I think there is value in returning to these options when we have a large user base to partner with the telco.

There is an opportunity to team up with Spreeha and other NGOs providing services in the slums of Dhaka and roping in a membership based system in the pilot period where the users will pay less than 10 Taka (10 cents) to have unlimited access to Sona. Organizations like Spreeha have realized that people in these areas tend to disregard free services. Spreeha has a similar system for their health services. As a part of that package we can provide them with a membership to Sona. As the user base grows and we have the opportunity to collect and visualize the data we can look into making it available to government agencies for a small cost.

Another option we have been thinking about is introducing sponsored content, which will go through rigorous evaluation from our team. This sponsored content can come from NGOs that typically generate information and government agencies looking to broadcast information. We will have to carefully evaluate this option and to test it before making it part of our service so that people can tell the difference between sponsored and curated content.

Photo of Eric Aker
Team

Concerning the quality of information, we will build in a quality review into the process before making it available to our customers. We will put out calls for information areas that need to be developed and NGOs will be allowed to curate the content and submit it to us. We will review the content and if it meets our quality bar the information will be published on our platform. Preventative and awareness information deals with certainty and a high degree of contextual data, so it must be structured clearly. By partnering with educators and health providers we can vet the information before our customers gain access to it. We don't want to lose the trust of the people, so we will be especially careful around the broadcast information. We will partner with key government agencies and NGOs for this type of  information.

In the event of a system crash, should the primary redundant system(s) fail, then the secondary system would be setup in such a way that it's hosted outside of our normal facilities. We would likely leverage a telco, setup on larger infrastructure, to support the broadcast communication and communicate out to the user base about when the passive services would be restored. In all likelihood, losing all backup systems would be a very infrequent occurrence, and the main idea of Sona is to enable people with information which they can use to prepare themselves for the future.

Photo of Chioma Ume
Team

Hi! Thanks for the detailed responses! It's great that you can leverage your connection to Spreeha. Do you expect for your team or for Spreeha to take the lead on implementing this idea? Thanks - and happy new year! 

Photo of SL Rao
Team

Hi Chioma,

We see it with us starting off with the content curation to create a v1 of the concept. We will collaborate with Spreeha so we can rope it into their health services for existing customers and test the concept with the families their currently working with. We will be able to get feedback on our auditory interface and content through the v1 so we can expand the program and partner with more NGOs. With our team member Tazin on ground in Dhaka right now it's easy for us start the prototype process (Tazin is a design researcher). Eric and I will have the opportunity to dig deeper into the technology, content curation, translating the content etc.

Photo of SL Rao
Team

Happy new year to you too! 

Photo of SL Rao
Team

Hi Chioma,

The team has been thinking about the information curation a lot with the news about the Free basics service that's generating a lot of criticism in India. Through the curation process we don't want to lose aspects of the information. Since the whole concept is based on making the knowledge of the internet available to those who don't have access to it either because of the devices they carry or the medium in which it is presented we want to make sure we are able to provide content that can support their interest in different topics to help slum communities build self reliance in the face of climate change. We wouldn't want to end up become gate keepers, preventing information from getting to the people. Curation of content through local partnerships was our way of ensuring that we can do our best to ensure bias free content. We're open to other ideas as well. If you've seen products that do this well, we'd love to hear about them too.

View all comments