Taarifa: Go Big Or Go Home

Demonstrating any piece of software regardless of its inception is a hard task. You have to understand the group that you’re pitching to, even if ultimately, they aren’t the end user and have little technical inclination. It helps if the group you’re pitching to is enthusiastic. When pitching Taarifa today the group was enthusiastic, engaged quickly and wanted to participate further. I spoke my previous blog about having Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt, though some of those concerns were allayed, some still remain.

The group to which software was demonstrated was a mixed bunch, comprising of field inspectors to managers in charge of implementing monitoring programs. Phones were unboxed the Hauwei (Lady?) Gaga and distributed to the workshop participants. They navigated to the dev.taarifa.org site and proceeded to make reports. There were two universal complaints; the keyboard screen was too small (therefore typing was difficult) and the Android system was using autocomplete . Users did not like when they were typing in something unrecognised by the system that it changed what they were typing, so they stopped. Secondly the feature took up valuable space on the screen. Barring these hardware related issues, participants were able to take photographs and make reports using the custom form provided especially for the workshop.

After this workshop we moved to field trails. After meeting the local administrator for the district our group of myself a colleague and an IT specialist from the Ministry of Local Government demonstrated Taarifa and it worked wonderfully. Taking on the district inspector and other local government officials our convoy delved into the countryside, visiting CDD (Community Driven Development) projects. The idea of CDD is that the local community raises money and the government either matches it or improves it by an order of magnitude. These projects then create a business selling or renting goods and services. Here we hit our first issue; network coverage. I can safely say that the EDGE network isn’t capable of uploading photos in any usable manner. This was expected, though due to constraints of time, a contingency wasn’t planned.

On our third and final visit the stars aligned and with 2 bars of 3G the reporting worked and worked very well. Visiting a local charcoal selling project (making around 100kg a day) the inspectors where able to file reports in a consistent manner without paper and repeat form filling. They really liked it, and wish to use it further. They like it so much that we’re now going to Northern Uganda, near the border with South Sudan to trial the project there.

What have we learnt? Taarifa has performed well in the face of an expectant and demanding crowd. The progression depends on a few factors both technical and operationally. The technical factors are ‘simple’, fix a few bugs, add an improved export functionality and allow reports to be submitted when ‘offline’. Bug fixing and exporting requires time, the offline feature is both time and a bit of HMTL5/Javascript knowledge. Not exactly low hanging fruit but it’s reachable. On the operations side we now need to consider how the Ministry (or other government agencies) host and support the project. Friday is dedicated to this, to ensure that what we’re doing isn’t a flash in the plan but that it transforms in a fully sustainable and used system.

Written and submitted from the Kampala Sheraton, Kampala, Uganda (0.3145283,32.5828674)

Author: Mark Iliffe

Traveller, Programmer, Geospatialist and Motorcyclist

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