Experiencing Interactive Voice Response (IVR) as a Participatory Medium: The Case of CGNet Swara in India

I’m happy to report that Preeti Mudliar and I have a new paper in Mobile Media and Communication about the CGNet Swara platform for citizen journalism in India. The archival version is available here, behind the Sage paywall.   A ‘pre-publication’ version is hosted right here.

Mudliar, Preeti, and Jonathan Donner. “Experiencing Interactive Voice Response (IVR) as a Participatory Medium: The Case of CGNet Swara in India.” Mobile Media & Communication, 2015. doi:10.1177/2050157915571591.

With the widespread use of mobile phones in the developing world, interactive voice response (IVR) systems are increasingly accessible to people with low literacy and/or limited financial resources. Interest in using IVR systems as a means to increase citizen participation in society has increased. Yet, research exploring the potential of IVRs—with particular affordances, constraints, and norms—to facilitate citizen participation in society remains limited. Drawing on field data gathered as part of a study of CGNet Swara, an IVR-based citizen journalism platform in rural India, we introduce the concept of a “participatory IVR” and undertake a phenomenological inquiry to account for user interactions with the system.

This is the second paper we have written on CGNET Swara. The first (with Bill Thies) is here.

New Issue of ITID: selected papers from ICTD2013

Tapan Parikh (@tap2k) and I co-edited a special issue of the journal Information Technologies and International Development (ITID), entitled Diverse Methods, Complementary Perspectives: Selected Papers from ICTD2013. It was great–and a challenge–to have so many excellent papers to draw on from the conference in Cape Town. Take a look. It’s open access.

From our intro:

Taking these articles together, we gain a fuller picture of the roles and impacts of information access on ongoing development processes, including not only the design and use of specific technological solutions, but also their relationships to specific user, social, and policy contexts. As digital access grows in developing countries, we can imagine that these findings will be relevant to a broad range of both public and private actors seeking to better understand the design, uses, and impacts of ICTs in developing countries.

 We miss you, Gary!


Challenges of representing informal microenterprise on the Internet

My paper with Kuza.com co-founder Andrew Maunder, Beyond the phone number: Challenges of representing informal microenterprise on the Internet,  appears in the new volume, Living Inside Mobile Social Information, edited by James Katz. Thanks to Prof. Katz and to the College of Communication at Boston University for including us in the great workshop, and in the resulting open-access publication. (full book download here)

Donner, J., & Maunder, A. (2014). Beyond the phone number: Challenges of representing informal microenterprise on the Internet. In J. E. Katz (Ed.), Living inside mobile social information (pp. 159–192). Dayton, Ohio: Greyden Press.

“Throughout the developing world, details about even the tiniest businesses are beginning to be captured, processed, stored, and disseminated by the servers and services comprising the global Internet. How (and how successfully) will services on the Internet represent these businesses, when the lines between a small enterprise—an institution or service—and the entrepreneur—a person—supporting it are so blurred?”


Remembering Gary Marsden

(Here is a copy of my addition to the site rememberinggarymarsden.blogspot.com)

My thoughts and sympathies are with Gary Marsden’s family, friends, and colleagues. It was such a shock to hear he had passed away. An amazing, inspirational person has left us much too soon.

I barely knew Gary before I moved to South Africa in 2009, but Gary welcomed me to UCT’s “ICT4D” community as a colleague and we became great friends. Gary, Gil, and their children were wonderful hosts for my family, and we will treasure the long afternoons full of conversation, food, and play our two families spent together.

As a colleague, he was unparalleled, and I miss him already. I learned a great deal by collaborating on writing projects with him, and by working together closely on the ICTD2012 and ICTD2013 conferences.  Up close, I came to appreciate how Gary was passionate, progressive, and yet also pragmatic in his work in the field. You could count on Gary and his students to help the communities they worked with “build stuff” that really worked. In our field of ICTD, that’s no easy task, but Gary had a particularly nuanced and powerful balance of optimism and humility, of patience and sensitivity that allowed him to harness the complexities of intermingling technologies and community development.

The abundance and intensity of Gary’s compassion, insight, empathy, and kind spirit remains reflected in the network of remarkable colleagues and scholars Gary helped nurture in South Africa and beyond. Since coming to Cape Town I have been so fortunate to work with many of Gary’s former and current graduate students. I will continue learn from each of them as I learned from Gary, and in so doing will have some way to stay close to his energy, and to continue be inspired and guided by his perspectives.

A talk at the University of Jyväskylä: Everybody’s Internet – Mobile data in the developing world

Here is the video from my talk at a recent conference on mobile telephony in the developing world organised by Laura Stark and colleagues at the University of Jyväskylä (Finland) 23-25 May 2013. This was a fascinating conference and I am grateful to the organizers for hosting me, and for putting the three keynotes online.

The talk details some of the ideas I am working on about how ICT4D/M4D and New Media Studies might best approach/understand mobile internet use in the developing world. One key, I think, is to evaluate mobile use as part of people’s shifting digital repertoires, rather than trying to theorize mobile (or mobile internet) use in isolation. On his blog John Postill posted a great rundown of and reflections on the main points in my talk. Hop over there for further conversation.

In a separate post, he also details his talk from the same event –  Mobile Phones and Actual Changes in the Global South. His remarks cautioned us against the pressure to describe and document sociotechnical change currently underway, and invited instead reflection on the near past, on change already observable, as a good place for generative theory. It was a great experience to integrate and discuss the comments from John Postill and the third keynote from Julie Soleil Archambault.  We had a nice dialogue across the keynotes, mixing between instrumental “4d” frames and broader discussions of appropriation, and shifted focus from near past to current complexities to some near-future projections  (mobile data is coming….). Across the three keynotes, and in combination with all the fascinating papers presented in panel sessions, I think the conference captured the state-of-the discussion on mobiles in the Global South.

By the way, early summertime in Jyvaskyla is beautiful, and the days are quite long. This was taken after dinner, I think….