One of the world's largest technology companies wanted to assess the potential of the mobile internet market in rural India before making investment decisions. Our goal was to understand the dynamics of rural India including aspirations, motivations, and the impact and implications of access to information. This project centered around building conceptual models of 4G applications that address the entertainment, health, and entertainment requirements of a rural community.
Note: At the time of conducting this project in 2011, India had only 600 million cellphone subscribers of which only 30% subscribers were from rural India while 68% of the population that lived in rural India. Broadband internet, which was the only kind that was available, had low geographical coverage - only 25% of villages were covered which meant that broadband was practically non-existent in rural India.
# ethnographic study
How might technology augment current services in healthcare, education and entertainment fields?
What will people be using the internet for, and what types of content might they access?
What are the business models that support access to infrastructure, content, and devices?
What platforms and services for education, healthcare, and entertainment can we design in the context of rural India?
How might mobile internet technology affect people’s interactions with each other, and how might their digital interactions be shaped by their contexts?
Early Research and Design
We conducted secondary research to get a basic understanding of the social dynamics of rural India and the limits of the present technologies in servicing these populations. To gain an appreciation of the potential and the nuances of 4G technologies we then interacted with a few subject experts. This was to ensure that the concepts which emerged from the project were rooted in the technology and took advantage of the 4G capabilities. We then brainstormed various ideas which were narrowed down through competitive and feature analysis before building out scenarios.
A small ethnographic study was conducted with residents of a village near Bangalore to test out the first set of ideas. This exercise enabled us to validate and evaluate the earlier assumptions, understand their perspective on education, agriculture, and medical services. Thorough observations we also learnt about how different genders and age groups navigate the use of shared television sets and mobile phones. The team categorised the data collected in relation to the ideas that were generated through the fieldwork
Supplemental Market Research
Given the limited time and resources, a market research firm was employed to profile the residents of two Indian villages in terms of their demographics and lifestyle, as it pertained to entertainment, health, and education. 200 people were targeted for face-to-face interviews which were conducted with the help of a semi-structured questionnaire that I along with 2 sociologists framed. A summary of the findings is below.
Literacy was about 20% among the people interviewed, but the majority of households had one member who was in the current school system. The desire to supplement formal education with other courses was a prominent need.
In the village in North India, respondents were dissatisfied with the regular and the emergency medical facilities available to them. The emergency care available to those in the village in South India was an issue as well.
Television was the mainstay for entertainment with almost all age-groups reporting that they watch TV for about 1 to 2 hours a day. The most common programmed were serials, movies, and news.
Concept testing and Insights
Based on the insights from the survey, such as the money spent on extra tutorials, and the dissatisfaction with emergency health care, a few ideas focused on health and education were generated and tested in the village in North India. However, these ideas were not well received by the test group. On analyzing the disconnect between the survey results and the results from concept testing, we realized that the ideas for health and education clashed with the very rich understanding of the institutions and structures that constrain the health and education systems. Thus, the design goals started to change for all three domain areas. For entertainment, the emphasis was on creating a completely new experience, whereas, for health and education, it was about understanding and addressing a structural gap.
While some ideas were able to pass scrutiny, for others, the process of ideation, block building, mind-mapping, and competitive and feature analysis began again. This second round of ideation took into consideration the different ways in which ideas were perceived and received in each domain area, to ensure that the concepts were grounded by our findings. After the second round of ideation and analysis, nine concepts (three for each domain) were selected. Scenarios and story-boarding for each of the concepts were created so that the concept could be fleshed out.
Ashok has just finished college and is now helping his father in the fields. The tractor has not been working for a while and it's going to take a lot of time and money to fix it. Ashok opens the site on his table, views exploded diagram of the tractor and talks to the expert about the problem.
The expert gives Ashok instructions as they fix the tractor, and guides while watching him. They fix the tractor together and Ashok manages to plow his field just in time for the monsoons.
Kishan and Lata are getting married. One of Kishan's friends logs on to the Vivaah network and starts taking a video of some of his friends dancing. Meanwhile, Lata's friend is recording some of the friends practicing their dance moves. They can even view each other's videos on their phones.
Lata's cousin Meenu, who was unable to travel watches multiple feeds on her IPTV. When the wedding is over, Lata and Kishan compile their version of the video based on the recordings of their friends and families and send it as their wedding video to everyone.
Sanjay is working in the fields when he is bitten by a snake. The nearest doctor is 20 km away and he can only get there by bus. Sanjay whips out his phone and opens up the Fast Aid application.
Fast Aid requests him to take a video of himself making the tourniquet so that through the image detection software, the speed of the video is controlled. Based on his entries, the service provides a shortlist of snakes that could have bitten him and if it is venomous, where he can get the anti-venom