Supporting NGO intermediation with internet systems : comparing mobile and web examples for reaching low income urban youth of Cape Town

Meissner, Frederick Wilhelm (2014)

Includes bibliographical references.


Intermediaries are necessary to overcome challenges of Internet use for many users in the developing world. However the need for co-presence with intermediaries can be inconvenient for beneficiaries, and the process is time consuming for intermediaries. We work with an NGO programme called Link which wanted to expose high school students from low income urban communities of Cape Town to Internet career guidance content, but did not have the staff power for regular in-person meetings with all of the students they wanted to reach. We present Internet-supported intermediation, in which intermediaries create a source of content that is tailored to beneficiaries and is accessible using the most appropriate Internet technologies for the context. We discuss the use of two technologies, the web as accessed by conventional computers (preferred by the NGO), and the mobile Internet accessed through low end feature phones. In the target demographic the mobile Internet is very popular for entertainment, especially because of low cost for communication via instant messaging, but the web is more frequently used for tasks outside of entertainment. Using an Action Research approach we implement two Internet systems to support Link intermediation, one a conventional website and the other a text interface suitable for access through mobile instant messaging. We evaluate the systems to determine whether they increase the impact of Link intermediation, and compare the usage of each to determine relative adoption of the technologies for a task outside of entertainment. Students demonstrated capable but slow website use in controlled evaluations, but almost no use occurred outside of our presence. Most students were experienced mobile Internet users, and some began unsolicited use of the mobile system and demonstrated it to their peers. In eight months of simultaneous deployment website users demonstrated minimal engagement, while mobile system users made repeated visits at all hours of the day from varied locations such as homes spread across the city. Students’ most frequent use of computers took place at venues where many users competed, and they prioritised other activities over the website during that access. Mobile use could take place when these restrictions did not apply. The mobile system demonstrated the benefit of Internet support for intermediation: the number of students who viewed career guidance content through it no longer affected the Link team’s effort, while students no longer had to travel to a single meeting place to access content. The consistent higher use of the mobile system than the website shows that the mobile Internet is suitable for non-entertainment use cases by low income urban youth.