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The number in my pocket: the power of mobile technology for the exchange of indigenous knowledge
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The number in my pocket: the power of mobile technology for the exchange of indigenous knowledge


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Conference paper presented at the Indigenous Knowledge Technology Conference this November 2011 in Windhoek, Namibia.

Conference paper presented at the Indigenous Knowledge Technology Conference this November 2011 in Windhoek, Namibia.

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  • 1. The Number in my Pocket: the Power of Mobile Technology for the Exchange of Indigenous Knowledge
 Elizabeth Greyling and Niall McNulty
  • 2. Introduction/Background • The global information economy is driven by the Internet • The African information community has limited access to ICTs for reasons of cost, accessibility, etc. • Local African content on the web is low due to capacity to record, transfer and disseminate information • Limited role of heritage and information practitioners as providers and gate-keepers of African information • Limited buy-in to digital resources by local communities, retarding of digital skills development and socio-economic transformation
  • 3. Introduction/Background - continued • Increase in the use of mobile devices in urban, peri-urban and rural areas along city boundaries • Mobile technologies are currently being developed for a wide range of applications, with functionalities to allow potential users to interact • Libraries moved focus towards patron-focused services, in particular the provision of digital information material • Ulwazi Programme - a micro-level intervention that combines IKS and appropriate technology to address the digital divide on the communities’ terms, prompted by their own experience of their reality
  • 4. Goals/Objectives • To enable local communities to become part of the global information society • To make African stories part of the global information economy • To build capacity in digital communication skills • To make Libraries and Information services relevant in the quest for social transformation • To promote community participation in local government structures
  • 5. The Ulwazi model • Three cornerstones on which the programme rests: • Community - who is the most important member in the partnership • Library - who is the anchor partner providing security, support and continuity • Technology in use – the most dynamic aspect of the programme, using open source software and social media
  • 6. The Community • We regard the community as the most important member in the partnership because: • Through volunteer field-workers, the community records their own knowledge in a community-specific way, adding an inalienable, imprescriptible value to it • Participants communicate with each other in a community-specific way, enriching social interaction processes and thereby building social capital • Social networks thus established promote the attainment of economic outcomes • Community participation - contributes to the protection of local knowledge
  • 7. Community participation
  • 8. The Library • Anchor partner – stability of position, both within the community and within the government structure through which it is established; providing infrastructure • Providing training, supporting technology and data collection • By virtue of the profession, the library provides content management and information skills • Cultural and historical data is curated in a socially distributed fashion, as a ‘living document’, a ‘work in progress’ • The library is responsible for programme review and re-direction • Outreach function is in step with UN Millennium Development Goals and the WSIS Action Plans that speak to access, capacity-building and development of local content in the vernacular
  • 9. Training
  • 10. Technologies used • We use a combination of open-source and social media applications for archival and heritage purposes • A conscious decision was made to use open source software based on availability, licensing fees and a common philosophy of sharing. These include: • LAMP server hosts our website • MediaWiki used to manage the Community Memory database • WordPress used for blogging (main programme blog and project specific blogs) • Creative Commons Share and Share Alike Licence • Social media applications are used to create new entry points for the programme. These include: • Facebook, Twitter & Flickr
  • 11. How it works • Potential volunteers are identified through consultation with local community leaders • Training is then provided to volunteer field-workers in digital media, oral history and ICT skills • They go back to their communities and collect stories, adding them to a collaborative website hosted by the Ulwazi Programme • Field-workers also transfer skills to interested community members • The system is open - anyone can access the information and add or edit a story
  • 12. Going mobile – the number in my pocket • Access to the internet via mobile phones is more common in South Africa than via desktop connections and most new phones come with a basic browser installed • We felt we needed to develop a way to make the information in the Community Memory available on mobile phones and also to explore ways of collecting heritage resources through mobile phones • As phase one, the Community Memory database was adapted to work on mobile phones • A scaled down version of the interface was created, with limited graphics and functionality; a script was installed on the server which automatically detects when a mobile phone accesses it and which then serves the scaled down version to the user • Currently , eight percent of visitors access the website through a mobile device
  • 13. Analytics report: Mobile
  • 14. The mobile field-worker • As an extension of the already successful field-worker programme, we are thinking of implementing a mobile field-worker programme • Interested members of the community would register with the Ulwazi Programme, and would receive training and clear instructions on how to conduct a mobile submission • Using a free Gmail address, field-workers could submit an article, audio-recording or image via email from their mobile phone • By setting up a unique email address on our server,, and assigning it publishing rights in the database, all emails sent to this address could be converted into entries in the database • The subject of the email becomes the title of the page, the content of the email becomes the copy of the page and any attached media inserted into the page • For users without a browser on their phone an SMS gateway could potentially be developed, which converts the text message to an email
  • 15. Technology in use
  • 16. Analytics report: Visitors
  • 17. Analytics: Global
  • 18. Analytics report: Location
  • 19. Analytics report: Search Terms • Umemelo - traditional 21st birthday celebration • Umbembesco - a Zulu traditional ceremony that forms part of ilobola negotiations • Izaga - Zulu proverbs • Zulu houses - information on traditional building practices • Izinganekwane - traditional Zulu children’s stories • Indigenous games - a category devoted to South African indigenous games • Umbondo - Umbondo is one of the stages of lobola
  • 20. Results • We have proven that specific technologies for recording and uploading of Indigenous Knowledge in an ordered, structured and controlled manner can be done • Currently around 700 articles, half of them in Zulu (the local vernacular), provide online access to local Indigenous Knowledge • Web analytics show a steady increase in visitors - from Durban, the rest of South Africa and internationally • Most of our visitors arrive through search engines such as Google which suggests that people are searching for local information online • At a recent pilot project run at township and rural schools, the mobile fieldworker concept was met with great enthusiasm and easily mastered • Over the past year, we have seen a steady increase in access via mobile devices
  • 21. Lessons learnt • High turnover of fieldworkers • Incentives sustain interest • Communication with fieldworkers problematic • Training is a slow process • The programme is labour intensive • Community people are keen to participate
  • 22. Limitations • We are practitioners providing a service in a public library environment, relying on available research which leads to assumptions about ICT understanding and usage patterns • Low levels of ICT literacy and understanding of the Internet in communities make it difficult to explain the objectives of the programme fully • Despite efforts from the fieldworkers, participants have a poor grasp of intellectual property rights (Creative Commons) which limits their understanding of the implications of their participation in the programme
  • 23. Potential outcomes • Preservation and management of local Indigenous Knowledge • Economic empowerment through skills development • Enhancement of self-esteem and self-confidence impacting on advancement of social capital • Knowledge provision carries the seed to behaviour changes and informed decision-making leading to social transformation • Collaboration and knowledge sharing bring about cross-cultural understanding and tolerance • Public libraries in Africa re-affirm their relevance in a digital era that threatens to render them redundant.
  • 24. 
 Ulwazi Programme 
 Thank you for your attention!
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