So I attended the event at the iHub about M-Governance Research project. iHub Research’s M-Governance project team were presenting their findings on how people use mobile technology in promoting transparency in water governance. The findings of this study have been documented in their report here:
After the event I got to discuss with Hilda Moraa , one of the researcher about some of the challenges they faced while doing the research. It came out clearly that iHub Research do such research hoping that at the end of it all the developers will take over, interpret the data, do nice apps to help the community at large. The problem is, so far the developers are not interested and they are left wondering why is that so. For a start my basic question to Hilda was, as much as they want the developers to get interested on this, the big question will always remain, are there money opportunities for developers when talking about the mobile and water. Yes there is problem of water, everywhere but a simple mobile app showing the same will not necessarily help the situation and any smart developer would see that there is no money in doing that. So unless a developer can come up with smart way to increase accessibility, people expected to spend money on such app will not see the connection between the use of mobile technology and water.
Does that mean that this is a wrong type of research which needs to be dropped for some other more sexier stuffs? I don’t think so. Actually it is one of the most important research which I think this country needs, as it touches on what one would describe as the foundation of life. According to iHub Blog:
Water is life. Did you know that Kenya is classified as a water scarce country? Sustainable access to safe water is around 60% in the urban setting and drops to as low as 20% in the settlements of the urban poor where half of the urban population lives. In 2007, findings from the National Water Services Strategy indicated that the water sanitation situation is poor with only 57% of households using water from sources that are considered safe. Even though use of mobile is widespread across the country, very few people have access to water related information.
The problem here is the same as the dilemma facing the Media houses in Kenya. Media houses understand the great importance of covering crucial topics like health and water, but they can not do it because the readers and viewers are not interested. They are forced to cover Politics 24/7, because that is where they get the highest traffic.
I think there is hidden opportunity for the developers in such stories but they need to open their eyes wider than they have done so far. Let us go with the story of Mpesa, and its core functionality. Mpesa helps people to transfer money from one location to another, and Safaricom makes money out of helping people to transfer money and charging the commission . We know that getting water is a problem in many places and people end up buying the same. In the process of buying there is always a way to make it easy for people to transact. At the end I think water business is a multi-billion business but I wonder if the developers could see past the water itself?
As for the iHub Research, I think they are doing a great job and they need to continue, even further into most of those areas which a number of people might consider not sexy enough. I would also like to see them targeting broadcasters with their findings to help them get the information out to the general public. The developers will naturally follow once they realize that there are opportunities in such stories.
Note: Hilda Moraa is also the Founder of Myorder Startup