What we learned at the DSO community bootcamp

5 cities; 150 first-time smartphone users; professional research methodology; constant observation and iteration. The Digital Skills Observatory is a sizable undertaking, worthy of the collective attention and hard work of the individuals that have stepped forward to take part.

In January, we held our inaugural community bootcamp, where our first task as a community was to lay the groundwork for thinking about and contributing to this project. In a room full of experience and talent, there is no shortage of information and ideas. The challenge we faced (and still do) is in harmonizing our thinking and process so that we can learn and solve problems effectively as group.

Kenya Financial Diaries

The Digital Skills Observatory is largely inspired by the Kenya Financial Diaries, a research program which documented the financial stories, challenges, and aspirations of 300 households in Kenya. The Diaries provide essential context, and, fortunately, the same team from Digital Divide Data (DDD) that conducted and analyzed research for the project is an integral part of the Digital Skills Observatory community.

Several members of the DDD field research team were present at the bootcamp, including Lilyan Wekesa and Naomi Kiiru, who shared their first-hand accounts of observing the saving and spending behaviours of research study respondents. Listening to their detailed stories,we the DSO community got to understand the sensitivity of data and its analysis, and how its exposure to respondents during a study can change their behaviour prematurely.

Their stories set the mood for others to share thoughts and experiences and reminded us all to think about the real people when building each aspect of this study.

Asking Important Questions

By observing usage patterns and experiences of first-time smartphone users in Kenya, we hope to answer the questions that are the backbone of this project.

Immediately, in such a large, varied group, there was a need for a baseline understanding of phrases like “Digital Skills” and “Digital Financial Skills”. In fact, by the end of the weekend, there was a high demand for a glossary to keep everyone on the same page as we tackle such complex ideas.

Lead by DDD’s Duncan Washington, the group explored the landscape of Digital Financial Skills in a collaborative fashion that will be useful in workshops we may host throughout the year with project participants. The result: DFS is more than Mobile Money.

First steps

With an understanding of the richness of DFS, and a sense for how each person in the room hopes to contribute to the project, the group started to tease out some of project’s details.

Everything was scrutinized (and will continue to be):

  • We analyzed and discussed the project’s driving research questions.
  • Stemming from them, we started to craft hypotheses that help us answer specific aspects of each.
  • Finally, we attempted to design “interventions”: convenings or other opportunities in which software prototypes, workshops, or curriculum can be administered to participants.

Eventually, the group began to understand the difficulty in research design, so DDD’s Joash Mango led an enthusiastic discussion about research methods and statistics.

Where to next?

We now have dozens of eager Open Researchers, Curriculum Designers, Software Prototypers, Community Managers, and everything in between to carry this project forward over the course of the year. We still need to:

  • Refine our research questions.
  • Write a set of relevant hypotheses to answer the research questions. These hypotheses may be hierarchical, providing an iterative approach to our observation process, and a learning curve for participants.
  • Prepare ownership and logistics for intervention events at each research site.
  • Design our first intervention, which will teach participants about smartphones and DFS, while giving us an opportunity to learn how they do so.
  • Agree on how to record and report findings.

In typical Mozilla fashion, this diverse group of professionals and volunteers agreed that the discussion should continue online to further whittle away at these large design challenges posed by the project.

Catch up with us on github, the research blog, slack, or the community mailing list to see where we’re at. We plan on hosting discussion and posting progress whenever possible.

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