The App is landing – collecting stories though apps in Rwanda

Published by Tony Quinlan on

SenseMaker Collector app for iPad/iPhone in use in Rwanda – and it’s easy to use and effective

I’m currently in Rwanda, supporting a GirlHub project collecting stories across the country. We’re preparing for a bigger project later in the year, but the past few days have been getting some of the team up to speed and testing how we’re going to gather the narratives.

Field collection of narrative is always fun – we were doing it on paper in Bangladesh before Christmas and previous projects have seen it done via websites, voice recorders and laptops. On one previous occasion we had a very rudimentary app on early iPod Touches.

This week, however, was special – we got to field-test an early release of the SenseMaker Collector app for iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch.

It’s something that I’ve been anticipating for a little while and I can report from the field – it’s brilliant!  (I know, I’m not the most neutral observer, but still…).  For our project, the Cognitive Edge team were great, getting us an early release so that we could test on a couple of devices as we set up this project and prepare for others later this year.

After a day of training around the main concepts – why narrative matters, why we gather large volumes of narrative and why people tell us what their stories mean themselves (self-signification) – we produced paper versions for our young research team to test with their colleagues at GirlHub.

Given that the previous week they had had an excellent and in-depth introduction to the challenges of quantitative and qualitative research methods, there were a few early misconceptions – particularly around the temptation to ask lots of follow-up questions (as is usual in qualitative research).

At the same time, we produced an iPad and an iPad Mini with the new app installed.  While many people are familiar with iPads and iPhones that wasn’t the case with our four young researchers in Rwanda – Chance, Aurore, Sandrine and Jolie. In a single day, therefore, they’d been thrown all the new SenseMaker concepts, asked to carry out a new form of research and then given a new, unknown piece of technology on which to do it.  (Bear in mind that the swiping, etc that many of us intuitively use on our phones was alien to them.)

The next morning we headed out to schools around Kigali.  There was an understandable reticence initially to be given the technology – paper looked to be easier.  Which lasted only until the first interview was complete.  After that, everyone wanted to be the one to use the iPads.

Each interviewer using an iPad came back raving a) about how much easier the SenseMaker research approach to interviewing was compared to qualitative interview and b) how intuitive and easy it was to use the app.  I did manage to capture a short video of two of them singing its praises that I sent back to the app development team, but sending it in-house is one thing, posting it for public consumption something else altogether – so I’m not sharing it here.

The app was robust and simple to use.  On this occasion we used the iPad’s keyboard to enter stories – it was an early version and future ones will allow for audio input.  Stories were stored on the machine until we were within wifi range, at which point a simple touch on the screen despatched them all to Cognitive Edge’s servers.

Every time anyone asked to be walked through a process – capturing the story, signifying it, uploading the stories – the answer was self-evident as soon as they actually tried it.  As far as I’m concerned, I couldn’t have hoped for a better test – strange technology, new approach, rural environment, non-sophisticated participants* – and the app came up trumps.

The iPad looks like giving us two days of field collection off a single battery charge, with each interview taking about 30 minutes – a great start to the project.  More field capture is taking place this week – and we’ll be looking at the data results soon.

All in all, exciting progress – I can’t wait to get to grips with the app on some of the upcoming projects in Ethiopia, Colombia and to open it up for people to contribute on some of the bigger open-source story projects I’ve got in mind for later in the year…

Here you can see Aurore sitting under a tree with a pupil at a school high on a hill, the iPad on her lap. (Still in its shiny cellophane wrapper to protect against the sudden storms that tended to appear out of the blue.)

*When I say “non-sophisticated” I mean that we were working with students at primary and secondary schools who are bright but do not have access to Internet and computer equipment. They were smart and wise, but not tech-literate.