VIRTUAL AGRICULTURAL TRAINING INSTITUTE
Rapid Ethnography ~ Workshop Facilitation ~ Prototyping
Digital Green is an innovative organization headquartered in New Delhi that teaches farmers throughout rural India and Africa how to share farming best practices and new techniques using community-created videos. As Global Information Engagement Program Fellows at University of Michigan, I and two partners worked with Digital Green to overhaul their model for training community leaders in organizing meetings and mediating group discussions about the videos. After working remotely from Ann Arbor, Michigan for five months, we traveled to India for the summer to do contextual user research and prototype a training system usable by thousands of farmers and Digital Green employees with a wide range of technical skills, literacy levels, and infrastructure constraints.
Changing Directions on Arrival
While working remotely from Ann Arbor, we began prototyping a web-based training system for spreading resources and sharing knowledge among the Digital Green network. We realized shortly after arriving in India that our initial proposal simply wasn’t going to work for training 10,000 new community workers. They spoke dozens of languages and many had low or no written literacy skills. Some had never touched a computer or accessed the web before. Upon realizing our overestimation of people's access to resources and ability to engage with digital artifacts, we knew our entire approach had to be rethought. As we re-examined our use cases, I leveraged my background in linguistics and low-resource settings in India to design around the constraints of illiteracy and technology infrastructures.
Learn more about our approach to designing for low-literate users in my blog post.
Modeling Information Flows
Digital Green makes tremendous use of metrics and data, but didn't have any materials depicting information sharing and workflows between the headquarters and its many regional offices. We created several models showing stakeholder relationships and the complicated movement of information and physical artifacts among them all.
Digging Deeper in the Field
After conducting extensive interviews in the New Delhi headquarters with Digital Green employees, we headed to rural areas in the state of Bihar to speak with farmers and observe video dissemination meetings in communities. Local partner organizations offered significant support as we uncovered a trove of information that guided our future design decisions.
Collaboratively Mapping Experiences
To completely overhaul the existing model, we needed significant input from users on the ground. Conducting a participatory experience mapping exercise with regional Digital Green employees in Bihar helped us document complex communication practices and critical transfers of information and materials.
Identifying Patterns and Critical Issues
Who better to provide feedback on our research than Digital Green employees themselves? After returning to Delhi, we created an affinity diagram and invited them to “walk the wall” to provide suggestions, insights, and guidance on our findings.
Visualizing Viable Solutions
At the conclusion of our time in the field, we provided the software development team with wireframes for guiding the creation of an interactive prototype for a training ecosystem. This was accompanied by an extensive two-year research plan for testing and iterating. Leveraging field research insights, we also recommended a range of topics for video and document-based training materials that could benefit local leaders who organize video dissemination meetings.
Bringing Training Resources to Life
The software development team at Digital Green built on our research, recommendations, and prototypes to establish an online training center and mobile app for use in the field during and between training sessions. This wide range of resources empowers farmers in leadership roles to thoroughly understand the technology they're using, improve their group facilitation techniques, and efficiently monitor adoption of new farming methods used in their villages.