Calling It In: Awaaz.De Provides A Voice-Based Information Platform

Posted by AnneryanHeatwole on Nov 07, 2011

How can you share information across rural areas with limited or non-existent Internet connections? This is the question that Awaaz.De, an India-based organization that uses interactive-voice-response (IVR) systems to share information on mobile phones, is working to answer.

Co-created by Neil Patel and Tapan Parikh, both at the University of California at Berkeley, Awaaz.De is used by organizations to share information with voice as the primary channel. This could, for instance, take the form of a question and answer service, voice discussion forums, voice surveys, and automated calls.

Because of the open-ended structure of the Awaaz.De platform, the platform has been adapted by very different organizations. Labor Voices uses Awaaz.De to allow migrant workers to review jobs and employers in a voice database; the Development Support Centre uses the service to provide information to small-scale farmers as part of the Avaaj Otalo project (covered by here), and Galli Galli Sim Sim (the Indian version of Sesame Street) uses the service to allow pre-school teachers to share teaching experiences and information about educational activities.

According to Patel in a post on the ICT 4 Community Health Worker discussion list, there are now eight organizations using Awaaz.De. These organizations have, together, produced more than 100,000 calls from about 10,000 unique callers. 

How It Works

Users call a number (chosen by the partner organization so that it can be either local or toll-free) and can either post their own messages, respond to messages from others, or listen to posts. Administrators use a web interface to organize and moderate the voice forums to keep the messages organized and on target. Awaaz.De is open source software, but also offers to host the services for organizations (in a paid premium service).

Use and Response

Mobile penetration is high in India (estimated to be over 1 billion by 2013) so mobile phones are available even in rural areas. Voice calls are very cheap in Southeast Asia generally and in India in particular, making the country a hotbed of voice-based mobile innovations. Using voice makes the system open to illiterate and low-literate users. Voice-based services also allow for rich information sharing among communities with specific knowledge shared that allows users to receive personalized responses.

In the recent discussion on the mailing list, Patel notes that the Avaaj Otalo deployment of Awaaz.De has seen positive feedback from callers. He writes,

"In many [cases], a core group of repeat users form, indicating engagement and satisfaction. For example, in Avaaj Otalo, Development Support Centre (DSC)'s information service for agricultural advice, 65% of callers make at least one repeat call. Nearly 20% have called into the system on average once a month for the past seven months...."

"...In our studies, we haven't found strong differences in preferences between more and less educated users. However, we have found that the most enthusiastic users tend to be young, less educated, and geographically remote. Wealthier farmers with greater access to other media (including Internet) have found less value in the voice system. However, anectodally no one really complains about the usability. For those with no alternatives, the reason is clear. For those who do, I suspect the reason is that they have an understanding that to accomodate all potential users, the interface has to be simple. If anything, those who are more experienced using the service (emphasize experience, not education), tend to be less patient. But these users enjoy the ability to barge into prompts to skip through the app quickly once they have memorized the menus."

In areas with high mobile penetration, voice interfaces provide an easy way for rural citizens to share and access information in a wide genre of areas, including education, worker rights, health, and agriculture. Awaaz.De is an interesting and new entrant in the voice services market that we are watching (and hoping to try out ourselves for several of our own projects.)

(Image via Awaaz.De website)

Calling It In: Awaaz.De Provides A Voice-Based Information Platform data sheet 1778 Views
Countries: India

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