The Siyakhula Living Lab is currently building on the multi-functional distributed community communication platform which has been developed and deployed in the vicinity of the Dwesa Nature Reserve, a deep-rural, marginalized community in the Eastern Cape province - field site of this research. The aim of the project is to re-engineer and extend the platform in order to transform it into a ubiquitous, user-driven community ICT services platform.
The current key components of the project are:
- Implementing a middleware that facilitates heterogeneity, in terms of individual services, communication protocols, resource sharing and reuse on the platform as well as interoperability between service components;
- Improving the mobility offering through fixed-mobile integration;
- Developing further user-driven, user-centric eServices that leverage both the already deployed computing infrastructure and the available mobile devices in rural communities in order to develop further eServices.
The project also aims to develop and increase the human capacity in the field of ICT in general and ICTD (ICT for Development) in particular, to support the development and deployment of ICT systems in rural and marginalized communities which need them, moving this type of intervention onto a more solid, sound commercial footing. Rural and marginalized communities are typically excluded from the global knowledge economy but are seen as a growing and important emergent market in developing countries such as South Africa.
The project is undertaken within the Telkom Centre of Excellence (CoE) in ICT for Development, which is hosted within the Department of Computer Science at the University of Fort Hare. The Telkom CoE has been involved in research in ICTD in Dwesa, in collaboration with Rhodes University for various years. The work being done in Dwesa is currently being re-organized to take advantage, in an explicit way, from the "Living Lab" methodology that is showing potential in applied research that involves human communities.
The overall project has generated scientific and technological output in the following areas:
LIVING LAB METHODOLOGY
The Living Lab methodology provides a strategic vehicle for the realization of the objectives of the project by emphasizing the multi-stakeholder interaction between academia, private sector, public sector and the user communities. This ensures synergies that allow for the development of production-grade services, and possible commercialization of the research efforts.
Marginalised communities need not just unrestricted access to the internet (as important as it is), but the addition of specialized services that leverage the internet in response of specific community needs. Such services span from support for various forms of transport modalities, to support for specialize micro-tourism operations, to appropriate micro-financing, to harvesting and preservation of indigenous knowledge.
Effective services are the main tool to achieve sustainability (see Sustainability). Fortunately, this effectiveness is what the Living Lab is all about (see User elicitation).
SUSTAINABILITY (FINANCIAL, TECHNICAL, CULTURAL)
Sustainability is the “holy grail” of ICT for Development. Within the Siyakhula Living Lab we are experimenting with various models that could make the ICT infrastructure on the ground sustainable in the longer term and outside a project perspective.
One idea is to activate financial streams from outside the community that are created through the presence of the ICT infrastructure. Each stream will not be able to carry the cost of the infrastructure, but a large enough number of streams could. This idea is behind the development of Teleweaver, the flagship product of Reed House Systems. Teleweaver realizes an environment appropriate for realities such as Siyakhula Living Lab in which an ecosystem of applications are “woven” together to realize sustainability. Naturally, applications deployed within Teleweaver can be used in the fixed points of presence or through mobile WiMAX and WiFi devices or cellular phones owned by the community.
Another idea is to ensure that the applications themselves have good takeup by the community which is done through localization in terms of language and culture.
Connectivity is the first requirement for any ICT4D project. The model used in Siyakhula Living Lab is based on a wireless broadband island which connects the Living Lab Points of Presence to each other, and is attached to the internet through a satellite or a cellular link where possible. The wireless broadband island is realized through a mix of WiMAX and WiFi links. The wireless broadband island not only connects the fixed points of presence, but supports roaming of WiMAX and WiFi mobile devices. This connectivity is augmented where possible, through the use of cellular phones already owned by the community.
MONITORING AND EVALUATION
Monitoring and evaluation is a continuous function in the Siyakhula Living Lab in order to make the interventions as effective and replicable as possible.
USER REQUIREMENTS ELICITATION
Appropriate user requirement elicitation is the mainstay of building any successful IT systems. Users in communities such as Dwesa, previously left out of the ICT revolution, represent a group that not only has special requirements not represented in standard IT applications, but present a profile for which standard elicitation techniques do not work at this point. In these circumstances, the paradigm embedded in a Living Lab, co-creation of services between users and developers represents a very effective solution.