December 2006

Voices to bridge the knowledge gap

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Lifelines India seeks to provide information to grassroots communities via a phone and voicemail-based Q&A (question and answer) service available from both landline and mobile phones.

Phone based Q&A service

Lifelines India 'Soochna Se Samadhan Sewa' (in Hindi Language) is an initiative to use the power of voice as the primary means of information dissemination. At the moment the service is specifically geared to agri-business sector. More than 65 percent of India's one billion population work in agriculture. Small and marginal farmers are not able to make the most of their oppor-tunities because lack of the information on best practices, pest/disease management, uncertain weather conditions, market linkages, government schemes/policies, and access to credit and loan facilities from agricultural banking institutions.

OneWorld South Asia (OWSA) with support from British Telecom and CISCO systems are piloting the service in North India in partnership with other civil society organisations. BT and CISCO Systems have supported the initiative as a part of their Corporate Social Responsibility programme to access the ICTs can im-prove people's lives and open doors to educa-tion, jobs, entertainment and interactions.  

Strategic Objectives

The strategic objectives of the project are as follows:

  • To develop an ICT based solution for grassroots communities to access information and knowledge,
  • To use the ICT based solution to bridge the information and knowledge gap of grassroots communities in various development issues,
  • Seeks to provide voice-based information to rural communities, specifically farmers to access a network of agricultural experts & databases of knowledge via a phone and voicemail-based Q&A service available in both landline and mobile phones.

How it works

The farmer dials a designated number using a landline/mobile telephone. The call first reaches the Interactive Voice Response (IVR) System, where the farmer registers the query with the help of the voice menu. The query from the farmer is stored as a voice clip in the database server. The Knowledge Worker (KW) logs into the application through the web interface, and views all the calls that are waiting for their attention. The KW searches the FAQ database for answer. If the answer is in the database, a KW stores the answer for the query in the IVR. If the answer is not in the FAQ database, send it to subject matter experts. When the answer is received from the expert, the application alerts the KW.  The answer in voice mode is played when the farmer calls for answer to his query. The farmer can also retrieve the answer in text format from the Information Centre near to his village.  The farmers can also send pictures of crops or cattle for expert opinion through the web application.

Service flow of 'Soochna Se Samadhan Sewa'

Through Lifelines, information on the concerned issues are just a call away.

  • Farmers can check for answers for their queries through the offline database available at the information centres. If the answer is available they listen to the answer or else can also take a print out.
  • If answer for the query is not available, the farmer dials the Lifelines number and registers a query, and gets a query ID for his/her question. The answer to the query is made available within 24hrs.
  • The registered call is handled by a knowledge worker who searches for answer in the online FAQ database. If the answer is available, s/he tags it to the question and the query is answered.
  • If the answer is not available in the database the query is sent via email to expert for answers.
  • Experts can also call the lifelines number (different from the one for farmers) through their unique expert id and listen to the queries and also instantly answer the queries through phone.   Experts are alerted through a SMS message.
  • Once the answer is received by the KW it is audio recorded and tagged to the question
  • The farmer dials in the lifelines number again and on input of his query ID is able to listen to the answer.
  • The answer gets saved in FAQ database in text and audio form.

Conclusion

Though telephone lines have reached rural areas through the introduction of Public Call Offices (PCOs), the poor have indeed very limited access to ICTs. Only radios are owned by a majority of poor households. Televisions, telephones and newspapers are available to the majority of households on a shared basis. It is significant to note, that tools like the phone, radio, video and newsprint are still popular and accessible for the rural population. Phone is a simple and easily accessible tool in rural pockets of India. Lifeline aims to use the advantages of this tool clubbed with innovative technology for dissemination of information and knowledge among communities.  

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