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Mobile digital storytelling for rural developing communities

Despite the rapid progress of digital communications in the last few decades, access to new media forms in rural and developing areas remains limited. Research at the Digital World Centre (DWRC) at Surrey explores how audio-visual technologies can improve problems of the global digital divide.

In doing so, Professor Frohlich’s team have facilitated the production, consumption and sharing of film-like information by semi-literate rural communities.

The foundation of this work lies in Surrey’s investigation of audiophotography as a new media form.

Examining ways of information sharing in the developing world, which does not rely on internet infrastructure or text-based interaction and content, the team developed mobile phones, tablets and analogue TVs to support local digital storytelling in pictures and sound.

Tested in regions of India and South Africa with nearly 15,000 inhabitants, researchers created an open source community media toolkit called ‘Com-Me’, which consisted of:

  • A mobile phone app for digital story creation
  • A tablet app for story archiving and playback
  • A solar-powered mobile phone charging station
  • The TV-Cam device ‘Com-Cam’ for relaying mobile phone content to old TVs

The local community embraced the technology by circulating indigenous music, recording community events and sharing healthcare advice. They also used the media toolkit to advertise local goods, diagnose crop problems, support teaching and learning in schools, and form multimedia letters to government.

The app has since been downloaded over 60,000 times across 71 countries and has opened up new communication possibilities in rural communities.

Nokia worked closely with the team and adopted Surrey’s approach in other projects in India, further embracing the co-existence of old and new technologies.

To see the range of tools developed visit the Digital Economy Toolkit and for more information on Surrey’s research in this field, please see the Digital World Research Centre website.