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My research is concerned with the design of appropriate and accessible information systems serving the needs of poor, indigenous, remote and otherwise marginalized communities in the developing and developed world. I am also broadly interested in the impact that new kinds of data and communications tools can have for improving transparency and trust in governance, aid and philanthropy. My research group and I have recently developed Awaaz.De, a phone-based voice message board allowing small farmers in India to ask and answer agricultural questions. Using any phone, farmers navigate a voice interface to record questions, obtain answers from experts, and to listen to and answer the questions of others. This system has been deployed in Gujarat, India for over two years, consistently receiving hundreds of calls a week. Another project, LocalGround, is investigating the use of paper maps for collecting local geo-spatial knowledge. Users annotate paper maps using colored markers and stamps. These annotations are automatically extracted using a combination of simple computer vision and crowd-sourcing techniques.

LocalGround was recently used by teenagers from Richmond, California for planning of a public park in their community, presenting their ideas to the mayor’s office. In this talk, I explore several themes in my work, including a) the design of cheap, “low-fidelity” interaction techniques allowing new populations to interact with and author content; b) the importance of “bottom-up” data for planning and evaluating development projects; and c) how “crowd data processing”, interleaving automated and human-driven steps, can bridge the gap between (a) and (b).