Archive | May, 2012

Taarifa Ploughs Ahead with New Features and Pilots

25 May

Creators of the London Water Hackathon’s winning prototype “Taarifa” (along with an expanded community) continue to develop the tool for deployment in some promising pilots. The tool is fundamentally a reporting platform. Originally designed for reporting water infrastructure failures, the tool enables users to report problems via mobile or web to a dashboard system that can manage the reports for service providers, and help providers respond to users with updates on the status of repairs. This post documents Taarifa’s development since the original hackathon, and lays out some plans for the near future.

Taarifa’s first debut beyond the original October Hackathon was in Uganda in February. Mark Iliffe, who continues to be a guiding force behind Taarifa’s development, travelled there with the World Bank’s WBI (research division) to demonstrate the tool to Uganda’s Ministry of Local Governments. The tool performed well, even in the remote area of Kumi. Those in the ministry were optimistic about the tool’s potential to improve communication between citizens and local government service providers- but not just for water services, rather for the range of public services provided by local governments.  This is an important update to Taarifa as it allows local governments to utilise just one tool that can support multiple sectors. You can see the addition of service categories for reporting on the tools webpage (http://www.uganda.taarifa.org), and it currently shows some of the test reporting from the Uganda demonstration.

 

Moving toward a full deployment with Uganda’s Ministry of Local Government, a few key features were identified as important improvements:

  • Offline functionality was recognised as something important to support rural communities where network coverage is limited, and the community of Taarifa technologists continues to develop this.
  • Report forms can be now be easily replicated, so that operators can create new menus for different sector reporting with minimal re-creating of basic fields.
  • The demonstration also highlighted the need to be able to back-up the existing reports when the system is changed so that they aren’t all lost.
  • Export functionality has been improved so that instead of downloading only to the Taarifa database, it can also be exported to commonly used formats such as .csv and .xls

Since Taarifa’s initial development, mobile applications have been developed for all smartphones, (not just android, as initially developed in October).

Yet, the community of developers continues to weigh the options for completely re-coding Taarifa. There is a desire to eventually move to using HTML5 and JavaScript to its fullest potential (it is currently scripted in PHP, using the Kohana Framework), which would enable even wider flexibility and use by those with non-smart phones, though there is some uncertainty as to when this takes place.

There is also some debate around the pros and cons of keeping the underlying coding from Ushahidi, or moving to an alternative. Currently, one of the members is re-coding Taarifa in Django and Python as part of her undergraduate dissertation, which will certainly be of value to exploring these options.

The team has also been working to improve documentation- both of the code, and the supporting documents for using Taarifa, and this is all now centralized here: site.taarifa.org/. However, one remaining documentation need, to have paper manuals for rural contexts such as those in Uganda, still remains.

As of April 2012, Taarifa has been deployed in a Zimbabwe pilot, and may possibly be piloted in Tanzania in the coming months. Another recent boost in Taarifa’s growth and development took place through WhereCampEU in Amsterdam, a geography-themed hackathon. Two team members presented Taarifa and its objectives, and in return, several technologists engaged to provide new ideas for building Taarifa. Through this growing community there are sure to be improvements to Taarifa, and exciting new opportunities for deployment- stay tuned!