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Brainstorming Session on Mobiles for Development: Emerging Opportunities and Challenges



A Brainstorming session on mobiles for development: emerging opportunities and challenges was jointly organized by IIT-Kanpur, COL and BITCOE on May 8-9, 2013 at IIT-Kanpur. The session started by a welcome speech delivered by Prof. Ajit K Chaturvedi, DORD, IITK. Prof Indranil Manna, Director, IITK and Prof. R K Ghosh, acting HOD were also invited in the session. The participants in the discussion included expertise from different fields like education, technology, agriculture, industry and open education. The major concerned for discussion here was how mobiles can be used as a platform for development. 26 experts from different fields attended the session, gave presentation and shared their thoughts and views on the topic. Agropedia team also attended the two days session.

It was a two day session were the experts discussed on several issues on mobiles for development and concerns raised were M4D initiatives in Uttar Pradesh, Use of Mobiles in Technology Dissemination: Agriculture Sector, mobile innovations and education provided with some required securities, mobile innovation and technology, use of mobiles technology in agriculture sector, industry views. The first session started by Mr. Partha Sensharma IAS, M.D. UPSRTC (formerly Secretary, UP Board of Secondary Education) and he spoke on UP State Initiative for Mass Deployment of Tablets and laptops in Secondary Schools and Colleges. Later down the session Dr K D Kokate, DDG (Extn), ICAR talked on M4D initiatves and experience in the State of Uttar Pradesh and so on.

The Organizing Committee

The organizing committee consisted of: Professor Ajit Chaturvedi, Dean of Research and Development, IITK (Chair); Professor TV Prabhakar, Department of Computer Science and Engineering, IITK; Professor Rajesh Hegde, Department of Electrical Engineering, BITCOE, IITK; Dr. V.Balaji, Director of Technology & Knowledge Management, COL.


M4D: Emerging Opportunities and Challenges

It is almost a universal view among industry observers that the rise of affordable mobile computing is set to make paradigm changes. Nearly all use sectors are going to be influenced to varying degrees, almost without exception. Stakeholders engaged in human and social development efforts should be able to harness these developments to improve the reach of relevant services. To explore new opportunities and challenges in this area, IIT K and the Commonwealth of Learning (COL), along with BITCOE organized a brainstorming event on Mobiles-for- Development (M4D) with specific reference to the Indian context. Education and Agriculture and Livelihoods were the two sectors in focus.

IIT Kanpur has led the development of the vKVK applied research project with the support of National Ag Innovation Project of ICAR. A variety of techniques deployed on this project have enabled just under 100 subject matter experts in the KVK system of ICAR to reach 20 000 farmers regularly over three seasons in the last two years. A blend of techniques involving mobile voice (primary) and the Web have been used. Messages created and shared with farmers can be found on this site. The States covered included UP, UK, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. This set of activities are anchored in the agropedia labs (T V Prabhakar). BITCOE at IITK has deployed a number of techniques related to voice recognition. Commodity prices information is delivered to farmers in Haryana and UP (coordinated by Ajit Chaturvedi and Rajesh Hegde).


Professor M A Krishnan, Chairman of the Board of Governors, IIT Kanpur, had expressed interest in the ignificance of IIT Kanpur’s role and involvement in these efforts that are technologically sophisticated yet easy-to-deploy for the user agencies. Farmers find them easy to access and use. In his remarks while inaugurating the event, Professor Indranil Manna, Director of IIT Kanpur, observed the extent of user-facing services built using mobile telephony in India. The advancement in this applications in India has been rapid and the diversity was impressive. Dr.Balaji, representing COL, pointed out that there is serious interest among inter-governmental organizations to understand the possibilities that M4D paradigm offered in rapidly and sustainably enhancing the reach of education and training services to masses of people. Dr K D Kokate, Deputy Director General for Extension at the ICAR, gave an overview of ICAR’s efforts to harness advances in ICT’s to augment the reach of extension services using the KVK system. He was of the view that while reach was definitely improving, some technologies, such as use of space technologies were adding significantly to the costs. Mobile technologies were a serious option pursued by ICAR. The results of vKVK are being studied and potentially the vKVK effort could be scaled up in the next Five Year Plan to cover a million farmers, according to him.


The Government of Uttar Pradesh has pursued a program to configure and distribute laptops to every student in collegiate education. Echoes of this program have been heard in a few other States of India and in some countries in Africa. Mr.Parthasarathi Sensharma, who supervised the project until recently (April 2013) as the Secretary for Higher Education, gave a comprehensive view of the processes involved. As of April 2013, about 200 000 laptops had been procured and distributed. A unique ID management system was in place to prevent sale of such laptops in a secondary market. Mr. Sensharma was of the view that the limiting factor was the non-availability of open educational resources in languages of India. Unless this was addressed seriously and in a short term, mass distribution of mobile computing devices may not be as effective in learning as intended in policy.

There was a special session to demonstrate relevant technologies. The agropedia+vKVK group at IIT Kanpur put on demonstration a wide range of technologies that link experts and farmers. These can be generalized so that they can be used in education and training, to link facilitators/teachers with learners/students in mentoring processes or can be deployed in support of public health management. BITCOE showcased the effective use of voice processing and recognition technologies. COL demonstrated a prototype of consumer devices that allow a PC-TV and a portable WiFi hotspot cum power pack to offer access to LMS and CMS in situations with no access to line power or the Internet.


In the sessions, a number of interesting case studies from (regular) schools were presented. The leaders of schools were of the view that excessive caution in the use of mobile devices by students in the classroom could reduce deployment of M4D tech in school education. The Impressive range of web-based services of National Institute of Open Schooling was presented.

An analytical overview of M4D for-profit driven advances in Ag sector in India showed that there was a huge gap between what is immediately possible and what is being implemented. This may be due to several reasons, including the lack of an incentive structure even if policies are favorable. The other big reason is the non-recognition of Mobile paradigm as essentially a media paradigm when it comes to development matters. Far too many efforts neglected this aspect and that could contribute to reduced effectiveness over a period of time. Industry representatives showed the emerging platforms and techniques that can especially prove useful in learner ID management (Intel).

The sessions showed that a lot of technologies are readily available for M4D deployment. A strategic framework that is rooted in practices of development research and media for development communication needs to be evolved, while taking into account available policy support such as the USO. More than the conventional PPP (private-public partnership) what M4D will need is a PCPP, public-community-private partnerships.

An immediate step to bring together current and potential stakeholders would be to organize a MOOC on M4D. IIT Kanpur’s CSE department ran a trial MOOC on an advanced subject in CS/IT. With that experience available in large-scale delivery, mentoring, assessment and evaluation processes, a MOOC on M4D could catalyze and galvanize partnerships for new action in the short term.

Some of the Major Take Away of the Brainstorming Session:

M4D initiatives in Uttar Pradesh

  • Large scale distribution of Laptops/Tablets in Uttar Pradesh as a knowledge empowerment drive in Secondary schools and colleges.
  • Usability of Mobile services: Highly acceptable across rural/urban spaces
  • Need for creating acceptability for pushing education, livelihood needs, banking transactions by mobile usability
  • M-learning: Enable M-technologies, IGNOU, SNDT Women's University, Tata Tele Services: Dissemination of mobile education
  • Challenges: Services-free/pay, Voice/Text, value-added services, leadership.
  • Availability of open-technologies has promoted the convergence of various sectors in to a common platform for the development of the society.

Concerns raised:

  • Development of a non-voice based mobile innovations
  • Content creation: Understanding of sensibilities of platforms used
  • To create vernacular messages across different spaces.
  • Creation of a sustainable value-added system to communicate informations to the end users. 


Use of Mobiles  in Technology  Dissemination: Agriculture Sector


  • Burgeoning  population
  • Shrinking  resources
  • Farmer Extension


  • How  to enhance productivity  from the limited  resources  ?
  • Mobilization of technology from  LAB to  LAND : Technology  convergence
  • Knowledge resource empowerment

Mobile innovations and Education

  • Mobile usage in school boys, Security issues with mobiles, Impact of radiation.
  • Potential of mobile learning, National Institute of Open Schooling, Out of school children, unprivlieged sections of the society, Need-based vocational courses, Life-enrichment programmes, Self-certification programme, Learning support through the personal contacts.


Mobile Innovation  Technology

  • A potential  bridge between resource-persons and grassroot users for the development of society.
  • A vehicle for carrying innovations from the research lab  to the remote recipients.
  • A tool to disseminate “Quality Education for All” .

M4D initiatives in Agriculture: Challenges & Opportunities

  • How to deliver available informations in an efficient way to increase their usability?
  • Need for creation of Value-Added Services to transmit information/knowledge verticals to recipient farmer's space.
  • Multimodal-personalized VAS, Multilingual retrieval
  • Development of intelligent system to detect the pattern and usage of services in agriculture sector
  • Consideration of social equation
  • Intelligent Video retrieval system


M4D: Agropedia perspectives

New agropedia:

  • A knowledge management platform---emphasizes on the computation of relationship
  • Development of independent agropedia platforms based on common interest of group of individuals/institutions.
  • Convergence of information/knowledge verticals from each agropedias to a centralized ICAR-agropedia
  • Need for the analysis of call completion statistics for advisory/ALERT messages
  • Social-networking should be an option for interested group of people  in ICAR-agropedia
  • Need for creation of App-STORES
  • How to synchronize the coordination between independent agropedias with the mother ICAR-agropedia platform.

M4D: Agropedia perspectives-ground experiences

  • Preference for VOICE-Based message
  • Differential preference for the timing of message receipt,
  • Need for site-specific/region-specific vKVK
  • Need for appropriate content development, increasing the interval/frequency of vKVK training programme.
  • Need for popularization of vKVK in rural spaces
  • Need for updating the details of farmer by KVK experts
  • Penetration of information services to feminization domain.
  • Building Confidence measures to assure incentives to agril. farmers.


M4D: Industry views

INTEL Innovations:

  • Alternate business models for content, connectivity security and desirability  issues in information services.
  • How to minimize piracy in M4D domain ?

Telco Service Provider Kit-Grassberg:

  • Secure content distibution
  • Go-to-market considerations by leveraging  the DEVICE  as a channel to share  knowledge/information services
  • Drive differentiation to ease the use of applicability  of Apps: Handwriting recognition solution, local innovations

SAMSUNG Innovations:

  • Need for smart-school, interactive-education, enhancement of usability of services

AIRTEL mobile Innovations:

  • Identification of desired verticals-to gain structural understanding of oppurtunity landscapes
  • Development of innovation funnel: Capture idea-to create IDEA GATE


On the second day the session came to an end by the Vote of Thanks delivered by Dr. V. Balaji, Director of Technology & Knowledge Management, COL and Prof T. V Prabhakar, CSE, IITK and CPI, agropedia+vKVK project.

The link below gives other details of the Brainstorming Session: