New Research – Digital Identity in Emerging Markets

Download our Digital Identity in Emerging Markets report now.

Identity has long been a topic that has intrigued us here at Caribou Digital. It sits at the centre of transactional behaviour, essential for financial, property, health and educational services, and it is hub around which we create our on-line identities within social media platforms. Most importantly in emerging markets a basic identity, verified by the state, is something that is not available for many people. Without the foundation stone of a digital identity, many digital and real-world services will be denied to them.

In countries such as India and Pakistan the Government is taking the lead to introduce digital identity, using their ability to drive people to register and reaching over a billion users very quickly. This creates a huge potential platform for the private sector to build other services on top, but we were intrigued as to how the private sector – from Facebook, to the mobile operators, to start ups – is starting to crowd into this space. Driving demand to digital identity services is hard – it’s not a product many users spontaneously ask for, it’s more a by-product or gateway to what they really want to do. Understanding, and responding to, demand drivers for identity-based digital products will be critical for these private sector actors.

We will be soon be starting a new research  programme to better understand user demand and the social & cultural structure of digital identity in emerging markets, but we have just completed our first research report on landscaping private-sector digital identity in emerging markets. Over here on Medium our lead researcher Bryan Pon talks in more detail about our landscaping of the private-sector digital identity sector in emerging markets report that we’re very thankful to Omidyar Network for funding. You can read it here.

New Team Members, New Projects

It’s been a while since I wrote an update on our team and projects, mainly because we’ve been very busy.  So this is a quick post to make amends, and welcome on board some new members of the Caribou Digital family.

We have three research reports that should all see the light of day in the coming months on digital access and identity in emerging markets.  We’ve started to publish the results of our on the ground trials in Kenya of agent-based wifi, in partnership with Equity Bank and Inmarsat, funded by the UK Space Agency.  We’re continuing our work on country-level digital ecosystem assessments for the World Bank, and are about to start big multi-year contracts for clients in the areas of Digital Identity, Space Technology for International Development, and research into the Digital Financial Services ecosystem.

Our Digital Financial Services Lab with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation continues to develop well, and it’s here that we’ve taken on the most new people as we staff up the project with a small Seattle-based outpost of the company, by welcoming Jake Kendall, Ben Lyon and Stephen Deng to Caribou Digital.

Jake joins us from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation where he ran multiple projects researching and delivering financial services for the poor.  I’ve known and worked with Jake for many years, so it’s a particular pleasure to have someone I’ve respected for their experience and knowledge for some time on the team.

Ben joins us from Kopo Kopo, an innovative payments start up in Nairobi, which he co-founded.  It’s critical within the DFS lab that we have staff who have experienced the roller coaster ride of being an emerging market Fintech entrepreneur, and Ben brings this experience alongside encyclopaedic knowledge of payment interfaces and business models.

Stephen also joins us from his work at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, brings his strong strategy and innovation experience to the team where he will lead the setting up of the partner and investment networks and help prime the pump of potential investees for the fund.

Outside of the DFS Lab, I’m also very pleased that two more people I’ve enjoyed working with and alongside for a number of years have also joined the team.

David Edelstein ran the Grameen Foundation’s Technology Programs when I was running the M4D team at the GSMA.  We’ve been friends for many years and it’s a pleasure to be finally working together, and again a real coup that like Jake and the others, someone of his experience and knowledge has joined us.  David will be co-Director of a big new multi-year programme we’re starting in the Fall.

Last, and by no means least, we’re lucky to have Will Croft join us as our Director of Data Analytics.  I worked with Will for years at the GSMA, where for 10 years he worked on the GSMA Intelligence product building forecasting models for a wide range of mobile industry statistics.  He’s genuinely the best quant analyst I’ve ever worked with, so I’m delighted he’s joined us.  He’s developing a new project for us whilst also helping out on our quant research across the projects.

We’re still only around 16 people, and I reckon we’ll top out at around 20.  We’re still spread all over the world, from Seattle to Cape Town via San Jose, Boston, London, Farnham, Southampton, Nairobi and Peckham.  One of the joys of starting a company is seeing your perfect team start to come together.  When we all got together recently for our team away week in France, it was stunning to have this much intelligence in the room, and to see how everyone bounced ideas off each other.  We’re a small, but very experienced team, and frankly everyone is a delight to work with.

Watch this space as the team starts to kick into gear, and the work starts to bear fruit.

Winners and Losers in the Global App Economy

Download our Winners & Losers in the Global App Economy report now

Today the global app economy is a good bellwether for the overall digital economy. As a platform it’s enabled the rapid scaling of many services, and the ubiquity of the mobile phones that apps run on have lead to an enormous outpouring of creativity and coding. Truly if you have any need, there’s an app for that, and there’s someone, somewhere in the world trying to build a business off the back of it.

In the international development community we have been hugely excited by the potential of the app economy for the past five years or so, and there have been many app training programmes, app competitions, coding boot camps and articles about how places like Nairobi have become a ‘Silicon Savannah’. But we are aware that app platforms, although ostensibly neutral and meritocratic, are far from level playing fields, and the brutal Pareto’s Principle that guides how few apps survive on the top ten list within the app stores means that few are making any money at all.

Within this new research report we want to put some solid data underneath our assumptions.  We’re lucky to have Bryan Pon as one of our Senior Research Directors, as he recently completed a PhD thesis on this very topic at UC Davis.  Over the past year, with the support of the Mozilla Foundation, he has expanded the scope of his research to look deeper at the global trends in revenue flow, with a particularly lens on emerging markets.

The findings are hugely interesting, and sometimes stark.  For all our excitement about Silicon Savannah, most emerging market countries – including India – are rounding errors when we look at their share of global revenues on the app stores.  Revenue is concentrated into a handful of markets that take the lion’s share back into their own countries, with local sales from local developers almost absent except for unique markets such as China, South Korea and Japan.

Trade moves sometimes alongside country proximity, or sometimes along language and culture (Spanish app developers export well to South America).  There are surprising countries such as Vietnam and Belarus which outperform their size, and then countries like Finland that rise up the ranking based on one massively succesfull app development company alone (Supercell).  The one common feature is the dominance of the US, which takes a massive double-digit majority of revenues from virtually every country in the world.

This may be for purely meritocratic reasons – we know Silicon Valley is a hive of talent – but we believe there are also structural reasons behind this.  For instance, Google allows developers in virtually any country to upload apps, but only allows merchant accounts in a relatively small group of developed world markets.  Clearly, if you can’t get paid for your app or benefit from in-app purchases in virtually any country in the African continent, then it’s no surprise their revenue flow is such a trickle.

We hope this research provokes debate, about what can be done to improve discoverability for local app developers, about how we can create more equitable platforms that encourage and support developers better, and also whether the focus that we have  had on encouraging app development as a tool of international development has been the right strategy or not.  We strongly believe that healthy local content and services are crucial not only in encouraging new users to come online, but in making sure that the massive digital dividend that the app stores have delivered is distributed more evenly.  At this stage in the commentary on an Africa-focused report like this, there’d usually be a clichéd analogy along the lines of ‘we need more app lions to roar’.  We don’t want to fall back on clichés like that – but we wouldn’t mind the possibility of a few unicorns.

Our Work 5 – Unpacking and Representing: Digital Days

Continuing the month of posts about our work, Emrys Schoemaker discusses below how we developed the concept of the Digital Day in our recent research with The MasterCard Foundation – Digital Lives in Ghana, Kenya & Uganda.

As part of conducting the research for Digital Lives in Kenya, Uganda and Ghana we wanted to find ways of showing how digital fits into peoples everyday lives. Building on the insights that peoples digital lives are, like our own, driven by the desire for entertainment and leisure and used as much within domestic as utilitarian contexts, we wanted to describe this in an accessible manner that illustrated how digital technology is part of people’s everyday lives. The result is the content of Chapter 4 of the report – Digital Days.

The idea of a Digital Day is an emerging framework that allows us to describe technology use in 24 hours of a users day – ‘a time-lapse photo of a person in digitally mediated motion’. The approach draws on the rich heritage of research methodology and frameworks that Caribou Digital’s diverse research team bring to bear, and combines aspects of Participatory Rural Appraisal and traditional Consumption Diaries, as well as design methods from Human Computer Interaction, Experience Sampling from communication research and psychology and Personas from market research and design communities. The aim is to use tried and tested qualitative research methodologies to dig deeper than often time-constrained market or commercial research. We recognise of course that for many, particularly those steeped in the ‘think’ detail of ethnographic enquiry, this approach lacks depth of a full year of immersive research. Our hope is that our approach can provide a link or signpost to the importance of rich, qualitative research.

One of the ways we hope to drive our research deeper, faster, is through the concept of ‘tasks’. Tasks describes the purpose or intention that underpins and gives meaning to the everyday practices into which people’s use of digital technology is integrated. By making ‘tasks’ the methodological and analytic spine of our approach, we aim to ‘open the black box’ of situated technology use in an accessible way. In other words, our use of the concept task opens up the question ‘what are you doing’ into an exploration of ‘user agency, intent, and contextually and culturally situated practice’.

The Digital Day lens shows how for so many users digital technology is woven into the fabric of everyday life. Smartphones wake users up with alarm clocks and radio apps, whilst social media applications provide constant connections with friends and the wider world:

“For many with phones, the first marker on a Digital Day comes early. Samuel in Ghana connects to social media as soon as he opens his eyes, and Steve in Kenya checking the news whilst still in bed. This continues throughout an individual’s day, with high levels of social media use, such as Anne’s use of Instagram to gain “self-esteem” and Okello’s use of Facebook and WhatsApp to chat to friends until at least 10 p.m.

One of the most important conclusions we draw from the qualitative research is the importance of recognizing that for most users, digital technology use is entertainment driven, much like most of the use we might ourselves be familiar with. This ‘non-instrumental use’ is a challenge to those who wish to advance the use of digital technology as part of life changing and development oriented interventions – especially those that focus on access alone. Yet our research makes a significant conclusion about this insight:

Yet, it is unwise and inaccurate to discount these activities, en masse, as non-instrumental. Rather, instrumental and non-instrumental tasks are so blurred and interlaced on social network platforms as to make the distinctions difficult to separate. In Kenya, Steve describes how he posts his graphic designs on Facebook, whilst in Uganda, Nakato describes how she uses WhatsApp to find out from other shop attendants how their business is going. Yet several of the more instrumental tasks have yet to deliver on their potential, with Steve for example emphasizing that he does not get much work from his Facebook promotion.  In Uganda, Okello describes how, although he browses the Facebook page of different retailers, he has yet to buy anything because he is sceptical about mobile money and buying online.

The Digital Day approach is one that Caribou Digital is actively developing as a lens through which to help understand digital technology use in everyday life. It has already demonstrated its utility in focusing attention on the everyday practices of digital technology users, contextualising use within a wider digital and communications technology repertoire. We are currently planning ways of using the approach to help guide those who are responsible for development programming to answer specific questions, providing insights into technology use that can inform the design and delivery of interventions that seek to help people transform their lives.

Our Work 4 – Expert Opinions on the new Internet Access market

In the course of the Digital Lives in Ghana, Kenya & Uganda project, we had the opportunity to talk to leading researchers, practitioners, and innovators in the Information and Communication for Development (ICT4D) community. The 26 expert interviews allowed us to (re) consider the dynamic digital landscape in Sub-Saharan Africa from a variety of perspectives. The result was chapter two in the report – Cross-cutting Themes in Digitally-enabled Development.

As we began the interviews, we planned to explore issues around access—how new ways of providing last-mile internet access to resource constrained people in the developing world might influence the kind of internet experiences people would have. We also planned to probe on matters of space—how the ICT4D field’s narratives about access draw on what Mark Graham at the Oxford Internet Institute calls “spatial imaginaries”. And finally, we intended to focus the interviews on understanding use—particularly any potential divergences between idealized and actual use of the devices, networks, data and services in everyday life.

With these goals primed, it is perhaps not surprising that such involved conversations could flow from a simple ice-breaking question posed to interviewees– “is securing internet access for those without it important, and if so, why?”. No two conversations were alike, but several themes emerged:

  1. Several participants flagged “top-downism” —a confidence that digital outcomes can be prescribed or designed from above or afar—as a significant threat to the success of potential access efforts. All efforts to reinvent or improve access have to get the “last mile” connecting users to the network right – not just the technical connection, but the also the billing, the business model, the relationship, and the use case. Community buy-in and trust is essential. Success on these last mile factors may determine the fortunes of the various disruptive
  2. Comments from several experts led us to offer a suggestion to embrace entertainment and leisure practices as part of a more holistic understanding of users’ digital lives. As others have argued, understanding entertainment and social use of the internet is central to understanding the factors that drive uptake, development of digital skills, and the allocation of constrained resources to digital services and devices. Maryia Zheleva referenced her research in rural Zambia to illustrate this point:

If you go down to what users actually want to do with the Internet, they just want to use it the same way people in the more urban areas or in the Western world do. Do you know what the most accessed services on-line are that we have found? Facebook, Google and news … When it boils down to the end user, entertainment is the first thing that they demand, and then other things come around this.

  1. We identified the persistence of what several in the research community call second level digital divides—gaps in demand and differences in usage resulting from limited skills, literacies, and availability of appropriate content. Indeed some suggest the gaps may be amplified, even after the initial access challenges might seem to be addressed.
  2. Experts raised concerns about other ongoing differences of usage due to differences in the technical capabilities of various access modalities – that some configurations and trade-offs, like prepaid internet, zero-rated mobile data, or cached content, were “constrained connectivity” relative to a full and open internet

As we concluded the chapter, we suggested that the synthesis of these themes negates any suggestions, straw man or otherwise, that there is a single solution waiting in the wings which will address the remaining access and post-access challenges, and will vanquish the so-called digital divide. The heterogeneity of responses we received about what was coming next was itself good evidence that we should be pursuing multiple, approaches to address digital exclusion, rather than a single silver bullet.

After Access

We’re incredibly lucky to have Jonathan Donner as our Senior Director of Research. Not only is he one of the leading ICT4D researchers globally, but he’s an erudite and valuable leader for our research portfolio.

(He’s also a lot of fun to work with. Anyone who carries their long-board with them from Cape Town, just so they can try and surf the cold November waters of the Isle of Wight during our recent retreat, knows the correct work/life balance.)

He’s had a brilliantly busy week this week as he lead our research for the Digital Lives in Ghana, Kenya and Uganda report, but MIT Press has just published his After Access book.

He’s blogged about it all over here. It’s a great book and is guiding our thinking within the team here. Congratulations Jonathan!

Our Work 3 – Digital Lives in Ghana Kenya and Uganda

Download our Digital Lives in Ghana, Kenya & Uganda report now

For most of this year we’ve worked in partnership with The MasterCard Foundation to develop a new research report on the digital lives of low-income people in three countries – Ghana, Kenya & Uganda.  This has been a mix of primary focus group research and follow up sessions with individual participants, to get a sense of what their ‘digital day’ looks like.

We are in awe of and influenced by many previous sector-specific studies, from the excellent Bankable Frontiers team and their Porfolios of the Poor work to the research portfolio of Research ICT Africa, Balancing Act Africa, Vital Wave and many others.  But we wanted to write a report that was as wide-ranging as possible – that didn’t seek to ask what mHealth, mEducation or whatever looked like, but was just curious to answer the question of what users are doing on-line.

We hope we’ve captured this in the Report. The title says it all – we’re deeply curious about what digital lives look like, how people get on-line, what motivates them to do so, and how digital is starting to weave in and out of user’s physical lives.  There are some unsurprising things in the research – Facebook usage dominates, for instance – but there are some things that intrigued us, such as the concept of ‘visual CVs’ where users post a picture of themselves performing their job on social media with their phone number beneath, to act as an ersatz LinkedIn.

After chapter one’s executive summary & introduction, the report is broken down into four sections; chapter two is a synthesis of expert interviews to discuss how internet access is changing in the era of drones and balloons, chapter three introduces the findings from the user research in a narrative form, chapter four introduces our ‘digital day’ graphic and looks at the individual user research, and the appendix is a substantial literature review.

We hope the document is a useful resource – the literature review alone is exhaustive – and at 200 pages overall we apologise in advance if it feels daunting.  But we really wanted to understand the users’ digital lives, the context of how they use digital products, and what benefits and problems they bring.  Hopefully this is a document that it’s as useful to dip in and out of as it is to read in one (lengthy) sitting.

Over the next months we’ll have blog postings from the Caribou Digital authors of the report – Jonathan Donner, Emrys Schoemaker, Savita Bailur and Chris Locke – as well as context on the digital day graphic from Corin Langton and Kathryn Virji, our excellent design partners at The Langtons.  So keep checking in on the blog and our newsletter to see these, and please do tell us what you think of it.  We hope to continue the research in 2016, focusing on new countries and demographics, and starting to use our new quantitative tools to further flesh out our understanding of that most important question – just what is it everyone is doing on their phones all day?

Our Work 2 – 2015 projects

As more of a tease, we’ve updated our project page to list everything we’ve been working on this year. It’s been busy, with lots of exciting stuff we’ll be publishing in the coming months.  We’ll link to the first of these research reports next week.

Our Work 1 – Contextual data to understand digital lives

We’re going to start posting a few notes on the work we’ve been doing this year, and the work we’re starting to do for next year.

We’re very pleased to have won a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Grand Challenge award to prototype an app to build out our knowledge of the digital lives of the poor.
Contextual data around transactions – financial and otherwise – is key to understanding the digital lives of the poor, and helping us understand the digital repertoires users have to better inform interventions.

We will trial an innovative, light set of apps and proxies from feature phones upwards for six months to test the quality of anonymised data we get about users digital transactions.

Combined with a qual data methodology we have honed this year while completing the Digital Lives in Ghana, Kenya & Uganda report for The MasterCard Foundation (to be published late November 2015) we believe we will have a valuable suite of qual and quant tools to better understand what emerging behaviours we are seeing as digital usage grows.

We’ll post the full results of the trial on here.

Notes from the company retreat

We’re lucky enough to have friends at Barton Manor on the Isle of Wight, and just spent a fantastic week there reviewing our current projects, preparing for upcoming ones, welcoming new members of the team, and generally spending quality time together with the team and our families.

We’ll post more about the projects over the coming weeks, but it’ll become clear why we’ve not posted here that much since the summer.  We’ll publish our first major research this month, and announce some major new clients we’ve secured.  But as a quick tease:

– we’re doing a lot of work on new internet access models

– we’re doing a lot of work on digital entrepreneurship

– we’re doing a lot of user research to understand digital lives

On top of discussing these topics, we ate and drank together, had a Halloween party, let off fireworks, walked in the amazing grounds, and generally had a fantastic time together.  The toughest part of being a virtual team spread from San Francisco to Cape Town is not spending time together.  The best part of company retreats is, well, spending time together.