Overcoming illiteracy with mobile voice innovation

04 Sep 2014

Mobile is often touted as a tool for socioeconomic development in developing markets, especially outside of the urban centers. Even something as simple as SMS can be a valuable tool for farmers seeking information on market prices, weather forecasts, etc.

There’s one key barrier: illiteracy. SMS-based services aren’t much help if you can’t read them, even if phones support the local language (which they sometimes don’t). And while literacy rates are overall going up, 774 million adults worldwide (approximately 12% of the global population) are still functionally illiterate, according to UNESCO. Luckily, there have been some interesting innovations in IVR to overcome that particular barrier.

Here’s an interesting case study from InSTEDD's iLab Southeast Asia, an innovation lab in Phnom Penh that began working on voice-based solutions several years ago to help locals make use of mobile services.

At the time, the problem was a lack of phones that could type or display the Khmer language. But the same open-source tool – Verboice – can also be used to enable services regardless of local written-language support or illiteracy levels.

Here’s how it works (from the Verboice site):

To get started, first set up a phone number dedicated to Verboice. Next, record outgoing messages offline, for later upload, or directly, using the Verboice Web application. Once you've recorded your outgoing messages, create your program's navigation sequence using Verboice's easy-to-use tools and review it using the onscreen flowchart. Community members can then access your interactive program from any phone. The caller will hear your audio file, which will usually ask them a question, respond either by voice or keypad entry and then hear the next audio file that you’ve specified to play based on the caller’s response to the previous question. Responses are collected automatically, and you can log into your Verboice account to review them at your convenience.

And you thought IVR was just for customer contact centers.

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