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Digital Labour

Numbers, Type and Income of Online Gig Workers in Indonesia

Authored by:
Yudho Giri Sucahyo, Arfive Gandhi, A. Labib Fardany Faisal
Faculty of Computer Science, Universitas Indonesia, Depok, Indonesia
 

The online gig economy has been a trending topic in recent years. It offers flexibility for gig workers to search various kinds and scale of work via an online platform. It offers a different approach compared to conventional and routine 9 to 5 jobs. It enables people to organise their passion and time by selecting projects that fit their interests.

The Online Labour Index (OLI) as established by Oxford University announced a 26 percent increase in gig work from July 2016 to July 2017 [1]. Most workers came from the United States, United Kingdom, India, Australia, and Canada [2]. Surprisingly, India was included in the top five although it is a developing country with a high rate of unemployment.

This fact inspired a question of whether Indonesia also contributes to the online gig economy. If yes, how many online gig workers come from Indonesia and what benefits do they gain. Although Indonesia faces a digital divide, 65% (c.170m) citizens have access to the Internet [3]. Given the country has a 5% unemployment rate [4], the online gig economy offers a promising opportunity for the country to reduce its unemployment rate and increase individual income.

To answer the above questions, quantitative research was undertaken through data aggregation from various online gig platforms. Nine platforms were selected: Upwork.com, Freelancer.com, Fiverr.com, Peopleperhour.com, Guru.com, Sribulancer.com, Projects.co.id, Fastwork.id, and Microworkers.com. Web crawling and scraping were used as data collection techniques based on necessary information criteria.

Table 1 shows the results of our mini-research. We collected data from 171,033 Indonesian users of the above platforms at the end of October 2018. By considering that a gig worker is active when his/her latest project was no more than 28 days from the date of web crawling and scraping, out of 171,033 gig workers, only 2,062 were active, which is only 1.2%. The top three platforms used by gig workers in Indonesia are Fiverr, Upwork, and Projects.co.id. Fiverr had the most active Indonesian workers, and by far the highest percentage of Indonesian workers who were active.

Further information was also collected during web crawling and scraping to get more detail on the profile of Indonesian online gig workers: both field of work and income. As shown in Figure 1, most Indonesian online gig workers (c.50%) specialise in creative and multimedia, then followed by clerical and data entry (c.21%), writing and translation (c.14%), and software development and technology (c.12%). This suggests there may be a significant opportunity for Indonesia to strengthen its creative and multimedia industry and increase further its participation in the global online gig economy.

                                    Table 1. Statistics of Indonesian Online Gig Workers

Platform Indonesian

Users

Active Indonesian Gig Worker Percentage (%)
Fiverr.com 837 557 66.55
Upwork.com 13,945 449 3.22
Projects.co.id 115,558 428 0.37
Freelancer.com 16,639 187 1.12
Sribulancer.com 9,841 181 1.84
Microworkers.com 1,017 176 17.31
Peopleperhour.com 464 40 8.62
Fastwork.id 1,456 38 2.61
Guru.com 11,276 6 0.05

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Figure 1. Distribution of Indonesian Online Gig Workers based on Field of Work

Breaking down field of work by platform (Figure 2), we see some differentiation, with some platforms hosting a mix of different work types but others showing signs of domination: creative and multimedia work on Fiverr; clerical and data entry work on Microworkers, which focuses on simple jobs in large volume.

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 Figure 2. Distribution of Indonesian Online Gig Workers on Each Platform

Income of Indonesian online gig workers is shown in Figure 3. Nearly 50% of workers earn IDR 1 million (c.US$70) or less per month and nearly 80% earn less than the minimum wage. However, many of these are likely to be part-time. Around one fifth of online gig workers earn more than IDR 5 million: above the minimum wage in any region in Indonesia. With the average income of Indonesian online gig workers being IDR 3.4 million (c.US$240), this suggests that there is some promise and opportunity for the online gig economy in Indonesia to reduce the unemployment rate by taking advantage of flexible jobs via online platforms.

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Figure 3. Distribution of Indonesian Online Gig Worker Income

 

References

[1] V. Lehdonvirta, The online gig economy grew 26% over the past year, available on http://ilabour.oii.ox.ac.uk/the-online-gig-economy-grew-26-over-the-past-year/

[2] O. Kassi, V. Lehdonvirta, “Online Labour Index: Measuring the Online Gig Economy for Policy and Research”, Technological Forecasting & Social Change, pp. 1-8, 2018.

[3] APJII, “Indonesia Internet Users Behaviour Profile, a Survey Report”, 2018.

[4] Trading Economics, Unemployment Rate | Asia, available on https://tradingeconomics.com/indonesia/unemployment-rate

Digital Economy, Digital Labour

Digital labour platforms as winner-takes-all markets: implications for fair work standards

A number of contributions in the DIODE blog series have focused on how digital labour platforms such as Upwork and Freelancer provide new economic opportunities for online freelancers, particularly in the Global South. Subsequently, relevant questions have been raised on the precarious nature of digital gig work (see e.g. blogs by Balaji Parthasarathy, August 2018; Richard Heeks, July 2018; Mark Graham, December 2017), and how the regulatory framework for platforms can be strengthened to guarantee ‘fair work’ principles for those active on digital platforms. Initiatives towards third-party monitoring and certification in this field, and how decent work standards can be met, are interesting and should receive broad-based support. However, through the very nature of their functioning, digital labour platforms will always be plagued by a level of unfairness, which will be discussed in this blog-post.

One central but largely unexplored topic in the literature on digital labour is what it takes to be successful on digital labour platforms. As its central features, the competition for work is global, employment relations are flexible, and individuals rely on reviews and performance scores for securing new jobs. In practice, financial gains on digital labour platforms are highly uneven with a small number of freelancers securing the majority of the jobs. In management circles this would be regarded as the 80/20 rule (pareto principle), which in this case refers to the situation that 80 percent of the work is likely done by only 20 percent of the freelancers that are registered on the platform. In a similar vein, digital labour platforms are a typical example of a winner-takes-all market. The concept winner-takes-all markets was originally developed by Frank and Cook (1995, 2013) to highlight the emergence of top-earners in particular professions such as sports, music or other creative professions. In the digital economy the winner-takes-all principle can be identified at two levels: the digital platform industry at large, where platforms such as Facebook, Uber, Amazon.com and Upwork currently dominate their market niches, and for those working via platforms. Formal entry barriers to digital labour platforms are low, which means that anyone literate with a computer and access to the Internet can sign up. However, successful participation in digital labour platforms is a complex game because of the diversity of actors involved.

Whereas in local or national labour markets most buyers and sellers of labour share common grounds in terms of cultural background, education, and their understanding of what represent good work skills, work ethics and decent pay, this is not true on global digital labour platforms. Here, clients posting a job are likely to be presented with freelancers that are based, raised and educated somewhere half a world away in a profoundly different socio-cultural and educational context than the client’s. This creates an assessment challenge for clients, and adds a measure of uncertainty to hiring transactions. An additional measure of uncertainty is created by the digital nature of the working relation between clients and contractors. With clients and contractors at a distance and chances of them ever meeting in person being slim, the embedded relations and social monitoring and sanctioning mechanisms that encourage people to perform well and live up to their promises in offline working environments carry less weight, making it easier for either freelancers or clients to disengage or otherwise fail their counterparts. Under such conditions, contractors with good credentials (or a good digital reputation) are more likely to make it to the shortlists of clients looking for someone to hire. They are also more likely to be rehired and be able to secure higher wages for their ‘proven’ trustworthiness.

Skills-tests via digital labour platforms are the most obvious way for new entrants to show their capacity and to reduce uncertainty of clients. Surprisingly, Upwork (the largest global platform for digital work) announced in July 2019 that it will remove the various skills tests on offer via the platform, as clients didn’t find skills tests important when making hiring decisions. Rather, according to Upwork, clients consider profile introductions, portfolios, and job feedback a better showcase of a freelancer’s skills and experience. This shows the very nature through which digital labour platforms evolve for freelancers into winner-takes-all markets as it favours the more established freelancers with good credentials (for example a high performance rating and positive feedback). When client-generated feedback constitutes an important part of contractor credentials and is used by clients to (largely) base their hiring decisions upon, it favours contractors who have already received good feedback and it puts newcomers that have not yet had their chance to accumulate good feedback and build a digital reputation at a disadvantage. Such effects are likely to be more pronounced if clients in their assessment of potential contractors, have a strong interest in qualities that can be demonstrated only ‘on the job’ and not easily upfront. This increases clients’ reliance on the feedback received by contractors from other clients, and thus reinforces the importance of the feedback loop. This makes the platforms prone to exclusionary effects (in addition to distribution effects) as newcomers will have a hard time establishing a foothold in the market.

To conclude, the greatest contradiction of digital labour platforms is that success is very visible (e.g. through information on profile pages of freelancers) and newcomers are often lured to join (see blog by Niels Beerepoot, September 2017) but securing a position in this market is a major challenge. New entrants need to overcome barriers of uncertainty and lack of a digital reputation. These particularities in the functioning of digital labour platforms are hard to integrate when defining fair work standards but to a large extent determine how freelancers perceive digital gig work. Fair work standards are now oriented towards those who have acquired a seat at the table where joining the table is the hardest task.

Frank, R. & P. Cook (1995). The Winner-Take-All Society: Why the Few at the Top Get So Much More Than the Rest of Us. New York: Martin Kessler Books
Frank, R. & P. Cook (2013) Winner-Take-All Markets. Studies in Microeconomics Vol. 1 (2): 131-154. Continue reading “Digital labour platforms as winner-takes-all markets: implications for fair work standards”

Digital Enterprise, Digital Labour

Microenterprise in the platform era—identifying new ‘platform practices’

Daniel, a shopkeeper and online freelance writer

The platform era is undoubtedly transforming the way goods, labor, services, and attention are exchanged around the world. But to what extent will platformitized markets change the livelihoods of millions of self-employed workers and small and informal enterprises in the developing world? 

Recently, the Partnership for Finance in a Digital Africa (FiDA) —an initiative of the Mastercard Foundation coordinated by Caribou Digital—conducted a study about how platformization is impacting micro- and small enterprises (MSEs) and the self-employed, offering its findings as a set of interlocking essays and video profiles. The study drew on qualitative interviews with micro-entrepreneurs in Kenya about how they use social media, e-commerce marketplaces, and online freelancing websites. Instead of a narrow focus on adoption, we identified emerging “platform practices”—four distinct ways in which MSEs are changing their workflows to adapt to the platform age:

We also found two overarching themes requiring further discussion:

A brief video of Dorcas, one of five entrepreneurs featured on the report site

This post for DIODE focuses on the implications of our research for the digital development community. It is a shorter form of our research implications essay, and is best conveyed as four imperatives:

Broaden the research focus from mobiles and ICTs to platforms

One line of research nearly 20 years strong looks at microenterprises’ use of ICTs. Yet the bulk of this work, whether focused on mobile phones specifically or on ICTs in general, isn’t calibrated to today’s changing internet landscape. Two forms of platformization are becoming more relevant, and need extensive study:

  • Individual micro-entrepreneurs use social media platforms for informal and real-time coordination with suppliers and customers. We aren’t talking about specialized “WhatsApp for business”, or Facebook for business, or even paid digital advertisements here. Wyche, Forte & Schoenebeck illustrate how these consumer-facing omnibus communication platforms have become the lingua franca of commerce in digital Kenya, our new research further underscores the remarkable ways in which micro-entrepreneurs have appropriated these platforms for their own purposes. MSEs have adapted these social media platforms into toll-free numbers, customer relationship managers, billboards and direct mail, pre-sales advertising, and after-sales support, all rolled into one.
  • The same markets are also being platformitized by the entrance of transaction platforms: websites designed to host multi-sided markets between buyers and sellers. These sites have scrambled the traditional means of finding, transacting with, and supporting customers. However, although they increase MSEs’ exposure, they also increase competition. Our work only scratches the surface of how this new visibility and competition impacts the profitability of small enterprises, and illustrates how more research is needed to assess whether transaction platforms work for small-scale producers, especially in developing countries.

Ask “how”, not just “whether”

The FiDA platform lens—by dividing platform functions into aggregation and discovery, transaction support, credibility, and ancillary data—enables us to see both whether and how platforms are altering prospects for small enterprises. We think this approach has merit for future studies, and we suggest that researchers zero in on specific models of change to ask how the platforms they study, be they Facebook and WhatsApp, or specialized transaction platforms like OLX, are transforming the markets they enter. It’s also important that we get to granularity. Specific affordances matched with specific functions on specific platforms matched by specific platform practices (i.e., user behaviors) is where the rubber meets the road.

Specify and replicate

A close read of our findings should quickly underscore the need for (1) replication beyond Nairobi, (2) specificity of various market segments and types of microenterprise, and (3) complementarity of methods. Our largely qualitative interviews could be expanded via quantitative study of how and whether platform use changes the profitability and sustainability of these businesses. Our study also suffers from survivorship bias: we have only spoken to active microenterprises; we have yet to investigate whether and how platformization is driving some micro-entrepreneurs from their markets.

Avoid detaching studies of digitized, platformized markets from the physical world

Our two blurring essays, on tech and touch and digital side hustles, illustrate the material component of digital pursuits. The realities of doing business in resource-constrained contexts may require more face-to-face time, more trust-building, and more creative ways of bridging the last mile in goods and services than those of less constrained markets. These dynamics are best unpacked with the type of ethnographic or qualitative work we were able to do in this study. At the same time, the very concept of “side hustles” challenges what we mean by a “job” or “a livelihood.” Digital side hustles, such as online essay writing or virtual assistant work, blur the lines between taking charge of one’s own fate and being captive to someone else’s algorithm. The Fair Work Foundation is developing a body of evidence around digitized platform work in the Global South. Our study highlights those individuals who keep one foot in a job or material micro-business and another moonlighting in the digital space.

Next Steps

We’re grateful for the opportunity to share this work with DIODE. Another helpful exchange has been with our co-travelers in the Mastercard Foundation community of practice, specifically BFA’s FiBR project, which has been looking at platforms used by micro-entrepreneurs in Tanzania, and Mercy Corps’s research into agricultural platforms in Africa. As a set, these studies shed light on changing practices and market conditions in East Africa and beyond.

We are particularly excited about the prospects for platforms to build on what they’ve already started, becoming digital spaces in which participants acquire a variety of skills and digital literacies required to thrive in the platform era. We call this “transformational upskilling” and will spend much of 2019 looking at this topic in a more comprehensive way.

Have questions, feedback, or ideas for further research on MSEs and platform practices? Please contact us at ideas@financedigitalafrica.org or @FiDAPartnership on Twitter.

Digital Economy, Digital Enterprise

Data Marketplace as an Enabler for Data-Driven Innovations in Developing Countries

In today’s digital era, data have become a valuable resource for digital enterprise to innovate and stay competitive in the market. This also applies to developing countries, where start-ups offer new digital products and services and transform everyday lives. One way to realize data-driven innovations is by sharing data among parties and even competitors to generate new insights and improve the quality of products or services.

In this context, data marketplaces are emerging, which are described as platforms that bring multiple parties together to exchange data with each other. Data marketplaces could play a key role in enabling data-driven innovations for digital enterprises in developing countries since they face a significantly different challenges in terms of resources and capabilities than digital enterprises in developed countries. More importantly, data marketplaces might generate value for digital enterprises in developing countries, because new insights can be generated by analyzing data from multiple sources.

Various initiatives and pilots on data marketplaces are available (e.g. OpenDataSoft, Azure Data Market, Data Market Austria). However, they often struggle and fail to survive. This is mainly due to lack of trust, fear of losing competitive advantage when sharing data, or the risk of violating strict privacy regulations (e.g. GDPR). To tackle these challenges, in the Safe-DEED project (Safe Data-Enabled Economic Development) we focus on developing new privacy-preserving technologies to enable firms to expose data via data marketplaces without giving access to actual data. We are also conducting multi-actor business model research in order to bring those technologies to the market in a sustainable way so that digital enterprises can generate value from such a platform.

How is this relevant to the digital economy and development? There are several possible use cases within the digital economy and development context. For instance, SMEs could benefit from accessing data and information provided by other SMEs in data marketplaces to support market research, so that they can formulate a better strategy to reach their target market. Digital enterprises providing on-demand transportation services could also expose their data via data marketplaces, and support the government in developing traffic policies without revealing sensitive information. Furthermore, a peer-to-peer lending platform focusing on providing loans in rural areas can also expose data to conventional banks via data marketplaces to get a better picture of unbanked population in a country so that they can collaborate in achieving financial inclusion.

Of course, there are several challenges in realizing data marketplaces that are safe and secure, such as convincing the first couple of firms to join the data marketplace platform, the impact of such an innovation on trust, ethics, security, and finding a sustainable business model for the data marketplace itself. Hopefully, answers to these challenges will be available by the end of this project.

More information:

  1. Safe-DEED website: https://safe-deed.eu
  2. Finding a Business Model for Decentralized Data Marketplaces: https://safe-deed.eu/finding-a-business-model-for-decentralized-data-marketplaces
  3. Safe and secure data marketplaces for innovation: https://www.tudelft.nl/en/tpm/research/projects/safe-and-secure-data-marketplaces-for-innovation
Digital Economy

The Next Billion Users and the Future of the Digital Economy

In an interview with Kai-fu Lee, the former executive at Apple and Microsoft, ex-president of Google China and prominent venture capitalist and AI expert is asked to give advice to startups in Europe hoping to forge a path alongside global tech giants from the US and China. He suggests that, “if you want to experiment, find some truly underdeveloped country where there is nothing [my emphasis] and try your idea there.”

The Global South have long been framed in colonial terms and clearly continues to be so. The empty or vacant land theory was propagated by the European colonizers to justify the seizure and systemic exploitation of sovereign countries and their people. Some tech evangelists and media outlets continue to evoke this rhetoric to emphasize the so called major disruption of technological innovation. Sugata Mitra, the Ed Tech guru and winner of the TED prize has for the last decade emphasized local communities in developing countries as a void so remote and so devastating that any intervention is a godsend. For instance, when Mitra’s team was criticized because their tech experiments did not produce deep learning, they responded defensively by stating that, “we are describing a part of our planet where children with nothing [my emphasis] other than a street-side computer, are able to answer tests on their own. They have no teachers or educational support from their parents or anyone else in the community…”

In May 2019, The Economist released their weekly issue featuring on their cover “The new scramble for Africa” with a byline that read, “…this time, the winners could be Africans themselves.” The language of “scrambling” for land in terms of winners and losers perpetuates a people-less territory ripe for carving, masking the actual bloodied history. The popular usage of the metaphor of data as the “new oil” or data “mining” is inadvertently shaping our discourses on the data economy in terms that are dangerously reminiscent of the colonial past – where the focus is on the data and not on the people who create and consume that data.

Another colonial theory is the infantilism of the natives that require paternalistic enabling for them to progress. In my 2016 UNESCO commissioned research on contemporary digital innovation for emerging economies, several tech start-ups designing applications for social good positioned their innovations as completely autonomous and all-inclusive, and moreover, as legitimate alternatives to “failed” institutions like schools and other vital social agencies. Apparently, the Global South awaits for these tech messiahs to rescue them while amidst their institutional corpses.

The media and the tech industry at large are waking up to the fact that the next billion users are emerging from the Global South and can significantly change the future landscape of the digital economy. The game of commodifying people and vacating of territory begins all over again. All the more reason why we need to move ahead with much caution before we become complicit in feeding certain myths: fictions such as how these users are overtly utility-driven and instrumental in their usage (a major expectation driving funding agencies), that they don’t care about their privacy, that they are far more self-driven and self-organized than “us” in the West and hence can do without conventional institutions, and that they are intrinsically communal, continue to circulate and shape the imagination of many tech corporations, aid agencies, and state actors.

I have argued in my new book The Next Billion Users that if innovation continues to be framed along these lines, then what the global poor need is less innovation. If innovation is a proxy for pilot projects that uses these communities as blank slates, they are better off without them. They should not be guinea pigs for new technology. The simple fact that a given technology is novel should not in itself be a reason to use it to experiment on these people. No new technology can be a stand-alone solution. Without motivated communities, no technology will succeed. The global poor have long been used as test subjects for socio-technical experiments. They are approached in the same way as patients for an experimental clinical trial who have run out of all conventional options—as people who have nothing to lose.

It is more likely that they had few genuine choices to start with. The failure to provide real options to the poor can occur in spite of major commitments by a nation to reduce the social inequalities. Fixing institutions is not an easy or a quick task. Scarce resources, political turmoil, and discriminatory cultural practices are just some of the many obstacles. Sometimes poor nations, driven by national pride, choose shortcuts out of an urgency to “catch up”— hoping that technological innovations will magically erase long- standing inequalities.

Why are failed institutional reforms so unforgivable, while failed technologies are viewed as acceptable trajectories for innovation? This mindset can be tremendously debilitating for communities who need to persist and leverage on new technologies in ways that are often more incremental than astronomical, more marginal than central to social reform. Far from nothingness, we have a complex and rich history of social resilience that should form the basis for envisioning the future of the digital economy with the rise of the next billion users

Digital Economy

Mobile Financial Services for Developing Communities

Guest Authored by: Srihari Hulikal Muralidhar, Aarhus University, Denmark

ICTD research has been grappling with the question of how to harness the potential benefits of technology towards various developmental goals in the contexts of education, healthcare and so on for a long time. Technology’s ‘reach’ gets extended through the diffusion of smartphones and internet, as they enable new possibilities in terms of designing suitable products, services and targeted interventions. The Government of India, taking note of this trend, charted a ‘Digital India’ vision, wherein it wants to enable citizens to avail certain public services via their smartphones[1]. As a first step, under the Prime Minister’s Financial Inclusion Mission, banks were mandated to open at least one account for every household in the country. The next step in this process was linking the beneficiaries’ unique national ID and tax number to their bank accounts. Subsequent to this, the government moved welfare payments (pensions) and subsidies (such as fuel subsidies to poor households) from cash to digital, where the benefits were transferred electronically to the beneficiaries’ bank accounts. Some estimates claim that this reduced corruption and pilferage by more than 40% (Business Standard 2018). The biggest challenge, however, has been with the ‘last mile connectivity’ i.e. making certain essential services accessible to citizens. It is here that smartphones and affordable data are expected to offer novel opportunities.

One of the biggest problems with mobile money usage in India has been the siloed use. Mobile money services have been used only for particular activities because of a lack of adequate support, training, and proper integration with the larger ecosystem within which the technologies are embedded (O’Neill, Dhareshwar and Muralidhar 2017, Nandhi 2018). However, with app-based services becoming increasingly prevalent (such as Uber, Ola, Swiggy), some changes have occurred. One positive spillover is that they have enabled gig workers such as delivery executives and drivers to acquire a certain level of digital literacy wherein they have learnt to use smartphones and become familiar and comfortable using the internet[2]. Rickshaw drivers and Swiggy delivery executives, for instance, now use Google Maps as part of their everyday work. Previous studies on digital payments adoption have shown that there’s a path dependency exhibited wherein people already familiar with and using technology are more likely to perceive digital payments as beneficial and adopt it, and those unfamiliar might be hesitant because of concerns over trust and security (Pal et al 2018). However, with technological innovations changing the socio-economic landscape, benefits from technology use are enabled even for those who might not be comfortable using it through intermediated use (Sambasivan et al 2010), often by family members. 

In this context, certain initiatives such as the BHIM (Bharat Interface for Money) app launched by the Indian Government, which is based on UPI (Unified Payment Interface)[3] show some initial promise. For instance, with this app, a user can create a unique UPI ID (which can be something as simple as their mobile number@upi), link their bank account to the ID, and conduct financial transactions such as P2P transfers, bill payments, and so on. The user can also access their bank account balance on the app itself. In addition to the government-launched BHIM, private players have also entered the mobile payments market in the country, with PayTM, PhonePe, and Google Pay being the most prominent examples. Two important factors need to be considered in this context. First, urban low-income communities such as rickshaw and cab drivers in India have not used devices like desktops or laptops and will probably never use it. Consequently, smartphone adoption and use has been a case of technological ‘leapfrogging’ and enabled digital inclusion. It has also been their first ever experience with the internet. Second, a vast majority of internet users in India use WhatsApp; in fact, India accounts for the largest user-base for WhatsApp[4]. Realizing the potential that the mobile payments market in India holds, WhatsApp is set to roll out its Payments app soon[5].

The idea of a chat application with an embedded payment interface (which allows the user to directly access their bank account from the app, amongst other things) offers new possibilities in terms of development interventions even for low-literate, low-income users. That said, the point is not claim that access alone will be sufficient in achieving financial inclusion. Rather, interfaces built on top of chat-based platforms, with which even low-literate, novice users are familiar, can be a viable way of making digital financial services accessible for them. These interventions can take a variety of forms (such as assisting with accessing financial info, tracking of personal finances, and so on) and by no means need to only be about payments. It also makes sense to think about designing interventions around supporting users’ existing financial practices and not just replace them with digital technology. Previous research has also highlighted the highly collaborative nature of household financial management (Snow and Vyas 2015), and therefore, directions for future work could also include how to design for collaboration than eliminate it.

References

Nandhi, Mani A. 2018. Effects of Mobile Banking on the Savings Practices of Low-Income Users – The Indian Experience. In Money at the Margins: Global Perspectives on Technology, Financial Inclusion and Design. Bill Maurer, Smoki Musaraj and Ivan Small (Eds.). pp. 266-286. Berghahn Books. 

O’Neill, Jacki, Anupama Dhareshwar, and Srihari H Muralidhar. 2017. Working Digital Money into a Cash Economy: The Collaborative Work of Loan Payment. Journal of Computer Supported Cooperative Work. Vol. 26. Pp. 733-768. Springer.

Pal, Joyojeet, Priyank Chandra, Vaishnav Kameswaran, Aakanksha Parameshwar, Sneha Joshi, and Aditya Johri. 2018. Digital Payment and its Discontents: Street Shops and the Indian Government’s Push for Cashless Transactions. In Proceedings of CHI’18. ACM. 

Sambasivan, Nithya, Ed Cutrell, Kentaro Toyama, and Bonnie Nardi. 2010. Intermediated Technology Use in Developing Communities. In Proceedings of CHI’10. Pp. 2583-2592. ACM.

Snow, Stephen, and Dhaval Vyas. 2015. Fostering Collaboration in the Management of Family Finances. In Proceedings of OzCHI’15. Pp. 380-387. ACM.

Standard, Business. 2018. 190mn Indian adults don’t have bank account, says World Bank report. April 19, 2018. Retrieved from https://www.business-standard.com/article/finance/190-mn-indian-adults-don-t-have-bank-account-says-world-bank-report-118041900972_1.html  

Notes

[1] https://www.digitalindia.gov.in/

[2] Our own experience in the field has shown, however, that use of internet is often limited to most popular applications such as WhatsApp, YouTube, Google Maps and sometimes Facebook.

[3] Unified Payments Interface is a real-time payment system developed by the National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) to enable multiple financial services such as P2P transfers, merchant payments, and so on to be availed through a mobile application. Unlike M-PESA (Kenya), which is a feature phone app only, or Swish (Sweden) which can be used only on smartphone, UPI can be used by both smartphone (via an app) and non-smartphone users (via USSD code). https://www.npci.org.in/product-overview/upi-product-overview 

[4] https://venturebeat.com/2018/07/04/whatsapp-says-collective-action-required-to-combat-the-spread-of-misinformation-in-india/

[5] WhatsApp had applied for a UPI license almost a year ago but the Government is yet to approve because of concerns over privacy and data storage. The Indian Government, in the aftermath of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, was wary of user data from India being stored outside of the country and insisted on local data storage. Facebook, which owns WhatsApp, only recently acceded to this stipulation. 


DIODE General

Chat as an Interface for Underserved Communities

The platform economy largely relies on smartphones to distribute work to workers (who are typically conceived of as independent ‘entrepreneurs’). In the India, many platform economy workers come from low income communities from the auto rickshaw drivers on Ola and Uber to the delivery riders of Swiggy and Zomato. In parallel to the growing platform economy, smartphone penetration has rapidly increased in low income communities in India (at least in the cities) – due to extremely cheap data and the increasing availability of economy handsets. WhatsApp is a major driver of smartphone adoption (O’Neill et al, 2016). In ICTD how to provide services – for work, health, education – to underserved communities in an appropriate way is an ongoing question. The increasing use of smartphones as a tool for work and community raises new possibilities when thinking about ICTD services. In our research, we meet plenty of auto rickshaw drivers with low or no literacy but who competently use Ola/Uber to get work and WhatsApp to maintain connectivity with their network: sharing greetings and other memes, or using voice messaging.

The almost ubiquity of chat amongst smartphone users raises exciting possibilities for thinking about chat as an interface to a whole variety of services and information designed for, with and by underserved communities.

To illustrate I will share some reflections from our recent experiences designing a FinTech service for auto-rickshaw drivers. In particular why we moved from a smartphone application to using chat as an interface. The FinTech service, Prayana, has been designed to give auto-rickshaw drivers information on how they are progressing through loans they have taken out to buy their auto-rickshaws. This service is part of an ecosystem consisting most importantly of people – field agents, drivers, back office staff and community organisers – supported by technology which helps provide timely information, accessible to those with low literacy by making use of iconography, colour coding, visualisations and numbers. The Fintech service provides information, motivators and nudges on loan progress  direct to the drivers as well as to the field agents who help manage their loans. In the field agents version it also provides workflow support for the agents.

For the drivers app we originally designed a stand-alone Android application, but our experiences with the stand-alone field agents app we had deployed in 2017 raised serious questions about the sustainability of a standalone application. The field agents app required intense development effort just to keep it running: in the 12 months after deployment of the ‘stable’ version  we released 39 versions and recorded over 900 crashes! Pretty much whenever Android updated something would break. How would our partners, Three Wheels United (TWU), a small social enterprise start-up with limited technical resources, manage to sustain it once the research was done? Let alone develop the new features necessary to keep the application in line with their rapidly growing business? Worse still, whilst we could control what phones the field agents use for their work, we have no such control over the drivers phones which consisted of a wide range of handsets and versions of android. Even building a standalone app that can work consistently across such a variety of phones is a difficult task.  Finally, a standalone app would be yet another interface for drivers to learn and in our iterative tests, even as we simplified and improved the design, this remained a barrier for many drivers.

User test of Prayana with Auto-Rickshaw Drivers in Chitradurga, India

We had been doing research in another project on how Kaizala, Microsoft’s chat app for work in emerging markets, was being adapted used by resource-constrained and innovative young enterprises to support their workflows (McGregor et al., 2019). Could this provide the solution we were looking for? The advantages of Kaizala is it works on a wide variety of Android phones, including most low end ones. Further the Kaizala team takes care of ensuring it works with new Android versions. Equally important is Kaizala’s easily programmable APIs meaning virtually anything can be built on top of it and even low resource organisations should be able to build new screens and update existing ones. And finally, the chat metaphor is easy to understand and use since the vast majority of smartphone users in India use WhatsApp. We therefore built Prayana on top of Kaizala. We used Kaizala’s backend APIs for message delivery to tailor the information delivered to each driver based on their loan performance. Visual messages are triggered to appear in the chat stream at different points in the loan, e.g. when a payment is due, has been made, or a driver is falling behind or has paid off a certain amount of their loan. Clicking on these messages opens a screen, known as a card, which gives more details about the loan in a colour-coded, visual and numeric way.

Drivers found the chat interface easy to use

The custom cards gave us a blank canvas and complete control over the way we represented information. In user tests we found that chat worked much better than we hoped and drivers had an almost instant grasp of the interface. Even though we used the same screens as we had in the standalone app, drivers understood more in this chat-based interface and were much more confident about using it. Even drivers who could not read and write understood some of the information in each card! This was very positive and an improvement on previous versions. On the downside the setup was complicated, as drivers often had never used Play Store, or did not know their passwords, and we had to set up gmail accounts for many drivers – even though they will likely never use nor need email. Some drivers did not have enough space on their phone for the app – which is likely to remain a barrier to adoption. Despite the downsides this seemed like a major improvement on a standalone app and the chat-based drivers app was deployed in January 2019.

We believe our experiences have a much wider applicability and we are currently excited about the idea of chat as an interface to underserved communities. Building on top of chat greatly reduces the barriers to building new services and apps, can be done by anyone with HTML skills and reduces the barriers for end-users adoption. We can imagine all sorts of services from healthcare to career development, from community action to workers platforms. The opportunities are immense, in India at least, where smartphone penetration is rapidly increasing even amongst low income communities. We believe chat may be a great interface to workers in the digital economy.

References

O’Neill, Jacki, Kentaro Toyama, Jay Chen, Berthel Tate, and Aysha Siddique (2016) The increasing sophistication of mobile media sharing in lower-middle-class Bangalore. In Proceedings of the Eighth International Conference on Information and Communication Technologies and Development. ACM, 2016.

McGregor, Moira, Bidwell, Nicola J., Sarangapani, Vidya, Appavoo, Jonathan and O’Neill, Jacki (2019) Talking about Chat at Work in the Global South: an Ethnographic Study of Chat Use in India and Kenya. In Proceedings of CHI, ACM, 2019

Jacki O’Neill, 21/03/2019