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WeFarm #3: Making the experience tangible

01 May, 2014 - Source: Else

Part three in a series where we expose the workings behind our peer-to-peer knowledge sharing project for Cafédirect Producers Foundation. Expect insights from research and user-testing, as well as sharing of early concept development through to the final solution.

SomeOne/Else have been working with Cafédirect Producers' Foundation (CPF), Manifesto and Conker Group to create 'the internet for people with no internet’; a peer-to-peer knowledge sharing platform that lets farmers ask other farmers questions via SMS. WeFarm will soon become available to CPF’s network of 280,000 smallholder farmers around the world.

Imagine a farmer in South America - a native Spanish speaker, sharing tips on a basic phone on growing maize in tough conditions with a group of farmers in a Kenyan village - where the translation to Swahili has magically happened behind the scenes!

WeFarm was recently named as one of the 20 most ‘Inspiring Start-ups Aiming to Change the World' by Mashable.

In our earlier posts, we looked at why WeFarm provides a much needed way to improve the access that rural communities have to information, and how we set about designing the service and solving some of the key challenges.

Now, we’re proud to be able to reveal some of our work on this project for the very first time.

WeFarm via SMS

There will be three main groups of people using WeFarm: farmers, extension workers and translators. For more detail on these user types, check out WeFarm #2: Crafting the Experience.

SMS will be the primary and indeed sole medium of access for the vast majority of farmers using the service. Our UX team developed an SMS sign-up process and Q&A flows working closely with our technical partners, who built the database and the mechanics behind it all. If you’d like to know more about the behind-the-scenes tech, Manifesto give a great explaination on their blog.

A farmer signs up to the service by texting Join to WeFarm; WeFarm replies asking for their name and then a basic profile gets created for them so they may begin asking questions and helping other farmers.

Asking a question

To submit a question, the farmer must text Q followed by their question. WeFarm then directs the question to a selection of farmers who have the expertise to answer it, straight to their mobile phones.

The question also appears on the web. This is where volunteer translators step in to dramatically widen the pool of farmers available to answer.

One of the challenges we faced was augmenting a farmer's profile with detailed enough information to be able to target them with the questions they would likely be able to help with.

Unlike filling in a form on the web, the amount of information that can be gathered in an SMS sign up process is limited. We needed to minimise the number of back-and-forth messages and keep the process as streamlined as possible.

The way we overcame this was to ask farmers to enter a short code identifying themselves to the co-operative they belong to. For example, if they signed up with JoinMASCAFE, we would know they belonged to the Más Café Co-operative in Mexico, farm coffee and speak Spanish. Whereas if they messaged JoinIGARA, we would know they were with the Igara Co-operative in Uganda, speak English and might be able to answer questions about tea.

When the original questioner is satisfied they have received enough responses to their question, they send a message to opt-out.

Farmers can also submit any useful tips they have to WeFarm by texting Tip. The idea is to build up a pool of knowledge within WeFarm, sending out tips as timely messages to whom they are relevant. This will keep users engaged even when they are not asking their own questions.

WeFarm on the web

WeFarm on the web caters for two main user groups - translators and extension workers. It will also be used by a small minority of farmers who have access to the internet. We've designed WeFarm to be responsive, which means it automatically adjusts to display correctly on any screen size - so it can be viewed on multiple types of devices.

Look & feel

We developed a look and feel for WeFarm that was as simple and clear as possible. "Elegant simplicity" is embedded in SomeOne/Else’s design philosophy, and this especially holds true when designing for people with very limited online experience.

Organising content

We decided that using an activity stream format would be the most logical way to organise content on the web, allowing users to browse through questions, answers and tips with ease.

If you’re a translator logged in, you can browse the stream to see what bits of content require your translation skills. If you’re a farmer, you’ll only see content that's already in your language.




Within the stream, answers to questions are connected in threads.

We’ve employed a simple colour scheme to tell apart different types of content on screen. When it’s a question, an orange speech bubble icon is used. For answers, the colour is green. The idea is to provide a visual cue to the places more answers are required. Tips appear in blue and are independent of Q&As.


Humanising WeFarm

A key challenge was finding a way to give volunteer translators enough of an incentive to engage with WeFarm based on their altruistic motivation.

To do this, we looked for opportunities to humanise the people the service helps wherever possible. One example of this is the creation of Q&A map views. This enables a translator to follow the journey of a question they’ve translated, giving them a sense of the reach of their contribution. It also highlights the geographical areas that need their attention the most.


Hablas Español?

WeFarm uses human translators because when it comes to translating SMS-based ideas emanating from one cultural group to another in a different part of the world, Google Translate doesn't quite cut it.

In the final version of WeFarm, we’ve designed a simple but clever test that will make sure people who register as translators can actually speak the languages. This is important to help keep the quality of content on the site at a high standard.

Searching for the answer

All content is searchable on the WeFarm web experience. 'Typeahead' search will provide live suggestions to the user as they are typing.




Testing with users

We believe it’s crucial that the farmers who use the system become a key part of the design process, and we’ve had a couple of opportunities to get our designs in front of users along the way.

In the last session run by CPF in Kenya, farmers and staff from the co-operatives had a chance to use a limited version of the service, with very encouraging results. There’s a full account of the session available via CPF’s blog.

WeFarm prepares to launch

The team are really excited about what’s been designed so far.

SomeOne/Else have recently returned from Nandi Hills in Kenya after a final round of field testing. It was the first end-to-end test of the WeFarm service and involved translators as well as farmers in multiple countries.

We wanted to find out how well farmers could complete set tasks using their mobile phones, seeking their feedback on how easy they found it as well as ensuring the system is robust from a technical standpoint. We also invited a select group of senior farmers and extension workers to try the WeFarm website.

Keep an eye on updates as we count down to the full system launch, just weeks away now.

Cafédirect Producers' Foundation (CPF) is a UK registered charity owned and led by smallholder farmers for smallholder farmers. They are currently engaged with 280,000 smallholder tea, coffee and cocoa producers across Africa, Latin America and Asia. Find out more about what they do by visiting their website.

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