GUIDE TO APPS FOR SOCIAL CHANGE


Dear Colleagues,

One of the main goals of this site is to help practitioners, students, and scholars network, connect, and share best resources. This guide will look at some of the key issues and considerations around using apps in peace and development work, as well as offer some examples of how they are being used.  An app, which is short for (software) application, is  software that is used on a mobile device or smartphone (Android, iPhone, BlackBerry, iPad, etc.).  With the boom in use of smart phones, we have seen a corresponding growth in number of available apps, some of which are being leveraged for social change. According to Forbes, as of December 2013, there are 1,000,000 apps available in the Apple store, with 25,000-30,000 apps being added every month.

This guide is not specifically an endorsement of any particular product/company, but rather some resources you might find useful in your work and research. Before downloading any resource on your device of choice, we highly recommend ensuring the download is safe, spyware and virus free and also appropriate for your operating system.  We encourage others to suggest additional tips and resources in the comments.

 

When thinking about using or developing an app for your program, here are some key issues to consider:

Does the tool fit the objective?  While apps show a lot of potential in our field, it is important to think about whether or not the technology matches with the goals and means of the project.  Some questions to consider:

  • Do people have access to smart phones? 
  • Will their identities and data be protected? 
  • How will data be monitored, used, and/or put into action? 
  • Are people expecting a response? How will the app meet those expectations and needs?
  • Is there an easier way to meet the same objective(s)?
  • How expensive will it be to develop an app?  Will the app be offered for free?
  • How do you verify accuracy of information and reporting?

 

There are many questions to ask yourself before deciding that an app will be the most effective tool for your project/program/organization.  Feel free to add additional considerations in the comments below!

 

Examples of Apps

Apps are being developed in a number of ways.  Some apps focus on sharing and disseminating knowledge and information. Others focus on increasing transparency and accountability by allowing users to submit texts reporting human rights violations, bribery, crime, etc.  There are apps to monitor public health and water quality, apps to promote local commerce and trade, apps to educate girls, apps to educate others about the need to educate girls, and more. Below are just a few examples of the types of apps available to users.  Click on the link for more information about each one.  A reminder: PCDN is not endorsing  any particular product/company. Please make sure the download is safe, spyware and virus free and also appropriate for your operating system before downloading anything.

Source for Infographic: http://www.thinkcomputers.org/infographic-smartphone-trends-for-2013/

 

Apps for Transparency, Accountability, and Reporting- apps that are used to report crime, incidences of violence, traffic violations, each time they pay a bribe, etc.

Apps disseminating Knowledge and Information- apps that share news sources, videos, educational materials or tutorials, indexes, data, etc.

  • App to strengthen women's human rights by making the texts and content of UN and other international agreements, resolutions and documents about women's human rights more easily accessible.
  • United Nations Handbook 2013-14 details how the UN works.
  • Red Flag is a guide to working in high-risk areas that educates businesses about potential human rights violations.
  • IRIN News is a daily humanitarian news and analysis service offered by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs with a wide network of locally-based writers in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
  • The OECD Info app allows users to access and comment on news, publications, videos, and indexes, as well as participate in discussions, from the OECD.
  • World Bank finances app gives the general public access to mapping, contracts, and procurement data for World Bank projects, loans and grants.
  • Better World Flux lets users look at progress made towards the UN’s Millennium Development Goals, both by indicator and by country, using World Bank Open Data.
  • People Power App, produced by the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict (ICNC), gives users access to ICNC's educational and research materials, information on activities, current events/news related to nonviolence, lectures, interviews, webinars, and an online resource library.

 

Apps in Action- apps that are used as a part or whole project/program themselves, in which organization put the information gained from their app into action.

  • Circle6 is an app that allows users to prevent sexual assault by alerting their  close friends through a series of icons that quickly and easily lets their “circle” know where they are and how they can help.
  • UNMAS Landmine and ERW Safety allows individuals to report hazardous areas and items to UNMAS using photos, GPS coordinates, and any other descriptions they can provide.  UNMAS will then use this information to coordinate with the appropriate agency and handle the hazardous areas and items.
  • mWater monitors and maps the quality of drinking water in Tanzania.
  • Ustad Mobile, also known as Mobile Teacher, uses audio and video tutorials to teach users mathematics and two languages (Dari and Pashto). Using phones for education overcomes the lack of computers and increases access to education for women and those in rural areas.
  • KivaLender App users can send micro loans to those in developing countries, scrolling through the latest loan requests on Kiva.org by sector or country, as well as track the progress of individuals they have previously loaned to.
  • Dialogue App- allows citizens to discuss ideas and strategies for improving their communities through an online platform.

 Apps for Philanthropy- apps that are used for charity, philanthropy; creating awareness, support, and funds.

  • Feedie For every photo of food that is shared, The Lunchbox Fund donates actual food to children in need.
  • Charity Miles Users can choose a charity to which a certain amount of money is donated based on how long they run, walk, or bike, tracked by the GPS on the app.
  • Human Rights Campaign’s Buying for Equality App lists brands and products from businesses that support LGBTQ equality.
  • Amnesty Internationals AiCandle allows users to light a virtual candle, take part in international campaigns, and sign petitions.

Putting yourself in their shoes- apps that are geared to help others understand the perspective of those in circumstances different than their own by allowing them to experience or see things from alternate viewpoints.

  • My life as a refugee is a game that creates awareness by role playing the tough decisions and events that real refugees face on a daily basis. 
  • Get Water! Is a game that creates awareness about the struggles girls face when trying to access education.  Users have to help Maya collect clean water quickly so she has time to go to school and study. 
  • One Day’s Wages raises user’s awareness of global poverty, allowing them to calculate one day’s wages in different areas of the world.
  • UNESCO Bangkok's Flood Fighter App is a game that teaches about flood safety.

Conclusion

Funding opportunities for apps and technology for change are rapidly increasing- with challenges to Silicon Valley being made by Kofi Annan, Bill and Melinda Gates, Bob King’s Stanford Institute for Innovation in Developing Economies, Google Ideas, the World Bank, and more. 

If you are interested in learning how to code or build your own app, check out Code Academy’s free online courses, Forbes’ list of cloud-based tools, and/or this list of 9 resources for building your own app. Nextgov offers some guidelines on building a better app, and reviews apps used and produced by the US government.

As noted in this Foreign Policy article, while technology offers us hope and the promise of a brighter future, it is unrealistic to think it can solve all world problems.  In fact, some of the better solutions come from simple projects, rather than overly-ambitious and unnecessary technological inventions (FP compares a $99 dollar soccer ball that will generate power after being kicked around to a more economical and useful $10 solar-powered lamp).

Please suggest additional tips and resources in the comments- what key issues should you consider when looking at or thinking about apps for social change?  How do you see apps being used in your community or work? 

 

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Tags: apps, change, guide, resource, smart phone, social

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Comment by Tamburai Mpariwa Gwekwerere on October 14, 2014 at 12:06pm

great article! thanks for sharing

Comment by Helena Puig Larrauri on August 28, 2014 at 9:04am

Hi Valerie, great post, thanks for sharing. We're running a competition for apps and games for peace that you may find of interest: http://www.unaoc.org/peaceapp/

Comment by Khalid Saifullah on January 29, 2014 at 7:45am

Good blog to inform people regarding useful apps. 

Comment by Christina Sciabarra on January 27, 2014 at 12:44pm

Thank you for posting this!  It is a great way to get people thinking about how apps work and creating their own.  Much appreciation for putting this together.

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