Saturday, August 10, 2013

how smartphones revolutionize developing countries : a reflection on the GPS training in Gondar

From my field work in Ethiopia, i learnt that getting access to GPS, setting them right and collect the waypoints (location) of farmstead was on of the most challenging tasks. It is about one year ago that my team sent out over twenty enumerators with garmin GPS, laptops and data cables, trying to collect with more or less success geo-referenced data.

On my short term visit in Gondar this week, i decided to give a one day GPS training to whom interested from Gondar University as well as the Gondar agricultural research Institute. It was a sort of open day, where I wanted to look at option of collecting data with what these people have, expecting that most of them would somehow appear to the training with a very old Garmin GPS (without batteries) and a laptop without any GIS software. I had proposed to look at QGIS and Google earth, two user friendly open source GIS software to avoid long (and illegal) Arc GIS installation, making it very realistic that each of the participant can continue his learning process from home/workplace. 

participants downloading data from their smartphones to their computer
To my big astonishment, more than half of the participants owned a fancy smartphone with GPS. Some one year ago, i was the only one with a smartphone, my original  chinese Huawei (a very cheap smartphone produced for in Kenya), but today most of the people have some much more fancy ones than my crappy china phone. 

In the end the training focused on how to use an android phone, with the app "mytracks", to collect data. How does the GPS in such a phone work? When does it go wrong? All participants then mapped out their data in Google earth, that now allows a spatio-temporal visualization of data. Honestly, it is so fancy and never before it has been so easy to collect geo-referenced data. 

A participant presenting how he has collected and visualized his data on his smartphone

At the end of the training we captured some of the reflections and lessons learnt from the training on short videos, such as the above one. You can find the whole documentation of the course and soon also the complete reflection of the training under the training webpage.  

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