University of California, Irvine | firstname.lastname@example.org
Microsoft Research India | email@example.com
Microsoft Research India | firstname.lastname@example.org
University of California, Irvine | email@example.com
[ 1] Norman, D., Design
of Everyday Things,
New York: Basic Books,
November + December 2009
[ 2] Sambasivan, N.,
Cutrell, E., Nardi, B.,
Case of Urban Indian
Slums, Ubicomp 2009.
HCI for Development (HCI4D) lies at the intersection of information communication technologies
for development (ICT4D) and human-computer
interaction (HCI). The mainstream HCI community
creates user experiences for the developed-world
consumer, while ICT4D is concerned about creating relevant technologies for developing nations.
The fusion—HCI4D—evolved and realigned goals
to design user experiences for a new audience,
namely populations living in a context of low rates
of telecom diffusion and digital literacy.
The foundation of good interaction design is
understanding the user [ 1]. While usable interfaces are critical for good user experience, contextual factors such as institutional arrangements,
literacy levels, and social, political, economic,
and infrastructural issues often guide the usage
and sustainability of development projects. In
this regard, ethnography is a highly favored field
technique in HCI4D research. This is due to the
perspective it lends in gauging the sociocultural
relevance and acceptability of technologies in a
At the core of ethnographic research is field
immersion of the researcher as a participant-observer. It follows that ethnographic studies
are not only vulnerable to biases held by the
researcher, but also are products of relationships
established between the researcher and informants. Ethnography has historically involved
power imbalances between researcher and informants. In the context of HCI4D, projects may fall
into the trap of mistranslating findings into a
design irrelevant to the needs of target users in
specific socioeconomic contexts, even with the
best of intentions. Misreading cultures can disrupt
the developmental underpinnings of HCI4D, which
is concerned with technologies that move toward
fulfilling human developmental goals. From our
own experience in employing ethnographic methods in HCI4D, to avoid these traps:
Rearticulate the assumptions of developmen- 1.
Outline a repertoire of field techniques 2.
improvised for low-income settings, and
Highlight lessons learned from tensions 3.
rooted in the conflicting cultural contexts of the
HCI4D researcher and informants.
Our ideas developed out of field engagements
between 2008 and 2009 in the slums of Bangalore,
India, where we observed female domestic workers, and Mumbai, where we studied small businesses and their socioeconomic networks [ 2]. While
our reflections are not new to the field of anthropology, we present ways to manage these age-old
problems in the context of HCI4D. Some salient
observations from our fieldwork are as follows:
Question the notion of development.
Understanding the meaning of development is
critical to any developmental project. Broadly
speaking, development as a goal addresses the
necessities of human life, such as food, sanitation,
health care, education, and employment. However,
a critical component in strengthening the socio-economic and moral foundations of the project is
to elicit the idea of development held by the target