New App Co-designed With Low-income Communities Reduces Information Gap to Dhaka Services

A man stands in a narrow alleyway looking at a stack of papers in his hand. He is pictured in colour. The alleyway is in black and white.The winding streets and scattered services of Bangladesh's crowded capital Dhaka are being mapped by youth volunteers and uploaded to the web for the first time under a new project developed in partnership with the Institute for Culture and Society at Western Sydney University.

Living in a rapidly growing city presents unique challenges for locals using mobile phones and the internet, with online maps limited by the fact that many slum streets are too narrow to be tracked.

In addition, local businesses and service providers may lack an internet presence, meaning both new and long-time residents rely on word of mouth or other means to find the help they need. With internal migration (opens in a new window)surging toward the city from rural areas, an online tool which visualises services, verifies details and voices feedback can assist new arrivals.

To access essential services, information and support, a multi-sectoral initiative has co-designed Kolorob with community members to help users navigate and negotiate opportunities in the Mirpur district of Dhaka. The application incorporates an interactive map, detailed information about services, a feedback system, comparison tool and job portal.

The project is being implemented by Save the Children in Bangladesh (opens in a new window), supported by Save the Children Australia (opens in a new window)and Western Sydney University.

"Kolorob aims to empower users through the use of ICT in navigating their cities to make informed choices in accessing essential services." (Kolorob website (opens in a new window), 2016)

The mobile application can be downloaded free of charge from Google Playstore (opens in a new window). It contains an online directory of service providers with a crowd-sourced review feature, as well as an interactive map showcasing over 600 of the services available in the area.

Community launches were held on Friday 2nd September and Saturday 3rd September at two schools in Dhaka to promote the latest version release.

Along with Urbanisation Adviser David Sweeting (for Save the Children Australia), Dr Liam Magee and Dr Teresa Swist, researchers at the Institute for Culture and Society, have been technical advisors to the project since July 2015.

They visited Dhaka in February this year to interview users and developers of the app. In a recent article, they describe how:

"Opening up participatory initiatives – like Kolorob – is a way to heed the needs, concerns and aspirations of marginalised communities. The urban poor need to be able to co-produce innovations that voice and support their preferred models for practice and interdependence." (The Conversation (opens in a new window), June 11 2016)

The Kolorob initiative is currently seeking partners to scale up and maintain the initiative. This next phase would further develop the mobile application database and expand the number of information kiosks so as to advance participatory knowledge sharing with more communities in Dhaka.

To find out more about the initiative's aim, process, mobile interface design, project participants and community members, watch the YouTube video below.

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Available for comment

  • Dr Liam Magee, Institute for Culture and Society Research Fellow
  • Dr Teresa Swist, Institute for Culture and Society Research Fellow
  • David Sweeting, Urbanisation Adviser for Save the Children Australia, ICS Visiting Scholar and Institute Associate

Original media release by Western Sydney University News.

Posted: 5 September 2016.