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IS Graduate Seminar Series - Ishtiaque Ahmed, 2/5/2016

Friday, February 5, 2016 - 3:00pm to 4:00pm
Gates Hall 310

Title: "Understanding People and Designing Technology for Sustainable Development"

Abstract: The top Sustainable Development Goals of United Nations, including poverty alleviation, literacy, and gender equality, are closely tied to the problems of exclusion from the core economic, social, and cultural infrastructures. As a potential tool for sustainable development, technology has the responsibility to make these infrastructures more inclusive. However, to date, many of the world’s biggest technological advances have primarily benefited some privileged people living in developed regions that contain a small fraction of the world’s population. The goal of my research is to conduct ethnography to understand the underserved populations in low-income regions, and design and develop appropriate technologies to bring sustainable positive changes in their lives.

In this talk, I will describe my general research approach that combines ethnography and design. I will focus on two of my recent projects to explain how understanding the communities through a deep ethnography can produce effective technologies. The first one is “Suhrid”, an accessible mobile phone interface for a low-literate rickshaw driver community. The second one is “Protibadi”, a mobile phone application for women to combat public sexual harassment. Both of these projects will demonstrate a set of ethnographic tools and techniques for understanding different economic, social, and cultural values of a community and how those can play a crucial role in designing novel technologies. Building on that, I will briefly talk about couple of my ongoing works on refugees, mobile phone repairers, and e-waste collectors to show how ethnographic studies have opened up novel spaces for design and other creative interactions with computing technologies. Through these projects, I will also explain how better access, visibility, and freedom in technology can empower the marginalized communities with voice, combat the problem of exclusion, and contribute to a sustainable development.