As discussed earlier, we finally settled on an electronic panel to play the role of an information gathering tool to facilitate informal reporting of harassment cases. We faced many challenges in designing this panel; it had to overcome a multitude of obstacles before it could be relevant and useful for our cause- technical and beyond. In this post, how we tackled said challenges in order to materialize our working prototype is discussed. The prototype itself receives the spotlight, of course!
Lets start off by looking at what meets the eye at first glance.
Well, it’s not much. And that’s the idea! Partly inspired by an ATM machine, navigation through the report is done using only the ten large buttons on either side of the screen. As a large chunk of our target audience has limited literacy, our device had to be kept nonintimidating and easy to use.
The fact that the report consisted only of objective choices hit two birds with one stone. One, it made interpreting the data and quantifying attributes of the problem easier. Two, it drastically reduced the complexity of reporting itself, allowing us to make usage of the device simple and clear.
Keeping in mind the advice we were given at the interview with Microsoft Research, we decided to minimize the layers of abstraction between the input mechanism and the changes it created on the screen. This was done by having large, well spaced physical buttons mapped unambigously to options on the screen right next to them. A touch screen would have been ideal to use in this scenario, but impractical due to another constraint, which brings me nicely to my next point.
The other major constraint we had to grapple with was cost. While it was all well and good to declare touch screens as the ideal input mechanism, we had to bear in mind that to be implemented on a large scale and to be relevant for day-to-day use in general public space, it had to be robust and cheap. This ruled out touch screens (which were relatively high-end and more prone to failure with the wear and tear of heavy use by the public), and made a simple, low-cost, sturdy, easily replaceable button system seem that much more attractive.
Moving on to the reporting itself, the process is basically registering the most relevant option on the screen as an answer to the question on that slide.
The first slide is to select the language for the rest of the report to proceed in, and the second is a welcome screen that establishes context for the benefit of the user. Following this, each successive slide builds information about the user and his/her account of the incident being reported (however, each slide has an option to refuse to answer that question).
There are three layers to aid the user in determining the meaning of each option. First, the regular text layer, which can be quickly scanned and understood by mostly literate audiences. Then, the audio and visual layers come into play.
Semi-abstract pictograms are used to represent what each option means, or at least give users a vague idea of the same. An audio recording of a female voice reading out the options on the screen (one by one) complements this. The audio recording can be repeated if required by pressing the speaker button at the bottom of the panel. This comprehensive three-layered system should ideally form a clear picture in the user’s mind and help him/her register a report regardless of literacy level.
Every option on the screen is unambiguously mapped to a physical button, which upon pressing highlights the selected option and adds the appropriate icon to a strip of (pictograms of) options selected so far through the report at the bottom of the screen. This system helps the user confirm the selection of the option, and keep track of the report so far. At the end of the report, there is an option to leave a recorded message (specifically to suggest improvements that the user recommends/would like to see) in
case the listed options do not adequately capture the user’s opinion. Following this, there is a ‘Thank You’ screen that can be used
to inform the user how to follow up on the report, or keep track of the initiative.
So far we’ve seen the reporting through the eyes of the reporter, now for a view behind the scenes!
The device is powered by a Raspberry Pi, which registers the user’s input from the buttons and reflects changes on the monitor it is connected to. The audio layer is facilitated by speakers, which can be swapped out for / supplemented by headphones for clearer, less publicly audible instructions.
There is lots of scope for expansion and improving the panel device. The software that drives the panel is quite lightweight, and is a consequence of that, can be run on any old smartphone. Literally! An old, out-of-use smartphone can be recycled and used to power the processing for the panel, thus keeping costs low and giving new meaning and life to what is now considered “e-waste”. In the future, if required, the reports can be pushed remotely to a central database, from which a summary report of sorts can be compiled and presented to relevant organizations. The entire process, from the recording of the user’s input and transferring it over the network to a central server, to scanning the data for the required details and compiling it into one meaningful report, can be automated easily due to the objective nature of the records.
So, to wrap up, what we have here is a medium for interaction with a large audience in public spaces, without even depending on the user being literate! In India, which has a 25.96% illiterate population, this is a significant factor.
This panel serves our purpose quite well. Placed at a bus stop, it would be accessible to a large audience, physically and otherwise! We hope that this panel will help make every voice heard, help women’s rights organizations in their advocacy for change, and last but not least, break the silence.
 Interview with Indrani Medhi and team at Lavelle Road office of Microsoft Research on 29th November 2013
 Census of India