It’s a great step, says Iliffe, but there’s still a long way to go. “The technology is the easy bit,” he says. “The hard bit is the behavioral science. Two and a half billion people still defecate outside, and we won’t be able to solve that tomorrow.”
It’s easy for people to assume that mobile phones- given their mapping, gaming, and instant-feedback abilities- are a silver bullet for global development. But they come with their own challenges.
Not everyone who has a phone is fully literate, nor do they know where to find information and which information to trust. And, says Priya Jaisinghani, director of mobile solutions for USAID, there’s the issue of getting people to use these apps.
“There’s been sustained hype about mobile for development solutions for over a decade now”, she says, “but we haven’t seen as many scaled solutions as you would hope by now.”
Yet, she believes that the technology’s time is coming.
“The voice of the poor has been silent throughout history,” she says “ [Mobile phones] are still the most cost effective tool for getting information to and from citizens, empowering them to make choices. Just because these things aren’t working, doesn’t mean they can’t.”