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A Design Guide for Communicating with BISP Recipients in Pakistan



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Continuum Innovation looked for a way to enable poor women in Pakistan to use ATMs even when they were unable to read. This design guide outlines their approach.

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A Design Guide for Communicating with BISP Recipients in Pakistan

  1. 1. A Design Guide for Communication With BISP Recipients
  2. 2. Harry West Rachel Lehrer Research supported by: CGAP - Consultative Group to Assist the Poor HBL - Habib Bank Limited November, 2013
  3. 3. The Challenge of Illiteracy among BISP Recipients Illiteracy is the hidden hurdle that makes it difficult to bring financial inclusion to BISP recipients. Systems that should work in theory break down when poor people are unable to learn how to use them or are unable to play their role as customers in maintaining transparency and honesty in the system. If you cannot read your receipt, how do you know if you received the right amount of money? The standard for literacy in Pakistan is to be able to write your own name. Most women in Pakistan are unable to surmount even this low bar. Literacy studies in other regions report much more capability than we found in the rural areas in Southern Punjab. In the poor communities we visited illiteracy is compounded by a lack of personal agency outside the home amongst married Muslim women. The challenge of communicating with BISP recipients is extreme. Being illiterate is more limiting than just not being able to read. Other investigators have shown that learning to read helps to develop a person’s ability to use language in general and to deal with abstraction. “Kuvers (2002) observed that the functional illiterate persons are less proficient in the processing of spoken language than the literate participants. Apparently there is a relation between the processing of written and spoken language.” 1. It was also observed that the functionally illiterate participants were less proficient to mentally rotate geometric objects, indicating that functionally illiterate individuals have difficulty in mental spatial orientation, which hinders the navigation through information files. In addition, they are less able to perform multitasks and to remain their attention focused to the task at hand (vigilance), which possibly also hinders efficient and successful use of an ATM.” 2. Some companies are exploring the use of talking ATM’s. Indrani Medhi et al who has done the most work in the area of communicating with low literate populations in India found that audio-visual cognitive coordination was difficult and recommended simpler graphical communication.3 In small sample size tests with extremely illiterate people in rural Punjab we confirmed the difficulty of following verbal instructions to perform a manual task, but found that photographs were better than the cartoons or diagrams that had been used previously.
  4. 4. Levels of Illiteracy among BISP Recipients As we peeled the onion on illiteracy amongst BISP recipients we learned what they found difficult to do, and what, with some help, they could learn to do. 1. Writing and Reading Urdu script The women we spoke with could not read or write Urdu script. Generally they could not read or write their own name. 2. Numbers Most BISP recipients could read English numbers and knew what they represented. But being able to read a number does not mean that you can interact correctly with systems using numbers. 3. Direction Be aware of the challenge of direction. In English we write from left to write, in Urdu, from right to left. People who speak Urdu, Punjabi, Saraiki, Sindhi even if they cannot write, may have learned to look at things from right to left. This is particularly a problem when English numbers encroach on a mostly Punjabi world. For example, when first using a cell phone a person might punch in the right numbers, but in the wrong order. 4. Understanding Verbal Instructions Translating from verbal instructions to manual action was difficult. Abstractions such as “top, right” or “the square” confused people. 5. Calendar BISP recipients might know that it is the 7th of the month, but not necessarily what month it is. They might remember that they got their money during Ramadan, but not know the month that was. They might know that an event happened ten days ago without knowing today’s date. But do not confuse illiteracy with stupidity. We were taught this lesson by an old, blind woman who could barely walk. She had lived her entire life in the country, and could not use a cell phone. But when we described some financial products to her she immediately understood how to use them to her advantage in ways that our team, including a finance expert, had not anticipated. So, having determined what does not work, we looked for a way to communicate without words, diagrams or icons, and without verbal instructions. The answer was simple: use photographs. Photographs are a literal ways to communicate: there is no abstraction. We found that BISP women were confident and eager to use an ATM after they were shown a series of photographs showing each step of the process.
  5. 5. Communicate Literally Written language is an abstraction, literacy develops a person’s ability to understand abstraction, so when communicating with illiterate people: avoid abstraction, be literal. Use photographs not icons. Be specific, not general.
  6. 6. Visual If communicating visually, use photos that show exactly what to a person needs to do. Many of the ways in which literate people have learned to communicate rely on signs, icons, diagrams or other abstractions, which are not self-explanatory, but we have learned to understand. Illiterate people often have not learned to think in terms of abstractions, so signs, icons, and diagrams may not make sense to them. For example, use a photographs of an ATM rather than a diagram. 4.
  7. 7. Visual If you use photos, they should be accurate. Literate people have learned to build abstractions from what they see that allow them disregard details that are different to the particular situation they are in. Illiterate people can be confused if a detail in the picture is wrong. For example, use photographs of the specific ATM they are interacting with, don’t use the same photograph for a different ATM. 5
  8. 8. Verbal If communicating verbally, use literal language. • Many of the ways in which literate people have learned to think rely on abstractions, which we have learned to understand. Illiterate people may not know the meaning of abstractions that they have not interacted with.6 • For example, don’t call it “a loan based on an income stream”, call it “get your money now, but you have to pay a fee”. Don’t call it “a savings account,” call it “leave your money in the bank, and you will get a reward at the end of the year.” If you use words, use the words they use, and the syntax they use. Illiterate people often live in communities that speak a different dialect. Use that dialect. For example, in Lahore use Punjabi, in southern Punjab use Saraiki.
  9. 9. Prioritize the Illiterate Reader Avoid using words • Illiterate people may ignore pamphlets with both words and images on them, even if the images by themselves are self-explanatory. Words indicate to an illiterate person that it is not for them. 7
  10. 10. Prioritize the Illiterate Reader If you have to use words, make the information hierarchy obvious. Sometimes documents are shared between literate and illiterate people and there may be legal requirements for more information than the literate person can comprehend. 8 Illiterate people often understand some written information, for example they may be able to read some numbers. However, they may not be able to find the numbers if they are surrounded by other text. For example, make the number you want to communicate to the illiterate person as big and bold as possible.
  11. 11. Do Not Require Strict Syntax Being literate reinforces consistent vocabulary and syntax. 9 For example, reading and writing your legal name reminds you of what your legal name is. Illiterate people do not have this constant reminder and may not be able to hold on to the exact details and strict syntax that many formal legal and financial transactions require. For example, many BISP recipients did not know their full legal name, their husband’s name, the maiden name of their mother, or their date of birth. After years of always being referred to by their nickname in the village they might think that is their real name. Setting up systems that require people to know exact details and strict syntax excludes illiterate people and may leave them bewildered and frustrated.
  12. 12. Example of ATM Photographic Instructions
  13. 13. Example of Agent Photographic Instructions
  14. 14. References 1. Computers Helping People with Special Needs: 11th International Conference, ICCHP 2008, Linz, Austria, July 9-11, 2008, Proceedings p711 2. Computers Helping People with Special Needs: 11th International Conference, ICCHP 2008, Linz, Austria, July 9-11, 2008, Proceedings p711 3. Indrani Medhi, Archana Prasad, and Kentaro Toyama, Optimal audio-visual representations for illiterate users, International World Wide Web Conference, 2007 4. An Approach to Help Functionally Illiterate People with Graphical Reading Aids Marcel Goetze and Thomas Strothotte Department of Simulation and Graphics University of Magdeburg Universitätsplatz 2, D-39108 Magdeburg Germany 5. How Illiterate People Learn: Case Study of Ethiopian Adults in Israel: Yarden Fanta-Vagenshtein: Journal of Literacy and Technology 26 Volume 9, Number 3: December 2008 ISSN: 1535-0975 6. Medhi, I., Nagasena, G. S. N., and Toyama, K., A comparison of mobile moneytransfer UIs for non-literate and semi-literate users Proc. ACM Conference on Computer Human Interaction, Boston, USA, 2009. 7. Medhi, I and Kuriyan, R Text-Free UI: Prospects for Social Inclusion, IFIP 9th International Conference on Social Implications of Computers in Developing Countries, 2007 8. Indrani Medhi, Meera Lakshmanan, Kentaro Toyama, and Edward Cutrell, Some Evidence for Impact of Limited Education on Hierarchical User Interface Navigation, ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, April 2013 9. Greenemeier, L; New ATM Designed For Semi-Literate and Illiterate Populations July 11, 2011