We are proposing to work with a team of community FM radio operators from Dizha Kieru Radio in the indigenous Zapotec village of Talea de Castro, Oaxaca, Mexico to integrate their ongoing work, particularly as community news gatherers, with online and offline mobile-based technologies such as SMS and Twitter, taking advantage of not only the community radio station, but also the independent, community-operated GSM base-station that provides low-cost cellular service to the townspeople and an interesting platform on which to try new ideas.
What locality or neighborhood will your project focus on?
Villa Talea de Castro, Oaxaca
Describe the specific community with whom you will be working.
We are working in the Zapotec community of Talea de Castro in the Juarez mountains of Oaxaca, Mexico. The town has approximately 2500 inhabitants, and a sizeable number of emigrants who live in Los Angeles, California. Internet penetration is low overall, but recently the town began receiving Internet via microwave links from the nearest city and now has fairly speedy, if expensive service. There are two reasons we are working in Talea. First, we value the work of the community radio station Dizha Kieru (“Our Voice” in Zapotec). Second, the town is the first in the country, and possibly in the world, that owns and operates an independent GSM network. For us the cell phone, not the personal computer, is the present and future for most people in the developing world getting online.
What kinds of news, stories and other content will be created?
The idea is to create very short (SMS-length) news blurbs that will be collected in person and via SMS or calls from citizens in the town by the Dizha Kieru team who run both the radio and GSM base-station. The news will be synthesized, formatted, and then sent out to residents via mass SMS and posted online for emigrants living outside the town via Twitter. The content will dovetail with the ongoing work of the FM radio station, and we envision at least two newscasts being sent out every day, once in the morning and once in the evening. The content will be of mainly local interest, but one hope is to use this project to enrich the dialogue between those in the community and the diaspora.
What technologies and digital tools do you plan to use in the trainings?
Describe the connections that you or your organization have already established that will contribute to the success of the project.
We have been working with the town's governing council for over a year to put up the cellular base-station, and helped them secure the equipment and necessary legal permits. We also have an even longer and ongoing relationship with the Dizha Kieru team that goes back a number of years, stemming from our shared work in the world of indigenous communications and my role in helping them amplify the coverage area of their radio station. We have also been working with a number of technologists/hackers/programmers who are helping design graphic interface software that will make it easier for the operating team to compile and disseminate news through the GSM system in the town and online. Our work in Talea is ongoing and we are committed to them in the long-run.
How many participants do you think will be involved in your project?
We will train the entire Dizha Kieru team, which is approximately 10 people, plus anyone else who wants to join in. Since the project is about a fusion between older technology (FM radio) and newer, online technologies we believe that others, especially young people, will come on board. In all, we hope to train around 20 core people and sustain their participation through useful and interesting training sessions that resolve real issues and add to their ability to provide useful information. In larger meetings and group discussions with villagers, it has come to the fore that there is interest in a base-level training on SMS and Twitter for general users/recipients who are ultimately connected to the project as both suppliers of information and content and as recipients of news.
Describe which technologies, tools, and media you will focus on when training participants.
There are a number of interconnected technologies that we will focus on, grouped loosely into three areas. First, the personal computer, the Internet and Twitter. Second, Asterisk, GSM, the mobile phone, and SMS. Third, FM radio and audio production.
Although we will touch on all of these, the focus of trainings will be specifically aimed at strengthening skills related to SMS and Twitter and how they can be used to disseminate news and create dialogue.
I have worked in the USA, Nigeria and Mexico as a community communication and mobile technology trainer for the last four years, and have been able to assemble a small team of very skilled techies under the auspices of Rhizomatica to handle some of the more complicated technological aspects of the project.
Describe the facilities where you will hold the workshops.
We will hold workshops, meetings, etc. in the radio station and in various multi-purpose rooms in the municipal building in the center of Talea. All spaces have stable electricity, fairly speedy Internet (1 megabit download) and plenty of room for large groups, if necessary. The radio station has two dedicated computers, one of which is used to administer the GSM network locally and from which the newscasts will be sent out to subscribers and posted online.
What is your current relationship with the community with whom you plan to work? What makes you the most appropriate individual or organization to implement this project?
I started working in Talea de Castro over three years ago when I helped lead a hands-on workshop in which Dizha Kieru members built their radio transmission equipment. In the intervening years I have been to the town dozens of times for meetings, technical maintenance, etc. When we founded Rhizomatica in 2011 to promote mobile technology, it was in part due to experiences in Talea, particularly around how the radio station collected and disseminated information in the absence of any telephone, and so I began to speak with Dizha Kieru about our plans around getting cell phone service to rural localities and they signed on to be the first group/community to install and operate their own GSM base-station. I foresee a continued relationship for many years to come.
What specific challenges do you expect to face when planning and implementing your project?
Our biggest challenge is related to time. The Dizha Kieru team members are already fairly busy running the community radio station, which they do on a volunteer basis. As of recently they have also been tasked by the village authorities with running the community GSM base-station, meaning even more stress on their time. The funding we are requesting, at its core, is about finding synergies between these two duties so that each is strengthened and the team isn’t stressed beyond its limits. Providing news to people, at least from a producer’s viewpoint, is probably easier to do via SMS than live FM radio. Likewise, having the ability to receive phone calls makes it easier to collect information. Elucidating these opportunities and training people on how to take advantage of them is key.
How will you measure and evaluate the project’s impact, specifically: your primary participants, the wider regional community, or the global digital community?
On participants: Through attendance at trainings and engagement levels throughout the process and beyond. The benchmark is a team that can effectively use new tools like SMS and Twitter to disseminate important information and enrich dialogue.
In Talea and the region (also the immigrant community in the USA): A more engaged public, sending and receiving news and important information with their mobile phones.
These first two are measurable through the number, frequency, pertinence, etc. of Tweets and SMS sent and through conversations or surveys.
On a global level: We want to show the potential of GSM as a news and dialogue tool, which becomes even more interesting when the network is in the hands of community and operated in conjunction with ongoing community media initiatives.
If your project were to be selected as a Rising Voices grantee, what would be the general timeline of project activities in 2013?
The following activities will be spread over a 12-week period, from June through August, 2013.
Initial Meeting (Half day). In Talea with Dizha Kieru and town authorities to solidify training dates.
Develop training curriculum and materials (4 days).
Training 1 (3 days). In Talea, for core group of 20 participants focused on the essentials of news production and the basics of citizen journalism
Training 2 (3 days). In Talea, for the core group and focused on SMS and Twitter
Monitoring Visit (1.5 days). In Talea, talking with participants and surveying users.
Training 3 (2 days). In Talea, for the core group. Introduction to Asterisk and how to rethink GSM as a community news and dialogue tool.
Training 4 (1 day). In Talea for the general public. Introduction to citizen media on mobile phones.
Monitoring Visit (1 day). In Talea, talking with participants and surveying other users.
Evaluation and Report (5 days)
Detail a specific budget of up to $4,000 USD for operating costs.
Workshop costs – training materials, participant feeding, etc: $750
Coordinator/Head Trainer expenses: $1250
Additional trainers x 2: $750
Travel – 7 visits to Talea de Castro: $700
Hardware – 10 cell phones: $300
Besides the microgrant funding, what other resources and support are you seeking for your project to ensure its success?
Rising Voices can help us access an audience interested in hearing new and crucial voices, and put participants in contact with other like-minded groups of citizen-journalists throughout the world. We also value the resources that you have created (online tools, manuals, etc) that easily and succinctly explain citizen-journalism and its tools.