Enhancing access to socioeconomic development information using mobile phone applications in rural Zimbabwe: the case of Matabeleland South Province.
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Mobile phone access has grown exponentially, transforming access to information and communication in Africa. Mobile phone penetration has increased dramatically across the urban-rural, rich-poor and literate-illiterate divides, which other technologies failed to bridge. The number of mobile phone subscriptions grew astronomically, from less than two million in 1998 to more than 620 million subscribers in Africa (Carmody, 2012). Internet users grew 85-fold from 4.5m users in 2000 to over 388m users in Africa at a rate higher than any other region (Internetworldstas, 2018). Global mobile app downloads have reached 175 billion in 2017, generating more than $85 billion, yet most African countries possess an insignificant share of this, due to low literacy levels, low economic opportunities and an infrastructure that is still developing (The Guardian, 2014; Perez, 2018). The growing presence of mobile phones must be harnessed to enhance access to socioeconomic information, in order to improve standards of life in the global south. Scholars and communication enthusiasts have argued that simply providing access to the internet, without considering the relevance of content, will not change the fortunes of rural communities (Internet.org, 2014; GSMA, 2015). There is the need to provide localised and relevant content – such as local news, market prices and bus timetables – to these communities. This research resonates with Goal 9 of the Sustainable Development Goals, which seeks to increase access to information and communication technology, and provide universal and affordable access to the internet in least developed countries by 2020 (UN, 2016). In Zimbabwe, radio and television are basic technologies used for disseminating socioeconomic information, yet most of the rural communities have no access to radio and television signals, 37 years after independence. Rural mobile phone ownership is about 80%, and broadband penetration is 46.5% (ITU, 2013). In addition, Zimbabwe’s average rural literacy is about 90%. These two factors – high rural literacy levels and high rural mobile phone ownership – motivated the researcher to develop a mobile phone application prototype that could be utilised by rural communities to enhance their access to socioeconomic development information that could, in turn, anchor sustainable development. The mobile phone application prototype has the potential to provide a new platform for accessing socioeconomic development information in the rural areas of Zimbabwe, including information on agriculture, health, community activities, education and the markets, plus local and national news. These can all promote sustainable development. The study followed a seven-cycle design science research methodology, from problem identification to communicating the utility of the aertefact which guided the development of the mobile phone application (Hevner, 2007). The development of the prototype followed a user-centred design, as well user experience, where high-fidelity prototypes were presented to participants selected through a random sample to be part of the development process. This process is iterative, incorporating user feedback and redesign of the prototype until the users and developers agree on the design. After designing the prototype, participants were randomly selected to evaluate the mobile phone application prototype using an adapted TAM2, whose main constructs relate to perceived usefulness and ease of use (Davis, 1989).