“Who is your end user? Do they have the Internet at home? What languages do they speak? What is a normal day in their life like?” These are all questions Dragana Kaurin, a human rights researcher, asks the programmers and developers she consults with during project implementation.
Dragana Kaurin spoke at UNC Charlotte about the importance and challenges associated with civic technology education. Civic technology is mainly used to “improve or influence politics and socio-political issues.” It can specifically be used in elections or for advocacy work and can be for-profit or non-profit.
Kaurin is an ethnographer and the founder of the Localization Lab. A refugee from Bosnia and resettler in Dayton, Ohio, she has focused her studies, research and career on human rights and the utilization of technology as a means towards advocacy. She also stated, “I study people’s relationship with technology and how they internalize various technology platforms.”
The Localization Lab is an organization that “aims to build bridges between developers, organizations, users and communities in need.” Kaurin spoke about a large aspect of their organization, which provides translation services throughout the brainstorming, development and implementation phases of developers’ projects. She highlighted the importance of these translators by stating, “Translators are not just turning projects into a different language; they are our cultural reference.”
The main focus of her talk was the negative effects that come from ignoring the cultural aspects of a project. According to Kaurin, large organizations like the United Nations should be better about communicating with their target audience to obtain a clearer picture of what they need, rather than inferring during a time of war, conflict or natural disaster, which is often what occurs. Kaurin ended up working for the United Nations and talks about her decision to work for the agency by stating, “I had a vision on how I want to create change and wanted to see it do better.”
Another large focus was how various apps we may use are not feasible or implementable in other countries. She spoke specifically about Whatsapp and Viber, which are apps used for communication purposes.
She spoke specifically about Viber’s introduction to Myanmar. Due to a general lack of internet, consumers were not able to receive their verification code to set up their account. She noted that while this has now been fixed, it could have been avoided if the developers had attempted to communicate with the end-users on their access to Internet.
Another interesting aspect of her talk was showcasing the way activists organize within their communities. Activist groups create social structures to be better at maintaining their organizations and not falling to the hands of government officials who may be trying to circumvent the movement.
For example, she highlighted the Arab Spring and their approach to organizing. She stated, “the Arab Spring used a less centralized approach, meaning that the origin of the movement could not be traced down to just one person; it was multiple people within multiple communities.”
She stated that developers also had to take this into account to ensure that the civic technology they were creating was suitable for the type of organizing that was being conducted.
One student asked how Twitter could improve their usability for these activists. She noted the number of limitations held by social media platforms during election cycles, war, political upheaval or other social movements. The limitations that exist range from censorship or the blockage of the platform in certain neighborhoods, regions of a city or country all the way to the ability to hack such social media platforms. She believes it is important to have a backup plan for the users.
A UNC Charlotte professor also highlighted how invisible these aspects of social media, apps and other technology platforms are to us because we have grown up speaking English in the United States. She specifically stated, “our own culture has been infused within our technology.”
Kaurin hopes that as civic technology advances, it is “designed with the end user in mind and not just for them.”