Employing mobile-phone-based games to empower individuals: Aug/Sept 2011 newsletter

Dear Friends of CITRIS:

We are very excited here at CITRIS about the innovative applications of basic information technologies and principles to some very resistant societal problems. In particular, the stories in this newsletter look at CITRIS projects employing mobile-phone-based games to empower individuals from traditionally underserved populations to improve their own health, and the health of their communities. The stories focus on two laboratories, the Assistive Technology Lab, run by professor Sri Kurniawan at UCSC, and the Social Apps Lab, led by professors James Holston and Greg Niemeyer at Berkeley.  The Assistive Technology Lab is a part of the Department of Computer Engineering at UCSC.  The Social Apps Lab is a collaboration of CITRIS with the Divisions of Arts and Humanities and Social Sciences at UC Berkeley.

Turning Data into Democratic Action: Social Apps Lab at CITRIS

Birthing Games: Assistive Technology Lab Delivers Serious Perinatal Games

While the Social Apps Lab is employing cell phone technology to attack the epidemic of dengue fever throughout the tropical world, the Assistive Technology Lab is using cell-phone games to extend the reach of perinatal education into populations that today typically do not get it. Both projects recognize the powerful potential of serious games to motivate healthy behaviors and to encourage and empower citizen involvement. If the Social Apps Lab’s new game, DengueTorpedo, set to launch in November in Brazil, plays as hoped, it will not only generate desperately needed high-quality local data about the location of mosquito breeding sites, but will also stimulate proactive community engagement among a disenfranchised part of Brazilian society. Similarly, the perinatal games evolving in Kurniawan’s lab will empower couples who may not have health insurance or many other resources to prepare for the daunting task of giving birth.

Here in California, the economic, social, and healthcare consequences of inadequate perinatal education are huge. When parents are not educated about the process, births are far more likely to become complicated, to end in expensive and dangerous surgery, to put greater stress on relationships, and result in much less healthy mothers and babies. Such a rocky start can set the pattern for a child’s first years; a pattern, statistics show, that can continue through his/her entire life. On the other hand, when soon-to-be mothers and their partners receive even basic education on the birth and childcare process, outcomes are much better, babies are healthier, parents are happier, and those all-important initial bonds are made for a strong family unit.

All of this work fits squarely under our commitment to use technology to “extend the reach of healthcare everywhere for everyone.” It also fits in to our Data and Democracy initiative, dedicated to finding ways to encourage and enable people to find new meaningful ways to participate in and to contribute to their communities. Holston’s and Niemeyer’s games do exactly that. Whether improving road conditions by reporting potholes in Berkeley, or eradicating dengue fever by identifying mosquito breeding sites in Brazil, it is all about gathering essential local knowledge and wisdom and applying it where it can make a big difference to individual people, to society, and to the economy. 

Keep up the good work!

Best wishes,
Paul K. Wright
Director, CITRIS and the Banatao Institute@CITRIS Berkeley