Why testing non-profit digital initiatives for the developing world is crucial

woman in the developing world using technology

Many non-profit organisations around the world are doing admirable work. For example, they are working to bridge the digital divide between the developed and the developing world. Technology is allowing isolated and impoverished communities to better connect with each other and with service providers. This is thanks to the increased availability of information and communication technology in parts of the developing world.

Just some benefits of these services include the ability for non-profit organisations to coordinate better support programs. Communities in the developing world are also able to chat with friends or order goods online. This in turn helps them to feel more connected.

Unfortunately, many non-profit organisations rolling out initiatives to increase internet penetration rates in developing communities run into hurdles. These are the same hurdles that any digital product intended for mass consumption faces. Further, it has the added complexity of dealing with the sheer diversity of its customer base.

Broadly, these problems fall into two areas – problems with the product, and problems with how it’s used. In both cases, taking a new approach to testing can help. Crowdsourced testing allows non-profit organisations avoid these problems before going to full production.

One Laptop Per Child

One Laptop Per Child is a non-profit initiative designed to get a laptop into the hands of every child in the developing world. Originally rolled out in 2007, the aim was to assist with structured and free-form learning. A number of countries ordered hundreds of thousands of the OLPC XO (the company’s rugged, low-cost laptop). However, the program attracted criticism. This was largely due to the laptop being plagued by a number problems such as its idiosyncratic design.

The OLPC XO uses a heavily restricted version of Fedora Linux as its operating system and tightly regulates installation of new programs, as well as maintenance of the device. Because of this, use of the laptop is extremely limited compared to modern technologies in the developed world. As a result, its limitations effectively shape the education program around it, rather than having the device support an existing curriculum.

The OLPC XO was a perfect candidate for crowdsourced testing on a global scale because of the sheer audacity of the program. Since the aim was to provide a laptop for nearly five billion people globally who did not have regular computer or internet access, rigorous testing was required. While a few thousand beta models were made available prior to full production, One Laptop Per Child did not have their machine tested extensively in offices and classrooms globally before launch. 

Some complaints about the device included that it had no video output functionality. As a result, students couldn't present their work to the class. It also had hardware defects in critical components such as displays. Finally, it did not equip teachers with adequate instructions to deal with hardware or software issues.

Therefore, some of the common complaints about the device could have been avoided had the machine been properly tested.

children using computers in the developing world

Facebook Free Basics

Rolled out in 2013 under the name Internet.org and later renamed Free Basics, this ongoing program aims to provide affordable access to a number of websites such as Wikipedia, Facebook, and Your.MD, to developing countries.

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg spearheaded the program, which was criticised in India for violating the principles of net neutrality and prioritising access to certain websites over their competitors. As a result, it was ultimately withdrawn from the country.

Facebook only discovered it had a problem after the long-term effects of the program had begun to be felt. Perhaps it would have had some advanced warning had it more heavily invested in crowdsourced testing ahead of each roll-out.

In 2014, Facebook changed their 'Move Fast and Break Things' developer mantra to 'Move Fast With Stable Infra'. There's no doubt the expensive and embarrassing Free Basics exercise had some influence on this change.

Prevention better than cure

Crowdsourced testing's strength is that it puts your product in the hands of ordinary people. The reason this is a strength is because they don’t have preconceptions about software development. They simply want to use the best possible product or service.

For global applications, crowdtesters can be quickly sourced to evaluate your digital apps for use in a specific geographical region/culture. Testers will have native language skills and can test things like the user interface, check content/language, date systems and currency. They can also check to ensure your product is legally sound.

Crowdsourced testing through crowdsprint allows you to have your non-profit organisation's software quickly and cheaply tested by our global pool of testers. In turn, this helps you to avoid disastrous problems like those faced by Facebook and One Laptop Per Child.

​If you’re interested in having your software tested through crowdsprint: 

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Bala Kalimuthu, National Manager Digital Services

Bala Kalimuthu, product owner at crowdsprint, is highly passionate about applying the power and intelligence of crowdsourcing to digital products. He helped launch crowdsprint as a global crowdsourced testing platform, and is an Agile coach/mentor, with extensive experience in project, program and portfolio management, service delivery management, practice management and test management.