Monday, May 1, 2017

Multimedia in Scripting Rural Development in India

Multimedia in Scripting Rural Development in India

Utpal Bhattacharjya
Assistant Professor, Animation and Graphic Design, SBMS College, Saulkuchi, Distt- Kamrup, Assam

Today multimedia technologies are fast breaking the stereotype of playing the role of offering creative services  in the  pipeline of  film, music, animation etc. industries and have proliferated to the development sector as well. Application of multimedia has brought a paradigm shift in the traditional methods of implementing community based schemes at the grassroot level. The primary purpose of incorporating multimedia into development sector is to improve the understanding of intricacies involved in various social issues since it interweaves multiple platforms of communication like audio, video, text, animation, web technologies, new media etc. Use of proper multimedia channel will help in reaching out to untapped population which has ingrained conventional means of livelihood earning for generations thus losing out productivity. Moreover, multimedia can also foster collective understanding and remedial actions relating to the issues such as social equity, gender discrimination, women empowerment, education for girl child and an array of interconnected issues within a community. This paper seeks to examine how multimedia can be used to bring unexpected acceleration in the areas of social equity, agriculture, employment generation in the rural areas of India with the help of some the successful initiatives in this regard. For the same reason, I would draw upon some case studies that are glaring examples of embedding multimedia technologies in conjunction with the traditional operational methods for garnering more value-added outcomes.
Keywords: Multimedia, Rural Development, Agriculture, Participatory video, Animation. Social equity
Rural development would be roundabout if the projects initiated by government, Development Organizations, Non-Governmental Organizations, Self Help Groups are not implemented and monitored till the back end stage. Also, it is impossible for implementing organizations to keep track of all the proceedings in the chain. If the development has to be sustainable, it needs community participation. People in the community should be empowered with decision making and subsequent follow up measures on their own. The literacy rate in India is still not very encouraging – 71% (NSSO survey, 2015). So the promotional materials generated by development agencies containing text find it very hard to make way for everyone in the grassroots of society. Multimedia can become a mediatory tool that would bring together diverse communities to discuss their priorities and necessities for collective developmental programme. Emerging multimedia tools are evolving to become effective carrier of knowledge which can extrapolate the longevity of the message beyond conventional mass media interface. They do not fade out after certain period as interactivity and end user feedback helps multimedia tool and technologies remain buoyant even after long service period. The rural developmental campaigns that integrate multimedia technologies are used sporadically in some states in India. Some of most notable paradigms launched by the Govt., International Developmental Agencies, Non-Government Organizations(NGO)s or through Public-Private Partnership (PPP) model are Meena Communication Initiative, Village Knowledge Centres (VKCs), MGNREGA M Platform application and SATCOM application in Karnataka State, Model e-Villages in Arunachal Pradesh, Kisan Mobile Sandesh (KMS), Dynamic Market Information (DMI) by Web and Mobile in Tamil Nadu, underwater surveillance of fish health and hygiene in Andhra Pradesh, Participatory Video for social equity and rural development by Video Volunteers and Digital Green respectively, KISSAN initiative in Kerala, Mobile Agricultural School and Services (MASS) in Jharkhand etc.
Multimedia: an effective vehicle for development communication
Development communication is a holistic approach of communication that empowers the societies with replicable information they can utilize in improving their living standard by optimal and sustainable implementation of community programmes. Multimedia is an immersive digital communication platform that interweaves text, graphic, art, sound, animation and video elements to build a lasting impression that is known for stimulating interpersonal responsiveness. The amalgamation of so many media interface in single package helps in effective delivery of knowledge and its retention among the target population.   Rural Development policies will be sustainable only if the dispensed information and knowledge enable the intended population to engage and reflect on the strategies on the cards. It has been found in definitive scientific studies that, if someone is communicated with audio, he will recall about 20 per cent to memory afterwards, retention with of audio visual aid is up to 30 per cent, and in an interactive multimedia presentation, where he is really involved, the retention is as high as 60 per cent.  E. M. Mayer has researched extensively regarding integration of multimedia to initiate focused learning in various random and specific study groups. Mayer and his associates conducted a series of experiments to validate Mayer’s Cognitive theory of Multimedia Learning.  According to Mayer “people learn more deeply from words and pictures than from words alone” (p. 47)1 . This is the basis for Mayer’s cognitive theory of multimedia learning.  
The three main hypotheses proposed within the theory regarding multimedia learning is 2

o There are two separate channels (auditory and visual) for processing information (sometimes referred to as Dual-Coding theory);
o Each channel has a limited (finite) capacity (similar to Sweller’s notion of Cognitive Load);
o Learning is an active process of filtering, selecting, organizing, and integrating information based upon prior knowledge.
These conclusions postulate that multimedia can be more effective in the internalization, retention and subsequent effective dissemination of knowledge and information. Policymakers, social entrepreneurs, development experts have opined the in favour of multimedia being used as an entertainment education (EE) tool.  Entertainment-education is a development communication policy that involves tactical inclusion of educational messages through the use of multimedia in entertainment bundles to bring behavior change, environmental-social awareness, gender equity awareness etc.

1 , 2  Excerpts from the book “Multimedia Learning” by Richard E. Mayer, ISBN-10: 0521735352
Review of Literature

The term “Multimedia” was used for the first time by American showman, songwriter, and artist Bobb Goldsteinn (Bob Goldstein) to endorse the inauguration of his "LightWorks at L'Oursin" show at Southampton, Long Island New York in July 1966.
"On August 10, 1966, Richard Albarino of Variety borrowed the terminology, reporting: 'Brainchild of songscribe-comic Bob (‘Washington Square’) Goldstein, the ‘Lightworks’ is the latest multi-media music-cum-visuals to debut as discothèque fare' " (Wikipedia article on Multimedia, accessed 05-04-2017).
The mention of social equity can be discovered in the writings of Plato, Aristotle etc. but social equity as a discourse emerged in academic circuits after the publication of John Rawl’s book “A theory of Justice” in 1971. Later, the book “Social Equity and Public Administration: Origins, Developments, and Applications” by H. George Frederickson is a landmark collection of knowledge by the author.  H. George Frederickson notably proposed a theory of “social equity” and introduced as the "third pillar" of public administration.
The idea of Rural Development has gained enormous impetuous in the last decade as Rural Development has to play supplementary role to industrial and economic development as an indicator of a country’s growth parameters.  At the international level, UN Agencies, IMF and World Bank have been promoting Rural Development as a distinctive advocacy and policy research domain and distributing bursaries, funds, loans for upscaling development efforts globally.  
One of the essential attribute of emerging technology is profound novelty: “Novelty (or newness)” (Small et al., 2014) may take the form of intermittent innovations derived from revolutionary experimentations and may appear either in the method or the function of the technology. The user experience data and sensibilities propel researchers, scientists to continually enhance their processes or products. The term ‘Emerging Technologies’ has been seminally disserted and discoursed in number of conclaves, research and academic papers and especially in the  data archiving and compilation perspectives. Emerging technology has become a realm of study on its own merit building on its capability of cross integrating various modes of technologies and its applications.
The study could be accomplished through a methodological mix of primary audio-visual sources collected from achieved multimedia material and secondary material available in publications, broadcasts and telecasts so as to justify a closer involvement and cooperation between multimedia and social security and empowerment. Formal and informal interviews were conducted mostly with rural technology practitioners, who were otherwise inarticulate and apprehensive to share their experiences, possibly due to remoteness to media vehicles. The content thus created helped to compile primary data with the purpose of accumulating reliable statistics. Research papers, New Media contents are consulted to check the ground realities of the flaccid proclamations of rural practitioners, whether their projections into future can be envisaged relying on the current developments.
Through a combination of ethnographic exploration underpinning the contemporary history of impacts of multimedia technologies in Indian scenario, together with the sampling of both technology and its use in a rural context, a better understanding is sought to develop regarding the problems of classical livelihood and sustainability agendas and of the challenges to using multimedia as a medium of social equity and empowerment in rural areas.
The methodology is cumulative, meaning it amalgamates the innovations and development practices from the past to unleash the current multimedia trends that can bring a potential paradigmatic shift in time to come.   Civil Society Organizations (CSO), Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO) , charitable trust, Self Help Groups (SHG), corporates, startups  business conglomerates, philanthropists may find relevant information in their area of interest from the paper and hopefully forge symbiotic relationship with like-minded groups sharing collective mission and vision  to expand and replicate their developmental operations.
Mobile Applications to Monitor Rural employment scheme
The App developed by the Karnataka Rural development Ministry named ‘MGNREGA M-platform,’ aids officials monitor the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, and lets the beneficiaries check progress at every stage.
It has been developed to uplift transparency, cut fund diversion and obstruction by mediators. It can also be used to ensure automatic payment of wages to laborers by transferring data to the central server.
Citizen interface induced in the app is one of the major features. It helps the poor families at the grassroot inform the concern officials about the progress they made.
If a beneficiary aims to build a fishery or goat farm in his field, he informs the Panchayat Development Officer and sends the data through mobile. The progress of the work is communicated via photographs in different stage. After the construction is over, he sends the data.    Once the construction is complete, he clicks photographs of his pond and uploads the picture in the M-platform. This initiates the process of payment of wages and material cost to him.
Animation as a tool for Social Equity: Meena Communication Initiative
Animation has been used for social change in development programmes since the mid part of last century and still used by social change organizations today. Animation as a medium can engage all age groups, communicating complex ideas with relative ease in short span of time. Public, Private, development organizations use animation to reach out to their beneficiaries/ targeted end users regarding various schemes and awareness initiatives. Being an audio-visual medium with distinctive aesthetical quality of its own, animation catches the attention of people at the basic strata of society, overriding the problems of low literacy that has been a major factor restricting the success of developmental projects for decades. By the 1990s, it had been observed that several developmental programmes have failed due to the inability to carry forward the core message to the beneficiaries. The traditional communication channels were found to be too homogeneous, generic and not being culture specific- for which people could not find a reflection their conditions and got disillusioned.  Experts suggested the need of participatory, interactive communication medium to counter this issue. Soon animation has been established as key intermediary platform of knowledge sharing for social as well as cultural advocacy purposes.
Animation, due to its inherent ability to blend different interfaces of media to create an immersive experience was able to connect otherwise absent minded, hard-boiled rural audience at multiple junctures. Animated content makes it possible to disseminate crucial information on agriculture, social equity, community healthcare, gender discrimination, wildlife conservation etc. topics without even the need of a mediator or instructor due to its self- explicatory nature. The motif of introducing an audio narration in animation acts as a guiding, instructive voice to the audience, form a symbiotic relationship between the viewer and the content to further advance the story. Moreover, interspersing graphic aesthetics of animation that can portray people’s imagination, future implication, multi-layered association among a host of events with visual simplicity, the narration forms a connotative representation that almost everyone can easily relate to. Character design becomes a major element in visual appeal of animated contents, drawing inspiration from costumes, figure, gait, expression straight from the community it address thus forming interpersonal and cultural association .
Meena Communication Initiative: Meena Communication Initiative was developed by UNICEF since 1990s with constant development to bring forth interpersonal dialogue aimed at altering perceptions and behaviors that affect sustainability and protection of girl child overcoming the biases related to gender equity.
The stories interweave around the adventures of Meena, a 9-year-old girl from South Asia. Meena initiative is a new multimedia package to enlighten the stakeholders of the parents, grandparents about the equity of girl and boy children. The Meena Communication Initiative included convergent media platforms like Animated TV Series, Comics and Illustrations, Posters and interaction with domain experts at public institutes like school,  NGOs, CSOs, SHGs  .
To infuse regional diversity and cultural acceptance, the creators held rounds of talks with various sections of the population from south Asian nations i.e. India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Maldives.  This move was very crucial towards the success of the programme. Many participatory workshops were held in consultation with writers, artists, programmers, researchers, academics, and gender, health and education specialists regarding possible issues and solutions relating to gender discrimination in education, healthcare, nutrition etc. In the narrative story, Meena has a brother called Raju and a pet parrot named Mithu who live with their extended family in a typical south Asian household. The names of the characters are derived from common parlance across pan south Asian countries where the stakeholders can identify and connect with the themes easily.
As a parallel development in 2010, UNICEF created the radio series Meena Ki Duniya (Meena's World) in Hindi. The audio programme endorsed child rights, life skills, gender advocacy, girl’s education, and children-friendly schools. These programmes used the similar principles as the Animated Series in creative aspects and gained steady success. The programmes were broadcasted by All India Radio during school hours aiming school children who were mostly impacted by such issues.
Participatory Videos by Digital Green: Revolutionizing the Farming scenario in India
The term ‘participatory video’ refers to a number of pioneering usages of video technology that archives, replays in discussion forums,  community meetings for awareness creation  and reaching out to the masses who don’t have convenient access to multimedia technologies . Participatory video has diversified into several different directions after its inaugural run. In the contemporary writings, participatory video loosely refers to the ever expanding arena of Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA), incorporating the knowledge and experience of rural people for successful replication of development projects. This approach resulted in considerable shift in paradigm from a centralized research and developmental approach to a democratic, value based system. Participatory Video is game changing in the area of social equity as in the case of Video Volunteers, an organization that produces videos with community producers; it reallocated emphasis from relevant questionnaire directed to users/ beneficiary as a means of extraction of information traditionally; to knowledge sharing for development by local people as in the case of Digital Green.
Digital Green: video for productive farming
Digital Green is an international development organization based in India that brings digital multimedia technologies, mainly video and subsequent public projection to foster social empowerment, agricultural growth in rural areas. Founded in 2008, the organization has reached 1 million individuals across 13,592 villages through 4,426 videos. Digital Green operates mainly in India while scaling up developmental efforts to Sub Saharan countries like Ghana, Niger, Tanzania and Ethiopia.
Digital Green believes that people can be influenced to inculcate the best practice in agriculture by showing improved and innovative technology based methods that are applied in the vicinity or by neighbor rather than hypothetically prescribed ideal farming procedures presented in newspaper, radio, television, govt. publications and research papers. Farmers have grown immune to such awareness activities and continued the traditional methods although the concerned agencies spend great amount of money and effort in promoting better practices. Therefore, banking on the unique feature of video that it can work as tool for changing interpersonal behavioral patterns of farmers, production of participatory videos are started and disseminated among the farming community. It connected people at a mass level since more ubiquitous print media faced problems of literacy restraining its access. People also appreciated the immediacy and local perspective as the videos highlighted the success stories of someone from the community. The videos are shared via local social network to further push the distribution and outreach. The adoption rate of Digital Green’s videos are more than 50% which stands testimony to its burgeoning presence as an auxiliary channel parallel to people-to-people agriculture extension services provided by the government .
VideoKheti :  VideoKheti is a response enabled web application that gives easy navigation to the video archive curated by Digital Green for farmers, collaborators and staff members of the partner organization. It features localized content, indexing of videos according to the various phases of agriculture for handy access of content, text and touch interaction in regional language, interactive discussion forums as enhancement for their earlier ICT (Information & Communication Technologies) assisted multimedia projects.
Video Volunteers and Community Video
Video Volunteers is an International Community Media organization that empowers people in underdeveloped regions to shoot, edit and exhibit video stories that are overlooked or lost due to feeble voice, weak transmission and non-availability of retention media. Video Volunteers work by providing marginalized communities with digital video production skills to highlight issues like untouchability, social injustice, inequality etc. The organization’s community lead advocacy and video units conduct mobile operations to engage people for articulating on the perspectives of poverty alleviation, social equality, livelihood, sanitation, community infrastructure etc. The community producers, during recording period, observe and interact with the community members and this facilitates development of a renewed perception towards problem solving. Therefore, community videos are aiding to initiate action within the community, rather than remaining dependent solely on outside help.
India Unheard : Video Volunteers initiated India Unheard, which is hailed as the first community News Service to neutralize the  impacts of the media ownership. India Unheard is Video Volunteer’s flagship project that has been relentlessly producing video for community upliftment.  The mainstream media, world over, has been accustomed to make way for disproportionate weightage and space to fashion trends, celebrity news, grapevine and paparazzi reportage, sensation and rumours rather than highlighting poverty, immigration, gender discrimination, unpaid labour and a host of issues. The news gathered by India Unheard forum is native, prioritized for addressing community needs, and discussed at local as well as global platforms, which in a way has acted as a catalyst for social change.
Each Day a new video makes way towards video streaming for unrestrained viewing online or offline. This has terminated fraud, revealed human rights violations, elevated mutual cooperation between communities during disaster, lent voice to women regarding the agendas that matters to them and society most.

aAQUA : Blending of Internet and multimedia technologies
aAQUA ( stands for almost All QUestions Answered) online multimedia portal dealing with the dissemination of agriculture information for rural farmers in four languages i.e. Marathi, Hindi, Telugu, Kannada in more than 400 districts.  aAQUA was originally incubated in Development Communications Lab, Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay. It supports the farmer community with tailor-made answers regarding season, yield, crop variety, and production augmentation methods etc. via Kiosks or Personal Computer platform over the internet. aAQUA creates unique database systems from the feedback and question fetched by the farmers and information recovery methods like intelligent caching, alternating synchronization,  search based on semantics, etc. With its growing presence and demand in rural sphere, aAQUA is evolving as hub for scholars interested in information archiving and channelization, cross cultural/lingual knowledge database with easy accessibility for communities spread over different geographic locations. In order to explore more convenient, on the go media platforms for farmers who would spend most of their time in the agriculture field, experimentation is going on for incorporation of aAQUA platform over FM Radio, telephone, Mobile internet and Short Message Service (SMS).
Pond Monitoring System with offline communication:

Hyderabad based start-up “root2 Technologies” have developed two game changing mechanisms that will solve the complex issues of monitoring pond health and commercial management of pisciculture process. The Pond Health Monitor and Aqua Cam are prototyped, tested and ready for patent application process. The device functions with Infrared camera with wireless device connected for live streaming of multimedia surveillance data of underwater in aquaculture ponds.

1) Pond Health Monitor :  The Pond Health Monitor notifies  the farmer regarding critical pond factors like Dissolved Oxygen, Ammonia, pH and temperature on an hourly basis , the communication is done using radio waves, so there is no extra infrastructural cost involved . Based on the data from the monitor, connected systems like aerators, feeding machines, Dissolved Oxygen generators etc., are automated and recovery process begins.

2) Aqua Cam:

Aqua Cam is a unique underwater camera which can live stream High Definition videos to phones/laptops from underwater. Important data like the Pond bottom health, the animal feed habits can be observed in real-time via this device. There is a possibility to process the images for disease recognition and for several other indications.

1) Pond Health Monitor Submersible Unit      

 2) Pond Health Monitor Receiving Unit

In the recent past, due to the advent of technology and start-up revolution, many experimental multimedia technologies and tools have been standardized and mass manufactured to harness large scale change. On many occasions, the emergence of multimedia technologies are innovation driven (in case of Aqua Cam or MNREGA-M Application) or user defined ( like Digital Green and Video Volunteers). To achieve a higher degree of functionality and efficiency, emerging technologies rely on existing technologies or basic principles already in practice. The hardware of Aqua Cam is a seamless integration of portable imaging devices augmented with electric data streaming and transmission systems. Sometimes, the emergence comes from novelty of purpose, like the case of Video Volunteers- empowering the disadvantaged communities with a defiant voice of their own. The novel methods are shifting focus towards newer avenues of distribution and access of multimedia content, transforming the gateway and fostering innovation i.e. social TV, videoblogs, VideoKheti, India Unheard etc. In case of Meena Communication Initiative, the novelty was highlighting the apparent social taboos that were seldom taken up for discussion in public. In numerous other ways, multimedia technologies have penetrated underprivileged communities in Rural India and accelerated growth overcoming infrastructural hindrances, low literacy rate, low income and a lot of socio-cultural issues.

1. “Entertainment-Education: A Communication Strategy for Social Change” by Arvind Singhal and Everett M. Rogers
2. “Multimedia Learning” by Richard E. Mayer, ISBN-10: 0521735352
3. “A theory of Justice” by John Rawl
4. “Social Equity and Public Administration: Origins, Developments, and Applications” by H. George Frederickson
5. Identifying emerging topics in science and technology. (2014). by H. Small, W.K. Boyack, and R. Klavans,
6. “Avoiding the pitfalls of emerging technologies” (California Management Review) by George S.                              Day, Paul J. H. Schoemaker
7. “Rural Development in India” edited by K. R. Gupta and Prasenjit Maiti
8. “Entertainment-Education and Social Change: History, Research, and Practice” edited by Arvind Singhal, Michael J. Cody, Everett M. Rogers, Miguel Sabido
9.  “Animation as a Communication Tool for Social Change” by Zoe Dawkins (2005)
10. “Digital Green: Participatory Video and Mediated Instruction for Agricultural Extension” (Research Article) by Rikin Gandhi, Rajesh Veeraraghavan, Kentaro Toyama, Vanaja Ramprasad
11. “Participatory Videos in Practice” by K.-H. Yang
12. “Communicative aspects of participatory video projects” (an exploratory study) by Bernhard Huber
13. The text of the section “Pont Health Monitor” and “Aqua Cam” are based on the interviews held with Sripathi Raja, Co-Founder of the start-up “Root2 Technologies” that developed these devices.

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