Workshops and Projects » Mobility in Nairobi 2009 » Digital Decentralisation: Job market & mobility



Nairobi, Kenya
Jochen Edling
Kristina Kelava
Eric Ologi Juma
Peter Ouma Otieno

Initial Position

If public transport in a metropolitan area is insufficient and residents cannot easily travel long distances, a city with a single centre represents a problematic situation. Nairobi and especially its semi-urban areas are centralised. It is questionable whether decentralisation can only be considered when planning an area. Is it also possible to intervene by digital media?

Companies already provide services that help to shorten the physical distance: services that support people in sharing information and that make travelling unnecessary. By researching these services we intend to specify to which extent information technology ‘shortens’ the physical distance, whether digital decentralisation supports mobility and whether it can compensate for urban centralisation.

Mobile Leverage: › It’s the Future ‹

Mobile telephones are the most widespread information and communication technology medium in Kenya. The availability of handsets and the spread of network providers as well as the resulting growth of the market have been profitable and successful both on a macroeconomic and an individual level. The increasing network density has attracted the interest of global mobile communications firms and of local service providers. Mobile telephones are thus becoming increasingly more interesting as a platform for innovative services, which are offered to end users independently of their actual location. During our investigations the focus was placed on the various services on offer, rather than the hardware needed to run them. The comparatively affordable infrastructure, and the concomitant hope of being able to make the leap from an industrial to an information society, make the study of this field in Kenya a fascinating subject.

How will this existing infrastructure be used? What unforeseen systems and social as well as professional contacts are hiding just behind the screens and keypads? Which services will become digitally decentralised?

Digital Decentralisation: ›digital transformation of local services ‹

Through the digital transformation of services the material infrastructure is mirrored by affordable virtual formats. Information technology has not only repositioned the access to usually locally anchored services, but has also made virtual services available independent of time or location. It makes no difference if we are talking about circles of friends, meeting places, the movement of money or local and international business relations. Therefore, our starting premise is the following: if the virtual analogue of a locally anchored service offers the same qualities in terms of range, functionality, availability and affordability it must, as a consequence, influence the mobility of the users in such a way that physical pathways can be transformed into virtual ones so that the user profits from a digital decentralisation.

Approach (Observations of the Job Market)

The question then arises which services have already been transformed into their virtual analogues? Which usage situations and requirements form the basis of these services, and what services do the providers offer in response? The goal is, on the one hand, the verification of our hypothesis and, on the other, the identification of design drivers that can be considered in the future translation of physical into virtual services.

As a starting point for our research, we chose two differing scenarios, both of which touch on the introduction of an innovative virtual offering. The first deals with a virtual access point to the jobs market, the second with a service that permits money transfer via mobile telephones. What interested us here was the comparison between analogue and virtual services, and whether the one offered any mobility advantages over the other. How would established communications technology systems be affected? Can they be unconditionally translated into the virtual realm? What additional aspects influence mobility and communication? How do users make best use of their sudden accessibility? How can both groups and individuals profit from this?

Item Overview

#36 Work anywhere

Male Freelancer is doing his work in a coffee shop. Both phone and laptop are essential tools for the mobile office. more

27 Sep 2009 by Jochen Edling

#37 Public employee recommendation

Public job board in a shopping mall. Application has the format of a letter of recommendation. Looking for work through a job board. Advertising work experience and contacts. This job board mainly consits of advertisment of job seekers. more

27 Sep 2009 by Jochen Edling

#38 Universal money transfer

Branding of a university stall through m-pesa/safricom. Safaricom breaks physical mobility barriers. You don’t have to travel long distances to deliver money. more

27 Sep 2009 by Jochen Edling

#39 Abandoned phone booth

Phone booths are the earliest form of communication that the majority of the public used. They were in close reach and cheap. Before mobile phones people used to que in front of telephone booths just like these ones. Nowadays they are abandoned and neglected. more

27 Sep 2009 by Jochen Edling

#40 Phone provider runs ATM machine

An advertisement for a m-pesa cash machine. It is integrated into a gas station with 24h access. M-pesa ATM’s are an additional service by safaricom which is different to the m-pesa agent’s across the city where you usually withdraw money. Its a common ATM machine that is run by a phone provider instead of a bank. more

27 Sep 2009 by Jochen Edling

#41 Informal branding

Easily branded space spread out in any area and advertise money transfering service. Bright green corporate colours are easily connected with the
service provider. The m-pesa has spread to the simplest of places. There is hardly any settlement that does not have a m-pesa near it. The m-pesa has made it easier for banking and money exchange within your areas of residence. This has reduced the need to travel... more

27 Sep 2009 by Jochen Edling

#44 A feeling of company

Man sitting on the side to make a phone call. Even in seclusion there is the feeling of company “you are not alone”. Regardless of your location you are always available on your mobile phone. more

27 Sep 2009 by Jochen Edling

#45 Top up trash

Top up Cards which are purchased to load the mobile phone with airtime. Once the code has been used the cards are dropped randomly. Used scratch cards are a menace. There is a lack of proper waste disposal management to deal with used cards. more

27 Sep 2009 by Jochen Edling

#47 Corporate phone booth

A public phone booth branded through safaricom. The stall is run by an individual entrepreneur who supplies the stall and buys the corporate phone
before launching his/her business. Through the person working at the counter the branded Phone booth seems very different compared to a classic yet abandoned phone booth. more

27 Sep 2009 by Jochen Edling

#48 Cyber cafe cubicle

Cyber cafes like this one are spread throughout the city. Each customer gets his own cubicle and is able to use the internet. The furniture in most cyper cafe seems to be standardised. more

27 Sep 2009 by Jochen Edling

#49 Innercity job-board

People standing in front of the job-board reading advertisements. Some of the people instantly call the possible employer besides the noisy environment.Some People take their time and store a couple of numbers before they walk away without making a call. This job board is mainly advertising job offers instead of job applications. Some job offers seem unsound and promise easy money. The job-boards are a part... more

27 Sep 2009 by Jochen Edling