Digital Skills Observatory

This post is a short description of the Digital Skills Observatory, the research project I am leading at Mozilla Foundation in partnership with Gates Foundation and Digital Divide Data. Learn more at

All around the world, in Chicago or Nairobi, digital natives are discovering the web for the first time from a smartphone. In Kenya, for a low income population, it is likely to be a second or third hand smartphone, broken and slow, that is worth less than 100 USD. Definitely not your iPhone.

This group completely skipped the computer era, and is introduced to the web in a more constrained environment, basically consisting of mobile applications and Opera Mini. This leads to a very different perception of what is possible to do online. The unfair dominance of social media applications (Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram..) and of a few players does not help them understand what they can do with the web.

How can such environments stimulate independence and creativity?

Can digital skills trainings help people gain confidence and agency on their smartphones?

Which skills are going to have the most impact? Which methods are best for this audience? Can we teach people directly on their smartphone?

The Digital Skills Observatory is a year-long experimental research project focused on answering these questions. We aim to understand the impact of digital skills trainings on new smartphone users.

Community in Malindi.

The 200 participants of this study live with less than 5 USD per day, and are coming online for the first time through to their Android smartphones.

A participant home around Mombasa.In this community, there is no running water and electricity is rare.

The project is taking place in Kenya, across 7 locations: Nairobi, Mombasa, Kilifi, Malindi, Kisumu, Majengo, Kaimoisi.

We are following ±200 individuals from January 2016 to December 2016, as they discover the potential of their smartphones, the web and mobile apps.

One of our participant is a primary school teacher in this private school. He moved from Kisumu to Nairobi to find a new job and create a new life for his family.
The DSO community is diverse and located across the 7 research location.

The research is designed to be:

  • Action and prototype oriented: in addition to following people, we are actively building prototypes and designing workshops which are our interventions.
  • Experimental: with a control and treatment group, we intend to compare the difference in technology usage resulting from these interventions.
  • Iterative: we build as we go, based on the data freshly collected from regular interviews.
  • Participatory: the project is co-designed with a vibrant community of ±25 volunteers and researchers, who are an invaluable source of learning.
  • Open Source: conducted in the open, constantly inviting for feedback and input, for the benefits of other projects and partners.
We regularly conduct interviews before designing new interventions.
The concept of login is difficult for participants.

To learn more, please visit our website:


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