“That’s been one of my mantras – focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”
– Steve Jobs
We wanted to represent the work done at the JSKs on a website in the form of reports. But there were a few challenges –
a) Slow and unreliable internet – internet connection speed in rural India is around 64-128kbps. We use a 2G connection at our centers which costs around Rs 98 per month and is sufficient for day to day activities. However the connection speed is quite slow and not reliable If you have to punch in data on websites. Hence the option to give a web interface to the JSK for updating the reports was ruled out.
b) Limited Computer skills – our rural centers are run by dedicated social activist who started using computers very recently. Hence the interface for entering the reports had to be very simple which did not involve steep learning curve.
c) Work redundancy – the JSKs were already maintaining a record of work done and we did not want them to do anything extra for the reports as their time would be better utilized in attending to people’s issues.
d) Minimal intervention – Transparency was of utmost importance. These reports were meant for the world to see the work done at the centers hence we did not want any manual intervention while populating the reports. Also any manual intervention increases the possibility of errors.
e) Minimal time lag – The reports had to represent the work done at the centers. There should not be much time lag. For example – one should be able to view how many people came to the center at Sandilla today to get RTI formulated, what was the nature of their complaints, what is the status of their RTIs/ Applications.
I had experimented with a web based work flow system, in which the center in-charge would login to the website and update his work. One such free module in joomla was tested which had required functionalities but was not good for us because of limitations – a) slow and unreliable internet b) limited computer skills. (discussed above)
Eventually the solution came out to be much simpler than I had thought.
Google Drive integration with WordPress
“To me, the extraordinary aspect of martial arts lies in its simplicity. The easy way is also the right way, and martial arts is nothing at all special; the closer to the true way of martial arts, the less wastage of expression there is.”
Google docs is a awesome tool to create documents and collaborate with others in real time. It becomes even more powerful when integrated with wordpress.
What we did…
We got google drive installed on each of the center’s desktop and created a excel sheet in it. This excel sheet contained the report template and was to be filled daily by the center in charge. I would like to mention here that our interns – Shreshth, David & Rachel did a commendable job in this work.
How google drive solved the problems:
a) Works on unreliable internet: Since updating this excel file did not require a internet connection, the data could be updated even without internet connection.
b) No Manual intervention: The file got synced automatically whenever the internet connection was available. Thereafter this data got updated onto the website automatically. Therefore this method requires no manual intervention.
c) Works well on slow internet speeds: The data synced was incremental hence the reports got updated even at slow internet connection speed which was sometimes as slow as 64kbps.
d) Not much learning/ training required: The data was to be entered in excel sheet/ word document, hence this method required minimal training. It requires lesser computer skills as compared to entering data on a website.
e) No redundancy: We are using the same excel as work register and as reports thereby reducing redundancy.
f) Live Reports: The published report is by default set to sync in every 5 mins with original google doc hence the reports are streaming almost live data from the centers.
So now whenever a unemployed laborer goes to a JSK in Unnao to file an online application for work, his application no. details get updated on our website instantly and anyone around the world can see the status of such work done at JSKs.
*I’ll demonstrate how to integrate a google doc with a wordpress website in another blog post.