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App – a one size fits all solution?

These days, smartphones are commonplace worldwide. Their number is also continuously and rapidly increasing in development countries. In light of this, at first glance, apps seem to be a particularly convenient, low-cost and effective option for transmitting various information to target groups and offering them a large number of important services.

Numerous development cooperation project owners are faced with the challenge of developing an app. This is often explicitly requested by partners and clients.

The development of an app therefore often becomes the starting point of the project, instead of viewing them as a means for achieving the project goals. This focus on development runs the risk that the application may not or only marginally contribute to the resolution of the actual development problem. In addition, the professional implementation of an app is, in itself, already a considerable challenge.

The following guide aims to provide a decision-making tool to consider the pros and cons of an app. The guide is merely intended to provide a rough orientation. Given the high dependence on the context it cannot and should not be used as a blueprint.

Stage 1: Clarify the goals

Prior to clarifying the technical requirements of the app, it is essential to determine the framework conditions and context in which it will be used. Two key questions are therefore:

  • What specific contribution will the app make towards achieving the project goal?
  • What specific benefits does the app offer the target group (e.g. better business processes, easier access to key information, etc.)?

If, after detailed analysis of the framework conditions, a mobile app is not
deemed to be the most appropriate method, other digital tools can be consid
ered.

Stage 2: Analyse the user group’s digital readiness

When assessing the targeted user group’s digital readiness, you need to as
certain whether the group and chosen technology are compatible. Make sure
to ask the following questions:

  • Does the target group (or a part of it) have → access to → smartphones, or
    do text messages or voice messages represent the best approach?
  • What are the group’s usage patterns?
  • Which digital competences already exist in the target group and which may
    still need to be developed (e-literacy, e-skills)?

Stage 3: Exploit any synergies

Once the app’s added value and relevance have been clearly established, ask
the following question:

  • Do any mobile solutions or mobile-based services already exist that you
    can build on, to avoid having to develop the app from scratch? When
    answering this question, explore the options available in the → open source
    community.

Expert networks are a helpful source of information about similar solutions
that already exist. Further useful sources are the Mobile for Development Im
pact product and services directory (see below) of the ‘Groupe Speciale Mobile
Association’ (GSMA) and the NOMAD Selection Assistant).

If you are unable to identify mobile applications with a similar purpose, take
a look at the section on ‘digital principles’ (see section 1.3) as well as USAID’s
Integrating Mobiles into Development Projects handbook to determine your
next steps.

Stage 4: Realistic use of resources

If you are unable to build on an existing solution and need to develop a new
app, you will need to conduct a realistic assessment of the resources required.
Note that, besides the cost of programming the app, you will also need to
factor in the costs of market analysis, test phases, design, maintenance work,
further development phases, hosting and training measures.

Stage 5: Develop an operating concept

The operating concept describes everything that is required of the planned
application on a technical, organisational and also financial level. It provides
an overview of who is responsible for what, routine maintenance work, the
backup system and the security concept. It also defines the operating costs
(see Stage 4) and ensures that all activities and the necessary resources are
identified and properly allocated.

If at this stage you realise that the expected costs of the app exceed
the value of its projected use, you will need to consider terminating
development, as this would make more sense than half hearted imple
mentation.

Stage 6: Technical implementation

The following checklist outlines what you need to consider when planning
technical implementation. Answer the following questions: