How to build a Smart Radio

I have got into the habit of listening to BBC radio on my iPhone using the BBC Sounds App. I find the ability to drag a programme back to the beginning when I come to it late particularly useful. It’s great to go back to the start of The World At One when it’s already 1:15pm. There are problems with this though. What if two of you are listening and you want to use your phone for something else? There is nothing quite like a dedicated radio, that sits in the same place that anyone can turn on and use.

So, I went in search of a Smart Radio. A Smart Radio is like a Smart TV – it’s a radio that can run the sort of apps you can run on your smart phone. Every TV on the market these days is a Smart TV. They can connect to the internet and can run the apps you have on your phone: Netflix, YouTube, Amazon Prime and so on. However, it turns out that there is no such thing as a Smart Radio. You can get internet radios that connect to internet radio stations but these do not run apps like BBC Sounds. Many will allow you to rewind a programme but only if it is already in the buffer of the radio already. You can’t switch on an internet radio and immediately rewind it 15 mins.

I was stuck. For a moment. Then I remembered I had an old iPhone in a drawer somewhere. I dug this out, cleared all the apps it had on it and installed BBC Sounds. I connected an external speaker and I had the dedicated Smart Radio I was looking for.

Smart Radio

All I need to do now is make a box in the design of a cool retro radio to put all the bits in and my project will be complete. I wonder when I’ll get time to do that?




Posted in Ideas | Leave a comment

Dashboards as a motivational tool

Elias with tabletWithin the ColaLife initiative, we started using Android tablets during support visits to Kit Yamoyo retailers in mid-2014 (see Take a Tablet). This did two things. Firstly, it helped standardise these support visits; to make sure that key things were checked and asked: Was the product displayed well? Did the retailer have a poster displayed? Secondly, it collected key information such as stock levels, sales, prices etc.

Data started accumulating at a rapid rate, but analyses took a long time to do and so were infrequent. Even when these analyses were done they tended to be presented to project management staff and not to the people on the frontline using the tablets and collecting the data. So, we sought help from DataKind who “harness the power of data science in service of humanity”. In short, DataKind link data scientists with organisations like ColaLife to help with data issues. DataKind introduced us to Abbott Katz who is an Excel genius and the only Spreadsheet Journalist I am aware of. Anyway, Abbott worked with me to produce our first dashboard which was released in Jul-15.

The Dashboard - Release 1 17-Jul-15It took blood, sweat and tears to produce this first dashboard and get it out (see it full-size on Flickr). The equations in it had functions in them that I didn’t even know existed! For example:

=IFERROR((COUNTIFS(‘Raw Data’!L:L,O23,’Raw Data’!AP:AP,”>0″,’Raw Data’!AO:AO,1,’Raw Data’!AL:AL,1))-Z23,”–“)

!! However, with Abbott’s help these soon became second nature to me and we now had a mechanism for analysing key performance indicators at the click of a button – quite literally. Analyses that took days now took a few minutes (depending on the speed of your internet connection). This meant that we could easily feedback key information to the frontline. However, little notice was taken of these dashboards until two things happened:

  1. We made the dashboard more granular – the first dashboard analysed things by Province where multiple teams may be working – we needed to analyse by District where individual teams operated.
  2. We brought all fieldworkers together from across the country to discuss and agree ways of working, what success looked like and how we were going to measure this (key performance indicators)

Role Play - retailer visit
Our marketing and distribution consultant – Ralf Siwiti – in a ‘retailer visit’ role play with the then newly recruited Charity who became one of the frontline workers supporting retailers in Lusaka District

The fieldworker meeting happened on 18-Feb-16 and was reported here. Looking back now this was a transformational event. For the first time, frontline staff became clear about their precise role and how their performance was to be assessed. To coincide with the workshop, Release 3.0 of the dashboard came out, showing performance by team (District). Click on the image to see Release 3.0 full-size on Flickr).

The Dashboard - Release 3 2100hrs 31-Mar-16
Release 3.0 of the Dashboard. Click here to view full-size on Flickr

Since then, the dashboard was produced every Friday for the duration of the initiative and they were published monthly online here:

The dashboards had a huge motivational effect, with the different district teams comparing their performance and seeking to learn from others who were performing better than than they were.

A key feature of the tablet system was the ability to collect retailer location information and this enabled ‘route planning’ across all districts as a means of meeting retailer contact targets (meeting all retailers face to face every month, or every other month in Lusaka).

The release of the dashboard on Friday mornings has become ‘an event’ for everybody. Even the Lusaka driver comes into the office at around 10am and says, “Is the dashboard out? How did we do?”.

Over time the dashboard got more and more sophisticated. Release 5.0 was issued in Sep-16. This analysed the percentage of contact with retailers that is face-to-face (as opposed to by phone) and the presence (or not) of point of sales materials. Click on the image to see Release 5.0 full-size on Flickr).

The Dashboard - Release 6 - 0800hrs 16-Sep-16
Release 5.0 of the Dashboard. Click here to view full-size on Flickr

Although Release 5.0 (immediately above) is more sophisticated than Release 3.0 (above Release 5.0), the bottom two rows show the same KPIs. In both cases the blue lines are the targets. At a glance you can see how things have dramatically improved.

Thanks are due to the frontline staff who rose to the challenges given to them, to Ralf Switi for guiding us in what we needed to be doing and to Abbott Katz for providing the means to measure performance and feedback to those who can make the difference (the frontline staff).

I have gone on to produce dashboards for the Cotton Sector Support Programme in Tanzania and for Pharmanova – the manufacturer of Kit Yamoyo – in Zambia.

[A variant of this blog post was first published on on 19-Sep-16.]


Posted in Dashborads, Data for Development | Tagged , | Leave a comment

What is self-sustaining development?

GRZ co-pack production at Pharmanova
The Kit Yamoyo diarrhoea treatment kit under production in Zambia for the local Zambian market. The kit was designed and the local market developed using one-off donor funding.

It is very common to hear the term “sustainable development” in international development discussions. But what does it mean? The phrase can be used interchangeably, to mean one of two things which are, in fact, very different. Some use it in the sense of “living within our environmental limits” or development that “meets the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Others use the term to describe development that carries on once the resources used to create it are removed. I refer to this form of sustainable development as “self-sustaining development”, to distinguish it from what one might call “environmentally sustainable development”.

Over the past eight years, I have been involved in ColaLife in Zambia, an initiative to transform access to the globally recommended treatment for childhood diarrhoea. It is early days – donor funding only finished 12 months ago (Mar-18) – but all indications are that the transformation we achieved while donor funds were flowing will be self-sustaining and are even developing further.

So, how does one achieve development that is self-sustaining?
Here are some principles I have developed over the years while working with others on development projects that I think are crucial if you are to achieve self-sustaining development.

  1. Plan for it from the outset.
    You don’t achieve self-sustaining development while being forced to come up with “an exit strategy” two years before donor funding comes to an end.
  2. Build a smart partnership to guide planning, testing and scale-up.
    Smart partnerships gather around a shared vision not around an organisation or an individual. Be open and inclusive: invite everyone in, as part of a process where a broad membership can self-select their level of engagement. Some may go on to become implementation partners, while others may continue as a broader consultative group.
  3. Do everything through local systems and structures.
    Where these lack capacity or direction, help build the capacity, help refine or improve the direction. Above all, avoid setting-up parallel systems or structures.
  4. Self-sustaining development should fit with government policy.
    If it doesn’t, seek to better align plans or work with government to influence or advocate for change.
  5. Engage your intended beneficiaries from the very outset.
    It is better to operate on the basis of what you know people want, rather than on what you think they need.
  6. Don’t do anything that makes you or your organisation a permanent part of the solution.
    Avoid creating dependency on your funded project or intervention. It should catalyse: create a solution, without being a permanent part of that solution.

I would welcome discussion on this (please comment below) or email me at

I am sure that these principles could be usefully refined and added to.



Posted in Self-sustaining Development | 1 Comment

Now blogging over at ColaLife

ColaLife pods in place

Given that there are only 24 hours in a day, I have had to stop blogging here. I am now spending all my spare time on the ColaLife Campaign and I am now blogging over on the ColaLife blog. See you there!

Posted in Coca-Cola Campaign, Homepage, Innovation | Leave a comment

The Best of 2008

I have just learned that this blog has been listed by Business Week who want to identify ‘the voice of innovation’. This is a great honour especially since most of my online activity hasn’t taken place here.

So I thought I’d sum-up 2008 here to provide a link through to where the action really is!

Blog post of the year
17/2/08 – Calling Jack Thursdon
This post was a real-time experiment in social networking set-up to demonstrate how social networking works for the benefit of the sceptics. It worked better than I could have wished.

David and Goliath where David is armed with social media
From 6/5/08 – Using Coca-Cola’s Distribution Muscle
This post was the start of the ColaLife campaign. This took a 20-year-old idea which had never achieved traction and applied the power of social networks to turn the head, engage and influence the behaviour of a global brand. The story got too big for this blog and now has its own blog here:
We can distribute Coca-Cola to all corners of the World and yet 1 in 5 children die before the age of 5 in developing countries, that’s 4 a minute in Africa alone, 5,500 a day. They die from very simple causes like dehydration from diarrhoea. ColaLife wants to get Oral Rehydration Salts, and other social products, out to all the places you can buy a coke by putting them in Coke crates.
The progress made to the end 0f 2008 was nicely summarised in a BBC Interview broadcast on 27/12/08.

Soapbox post of the year
21/2/08 – Why I believe in Open Innovation
The motivation for this post came from a social event where I introduced my father to someone with power over me. This someone responded by saying I was mad in my belief in open innovation. Embarrassing but also inspiring!

ruralnet|online co-design
10/1/08 Planning for the next generation ruralnet|online
Using open innovation principles we set about re-designing ruralnet|uk’s online community, in the open and online. On 22/1/08 a new Drupal site was launched where the co-design process took place: The culmination of the process was summed up here: Pulling insights together.

Insight of the year
2/1/08 – Turning the telescope the other way around
Before Web 2.0, online portals and ‘one-stop-shops’ seemed like a good idea. Now they look like you’ve got all your eggs in one basket. Now you can (and should) have your content everywhere eg your images on Flickr, your video on YouTube and Vimeo as so on. Then your website becomes an aggregator of all your stuff not the only place people can find you. So your website becomes the end point, not the starting point, of your web presence. This means that many more people will find you through the different content channels you are using and it also means you can re-use and re-mix your content in different places for different audiences. A hat tip goes to my friend Julian of Georgia Wonder for opening my eyes to this.

An interesting year. Thanks to everyone who has supported me over the years and been happy for me to build on their ideas.

Posted in Coca-Cola Campaign, Homepage, Innovation, Online services, Technology | 1 Comment

All change, all change

Simon Berry
This is the photo on my new Defra ID card. Ah well. I'm stuck with it now!

Defra ID card? What's all that about? Well, on Friday, 24/10/08 I gave up the post of Chief Executive of ruralnet|uk to take up a secondment at Defra. I will be working on two things: the implementation of Defra's Third Sector Strategy launched this Monday (3/11/08); and the new Greener Living Fund. The secondment is part-time until Christmas and becomes full time from the New Year. It will be a one-way arrangement. When the secondment finishes I will not return to ruralnet|uk.

This is a real bitter-sweet affair for me. On the one hand I am really looking forward to the Defra secondment which is right up my street: liaison with the Third Sector where I have lots of friends,plus the chance to change people's behaviour in ways that have a positive impact on the environment. Work that will make me feel good.

On the other hand, I did set-up ruralnet|uk and I have really enjoyed working with all the people that make up ruralnet, so moving away is a terrible wrench. However, although the funding environment is really tough, ruralnet|uk is in good shape to cope. It has a great team of people with leading edge skills and ideas and Web 2.0 based services to back this up. I have invested too much to drop my support and enthusiasm for what ruralnet|uk is and what it does.  So, I want to be available to continue to offer encouragement and ideas, but on request only and in a non-interfering sort of way!

Thanks are due a whole load of people – too numerous to mention – but let me mention one or two who have allowed me to make this move. My wife and colleague, Jane, who has not been well this year, but has continued to support me in whatever I end up doing; the Trustees of ruralnet|uk who could have made me feel very uncomfortable at my decision to move but have been incredibly supportive; Simon Bland, the founding chairman of ruralnet|uk who has taken on the role of interim CEO while the recruitment of a new CEO gets underway; my colleagues at ruralnet|uk – it's been an honour to work with you (and I've enjoyed it too!).

An official press release will go out from ruralnet|uk on Monday through xPRESS Digest.

Onwards and upwards!

PS: Have you joined the ColaLife Facebook Group yet?

Posted in Current Affairs, Homepage | 6 Comments

Using Coca Cola’s Distribution Muscle

Coca Cola Distribution in Dakar Coca Cola in Soweto

Photo credits: Right: Nick Gripton Left: Marie-II

Today, via a tweet, I was invited by Number 10 to join a live blog of the Business Call To Action event. As the commentary scrolled by, Coca Cola made a statement and it reminded me of an idea that first came to me some 20 years ago, as I drove through the bush in NE Zambia in an area where one in five children die before the age five, usually from dehydration. This was in the days before blogs when it was difficult to know where to park such random thoughts.

This is what I typed in to today’s live blog:

[Comment From Simon Berry]
What about Coca Cola using their
distribution channels (which are amazing in developing countries) to
distribute rehydration salts? Maybe by dedicating one compartment in
every 10 crates as ‘the life saving’ compartment?

I still think it’s a good idea. Coca Cola, are you listening?

Further information

All of the Coca Cola Campaign posts

I’m thankful to the photographers who have allowed me (through personal contact or Creative Commons Licensing) to use their photos.

Posted in Coca-Cola Campaign, Homepage, Pre-2009, Rural | 8 Comments

Why I believe in Open Innovation

OiefrontcoverAnother week goes by and I’ve been asked at least twice about Open Innovation. Enquiries fall into two categories. Some are from people who are really interested in the process and others are very challenging. Here is an anonymised example of the latter:

I understand your objective here, but not why you are once again telling your competitors what we are up to on an open information exchange?
What other business develops new products in such an open way? When General Motors are developing a new car, employees are sworn to secrecy in case Ford find out and get to the market first.
A N Other

Receiving this email was like turning up for an exam to find that the exam paper contained all the questions you’d revised for.

Here are some of the points I made in my response:

The judgement you make when deciding to develop an idea, proposal or project in the open is that you will gain far more than you might lose because:

  • exposing your ideas, proposals etc enables others to challenge them and improve them which leads to improved ideas and proposals
  • it further enhances your reputation as a truly open and collaborative organisation/person
  • it raises awareness of the fact that you are about to do something. So it’s a form of pre-marketing

In addition, the ‘value’ of what you do is not in the ‘ideas’ (I have 3 of these everyday before breakfast!) it’s in their realisation.

This is an interesting quote:

“Share your rough notes, meeting minutes and preliminary results as soon as you can. Sure, there’s always the risk that someone else might come along and nick your ideas but, unless you’re publishing plans for a nuclear reprocessing plant, it’s a lot more likely some helpful soul will pitch in with a helpful comment, pass you a link or contact, or tell you you’ve got it just plain wrong before you spend too much time and effort on the idea.”
Source: Robin Hamman (Senior Broadcast Journalist/Producer at the BBC)

General Motors may keep their ideas to themselves and so did Lego. Lego don’t any longer. The story goes that a few years ago Lego released a long awaited product that enabled their users to build computer-controlled robotic models. This product took them years to develop in-house and in secret and then bring to the market. Within weeks of the release, the product had been completely reverse engineered by their user community and brought back together in the form of a highly superior product. Lego now do things more openly and have a mechanism for involving (and rewarding) users in all new product development. See this recent presentation by Prof Eric von Hippel, MIT at the launch of NESTA Connect.  (You need to be patient – this video takes a while to start – if the video is too slow you can click the audio tab and just listen to that). Thanks to David Wilcox for bringing this to my attention.

Wikipedia has a good definition of open innovation in the private sector. Someone needs to do one for the not-for-profit sector . . . . may be we could do it between us here . . . A NFP definition would not talk about patents but of Creative Commons Licensing but there are many parallels.

The Wikipedia definition makes the point that Open innovation needs a different mindset and company culture to traditional or closed innovation. It also includes the following table which I think is really enlightening. Again a NFP version of this would be useful.

Closed innovation Principles Open innovation Principles
The smart people in our field work for us. Not all the smart people work for us. We need to work with smart people inside and outside our company.
To profit from R&D, we must discover it, develop it and ship it ourselves. External R&D can create significant value; internal R&D is needed to claim some portion of that value.
If we discover it ourselves, we will get it to market first. We don’t have to originate the research to profit from it.
The company that gets an innovation to market first will win. Building a better business model is better than getting to market first.
If we create the most and the best ideas in the industry, we will win. If we make the best use of internal and external ideas, we will win.
We should control our innovation process, so that our competitors don’t profit from our ideas. We should profit from others’ use of our innovation project, and we
should buy others’ IP whenever it advances our own business model.

PS: The image at the top of this post is of the front cover of the proposal to run the Innovation Exchange that we developed in the open here. Click on the image to enlarge it and count the number of authors!

PPS: We are using the same open process to co-design the next version of our ruralnet|online service here. Please feel free to join in or just browse.

Posted in Articles, Homepage, Innovation, Pre-2009 | 6 Comments

Calling Jack Thurston

QuestionmarkThis is an experiment in online social networking and an explanation of how RSS works. If you are Jack Thurston of ‘The Bike Show from Resonance FM‘ fame please leave a comment.

It’s also an interesting case study, particularly for those who are struggling to figure this stuff out and grasp the relevance of it for them or their organisations.

The hypothesis behind this experiment is that social networking is a powerful tool and is very effective at joining people up with similar interests even though they are ‘doing their own thing in their own way in their own (online) places’.

A comment from Jack on this diary post will help confirm this hypothsis. Let’s see what happens.

Why Jack?
Last night I was listening to a podcast by Jon Winston from Bikescape using iTunes. Coincidentally, I had the Last.FM program running. This told me that 323 Last.FM users had also listened to this podcast while running Last.FM. It told me that it knew nothing about the ‘artist’ (Jon Winston). It also told me that there were two ‘Similar artists’: Jack Thurston and Scott Alumbaugh.

Last.FM knows nothing about Jack Thurston either, so I do a Google search and find his blog. At this point I realise that I have come across Jack before. He also does a podcast with a cycling theme*.

I read on and realise that we don’t just share an interest in cycling but there is also a rural thread in common. I then remember that my colleague, Paul Henderson, highlighted one of Jack’s projects to me about two week’s ago: This amazing (and very clever) project uses modern law (freedom of information) and technology to bring together data on farm subsidies. It shows who gets what. David Henke of the Guardian wrote about here.

And finally, I see that Jack has a general interest in technology and attended the ‘BarCamp‘ that many of the people who got involved in the Open Innovation Exchange went to.

The chances are that Jack will find this post because he (or someone who knows him) will have his/her RSS Reader set up to scan for people writing about The Bike Show or

Anyway, if Jack does comment here, it will demonstrate that the latest internet technology joins people up even though they don’t know each other and they are operating in different places. Will it work… how long will it take…? As the saying goes, watch this space.

Previous entries:

Thoughts on the new ruralnet|online – Part 1 (of many!)

* Listen to Jack’s account of the Dunwick Dynamo if you’re into interesting cycling challenges

Posted in Homepage, Pre-2009, Rural, Technology | 5 Comments