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Oral Wiki

a voice-based wiki system

Cindy Jeffers, Stefan Agamanolis

Blogs, wikis, and other Web 2.0 applications have become crucial tools for capturing and sharing information in distributed organisations. However, the power of these tools has not yet reached areas where Internet infrastructure or literacy lag behind. Oral Wiki is a completely voice-based wiki system that we are investigating for use in strengthening informal justice systems in sub-Saharan Africa. It could archive case results and facilitate information sharing between the informal and formal justice systems.

The Oral Wiki is a phone-based wiki system. It was inspired by the need for a networking tool to strengthen informal justice systems in sub-Saharan Africa, where conventional screen-based Web 2.0 applications are not viable because of a lack of literacy and Internet availability.

The Oral Wiki could be used to facilitate discussion around best practice and to establish an archive of decisions. These objectives are important as many informal justice systems, such as the Abunzi system in Rwanda, lack a persistent database of decisions and a forum for informal justice actors to discuss their profession. This technology could also facilitate information sharing between informal and formal justice systems and aims to increase transparency and accountability in informal justice systems. By using an Oral Wiki, informal justice actors may be able to resolve cases more quickly and with greater consistency across a nation, which would in turn ease tensions in communities and support reconciliation in developing areas of the world.

The primary objectives of the Oral Wiki project are the following:

  • Build technologies that connect disadvantaged communities to emerging telecommunications infrastructures
  • Increase access to justice
  • Strengthen informal justice systems
  • Facilitate information sharing among informal justice actors
  • Facilitate information sharing between the informal and formal justice systems
  • Facilitate more efficient and transparent informal justice systems
  • Create archives of decisions made in informal justice systems
  • Generate awareness around oral societies' technological needs

In September and October of 2008 we met with informal justice actors called Abunzi, in Rubavu District, East Province and Kirehe District, West Province in Rwanda. They repeatedly expressed a need for a network on which to discuss best practice. It was from these meetings that we set out to create a technology to connect the Abunzi.

The Oral Wiki would store audio recordings of Abunzi decisions. It would provide record, playback, tagging and commenting functionalities akin to those found in conventional wikis. It would be accessible by phone and Internet and would enable the ranking of decisions made by Abunzi. Abunzi and the formal justice system would each need to play a vital role in the database.

The technology would also be available online for participants with access to Internet such as those in government. The Internet interface would provide for a smooth transition to an online setting once an Internet infrastructure is in place in Rwanda.

Our proposed technological solution is based on the notion that working at the community level might help bring two people together, which could in turn bring reconciliation to communities where informal justice is key to the social fabric. Informal justice actors have an expertise and understanding of the challenges their fellow citizens face. They have a wealth of knowledge to offer their fellow citizens, their governments, and the world. In post-conflict countries their work assists in moving people away from conflict by offering a forum for reconciliation. For these reasons informal justice actors should be given the means to share and archive their knowledge.


Cindy Jeffers and Stefan Agamanolis, An Oral Wiki to Support Informal Justice Systems, Proceedings of IST-Africa 2009, 6 - 9 May 2009, Uganda. (PDF)

Cindy Jeffers and Stefan Agamanolis, The Abunzi Technology: Oral Web 2.0, Design Connexity Eighth International Conference of the European Academy of Design, 1 - 3 April 2009, Aberdeen, UK.


Learn more about the Oral Wiki at http://oralwiki.org

From the UK, call 0141 416 5206 for a demonstration of the Oral Wiki.