Digital Skills Observatory

Studying the impact of digital skills on people, smartphones, and digital financial services.

photos by Laura de Reynal

Kenya is a leading innovator in mobile finance. Mobile money services like M-Pesa provide a unique substitute for cash in a place where physical distribution and security are difficult. While many people in Kenya face poverty, they are buying or receiving smartphones at an unprecedented rate. This surge in smartphone adoption brings with it a critical change in social and technological perspective, and the potential for greater financial inclusion.

Final Report: Stepping Into Digital Life

Stepping Into Digital Life summarizes the methods, participants, results, and recommendations from the Digital Skills Observatory. Not only is it a colourful, captivating report, it is accompanied by an open source data set with in-depth comparative analysis.

The report was written by Bobby Richter and Laura de Reynal, and designed by Jane & Jury. Data analysis and dashboards were produced by a bit of a data agency.

Read the Final Report View the Data Dashboards

Project Overview

The Digital Skills Observatory looks at the impact of digital skills on the usage of Digital Financial Services. Testing various teaching and delivery methods, the study aims to understand the skills people need to develop confidence and agency with their smartphones. We focused on 150 first-time smartphone users between 18 and 35 years of age living in urban, peri-urban, and rural areas, that earn less than 5 USD per day.

New smartphone users in Kisumu, Kilifi, Mombasa, Nairobi, and Vihiga had regular contact with our research team throughout 2016. Using a Participatory Action Research model, periodic interview results drove iteration on 6 interventions—software and curriculum designed to boost digital skills. This iterative approach uncovered effective teaching methods for content, form-factor, and environment pertaining to smartphones.

Capacity-building, multi-disciplinary learning network
Digital skills workshops and software
Quantitative, ethnographic, & open


Participants were split into two groups, one of which experienced 2 types of interventions, workshops, and on-device prototypes. These interventions gave participants a blend of in-person, directed learning opportunities, and on-device, self-directed ones.

Social Media & Accounts
The Smartphone Ecosystem
All About Accounts
Jisort! Android Tutorial App Prototype
Data Privacy
Exploring, Searching, and Downloading
WhatsApp Chat Exerpiment
Life, Business, Gambling, & Gender
Leveraging your Smartphone


On-Device Prototye I

Jisort! is an informational prototype app that and offers fun and visually interesting ways to increase basic smartphone awareness and skills, diagnose problems, and encourage exploration. It was created as a first on-device prototype for DSO participants, using information gathered from interviews and workshops before it.

It is available to download and try out at Bugs and development can be discussed on github.

Download Jisort Visit Github Repo Read Blog Post

Workshop Curricula

1. The Smartphone Ecosystem

(Intervention 1)

Learn the basics of how smartphones and the internet work together to deliver apps, information, and messages to and from your smartphone. Participate in engaging activities meant to help you better understand how your phone works and interacts with the world around you.

See Curriculum Online

2. All About Accounts

(Intervention 2)

Learn the how to set up new accounts and create passwords that keep them safe and secure from people who want to impersonate you or steal your data.

See Curriculum Online

3. Exploring, Searching, and Downloading

(Intervention 4)

Learn what is possible online by exploring, searching, downloading and using the web and mobile applications.

See Curriculum Online

4. Solving Problems with your Phone

(Intervention 6)

Use your phone to be more creative, solve problems and be more productive.

See Curriculum Online


The Digital Skills Observatory team includes members of the Mozilla Foundation, Digital Divide Data (DDD), and several Mozilla communities within Kenya. This community's diversity and practical, technical, and local expertise was instrumental in the project's success.

To find out more about the project, contact one of the project leads listed below:

This project wouldn't exist without the dedication of the DSO community, including professionals and volunteer researchers, community organizers, developers, designers, and everything in between:


  • Marie Amuti
  • Hilda Chao
  • Naiomi Kiiru
  • Allan Kimata
  • Winnie Makokha
  • Dobbz Mklowe
  • Dennis Ndegwa
  • Alex Wafula
  • Stephen Wanjau

Mombasa & Kilifi

  • Shehnaz Abubakar
  • Mary Chizi
  • Fauzia Ismail
  • Festus Langat
  • Nekesa Lilyan
  • Nehemaiah Marita
  • Pauline Munga
  • Mukhtar Salim
  • Edwin Sang
  • Faith Zuma

Kisumu & Vihiga

  • Christabel Achieng
  • Alex Amolo
  • Sharon Gisore
  • Walter (Loso) Obadha
  • Bonface Odhiambo
  • Jack Olango
  • Mike Otieno
  • Chandi Tome

Previous Research

Smartphones are used and understood differently across the world, and differing perceptions, needs, values, and knowledge change the way smartphones, app ecosystems, and the web affect people's lives.

In 2014 the Mozilla Foundation and the GSMA conducted research in India, Bangladesh, Kenya, and Chicago, studying smartphone adoption and its impact on people's understanding and use of the web.

The Digital Skills observatory expands on the results of these studies, with the understanding that smartphones, the internet, and digital finance have the potential for greater financial inclusion.

Read Global Web Reports


Project Details

Project Research Questions


  • What are the immediate and emergent barriers to usage for first time smartphone users?
  • Does limited literacy impact the usage and adoption of smartphones and DFS?
  • Who else uses the phone and for what purpose? Our general hypothesis is that smartphones are private and personal, but are there use case exceptions? What are the consequences on the usage of DFS?
  • What is the route to discovery of DFS? What are the different channels?
  • Are entertainment and social media interesting vehicules for learning and adopting DFS?
  • Is there a difference between the way men and women use DFS? What are the consequences of these differences?


  • Are digital skills more / less / equally important than financial skills when it comes to the adoption of DFS? i.e. digital literacy vs. financial literacy
  • Does improved digital literacy and smartphone adoption change expectations for financial stability?
  • Do new users understand the application metaphor? How do they discover new applications? How does this shape their understanding and use of DFS?
  • Is there a difference between men and women in the way they learn and apply their new digital skills?

Education methods

  • What mediated / non-mediated education methods including pre-loaded applications, improved device on-boarding, and improved user experience increase adoption of DFS? (social learning / on device learning)
  • Most people get help using their new phones. From whom and for what? What other help might be appropriate or more helpful?

Design, Products & Services

  • How does colloquial/local/online language (e.g. Sheng, emoticons) influence use of services that relate to DFS (e.g. games with monetization built in)?


Read More DSO Posts