Scene 10: CommSell Helps Digitize the Paperwork Process

Scene 10


Chester Kwak is the field manager of Dimagi, a technology company that works to create phone applications that can facilitate more manageable data collection. Sid reached out to the field manager from West Africa to obtain this contact and proposed a meeting. Our team and Chester have been communicating for a few days in order to get a small glimpse of the technology we will be working with. The pilot application is called CommSell and it is very similar to their previous products that are being used by health workers that make in-house visits to their patients. One of the products that is the most similar to CommSell is an application called CommCare. With CommCare, nurses can travel for check ups and have this application downloaded to their phone, whether it is a simple Nokia or an Android, and fill out digital forms for their respective patients. This data will be sent to a database either through an SMS text message or through the Internet. If there is no cell service or Internet connection, the phones will store the data internally until they are able to connect again. These forms are created by collaboration between Dimagi and the organization by brainstorming questions depending on different scenarios and audiences. For example, these applications can be translated into a wide variety of languages or they can be programmed to solely have pictures or purely audio for those who cannot read or see very well. For our team, this technology would streamline the paperwork process at the picker’s house, ensure proper information such as the picker’s name and address, and continue the picker database on a much more fluid level. As of now, John will collect every copy of the picker’s receipt for the day and copy it over into a larger spreadsheet. Then the names and addresses from that will be typed into the picker database. By incorporating CommSell into Blue Sky’s pickup process, we can eliminate much of the tedious paperwork and make it easier for them to view their collection and picker patterns.

Cast of Characters: Steve, Brendan, Archit, Kelsey, Scott, Chester


Eighty-four degrees in the sun and seventy-two in the shade; the hot South African sun beat down on the project team as they readied for their meeting. The St. John’s Waterfront lounge spelled relief for the sun-baked Recyclers as they ambled into the room eager to see the opportunities that CommSell had to bring.



As our group was walking back from lunch, a taxi pulled up to the lodge. A young, Asian man paid the driver and walked over to us, introducing himself as Chester. We walked into the lodge and arranged ourselves on the couches around the table by the television.


In attending this meeting, the group hoped to gain a better understanding about CommSell questioning:

  • How does the programming basis for CommSell work?
  • Are there any phones that do not support this application?
  • Can the collected data be exported into an Excel spreadsheet?
  • Would the amount of pickers overwhelm the system?
  • Could we create a group SMS messaging system to let pickers know when we will be in their area/other important announcements? 

Action and Observation

Our group lounged on the couches on the bottom floor of the lodge as we waited for Scott to arrive, a gentle breeze ruffling the flags strung from the ceiling. Chester was early, a premise that we had not found too common in South Africa. He asked us what adventures we had been going on while we had been here, for he himself had only been here two months. We detailed a few of our wild excursions, naming surfing and the hike up Table Mountain as our favourites. Chester burst out laughing and asked us if we were actually here to do any work or if we were just vacationing in Cape Town. Scott arrived and reached out to shake Chester’s hand as introductions were exchanged. Chester asked us to explain the processes at Blue Sky so he could fully comprehend how the programme is run and what their hurdles are. Archit put his slideshow on the television and our team went step-by-step through our process analysis, listing the problems and further elaborating on what the shorthand meant. Chester’s eyes were glued to the screen as his fingers flew over the keyboard; straining to record all the dilemmas we were describing.

Once we finished, it was his turn to take the stage. He explained that Dimagi was a company focusing on making technology more accessible for implementation in the third world. As he talked, he brought up the company website on the television and began to go through their products briefly. Chester detailed one in general, CommCare, for it was the one that would have the most in common with CommSell, the programme we were to pilot at Blue Sky. Their product is a mobile application that is created by Dimagi or by an independent person, which is then downloaded to a mobile device for use. The example he gave was that of a health worker visiting a pregnant woman throughout the course of her pregnancy. For the first visit, the worker would create a file for the woman she was visiting and get necessary information. The application would ask for name, address, community, and general health questions. From here, the worker would save this information and it would be sent to a database and also stored in her phone until she closed the form permanently. For her second visit to the woman, the health worker would be able to select the mother’s name from her phone list and a second form would appear. This form would ask more questions related to doctor’s visits or potential items that could disrupt the pregnancy. Once completed, this file would again be sent to the database and saved on the worker’s phone. At the third and last visit, the conclusion of the pregnancy would be reached: born, stillborn, or aborted. As this final form was filled out, there would be no need for the worker to visit again, so the file would be sent to the database and removed from the worker’s phone.

After we discussed this, Chester showed us the instruction page on their website that detailed how to make our own application. He perused the options quickly, for our team had gone through it a bit previously and he would be training us much more in depth later in the week if we chose to continue working with him. Chester explained how questions could be made multiple choice, how we could add pictures instead of words, how we could make audio questions, and how we could choose the language we wanted to appeal to a specific audience. We were very enthused about the fact that we could design this ourselves, that it would make Blue Sky’s process digitalized, and that it would be much simpler to organize and report.

Lastly, we came up with a short list for what we believed would be the greatest benefits to Blue Sky. We felt that it would aid in lessening the language barrier, being able to have daily/weekly/quarterly records, and we could potentially set up a group SMS text messaging portion so that there would be less time wasted going to people’s houses when they were not there. Chester jotted these down and as our meeting concluded, called a cab and joked about maybe finding time to do some work on this in between all of our surfing.

Reflection and Learning:

Talking about this programme with Chester resulted in a very enjoyable few hours. Chester was incredibly upbeat and fun and the application was much simpler than previously expected. He was eager to learn about Blue Sky’s processes and would ask questions to make sure he understood each small detail of what we were saying. We worked together to brainstorm a list of ways that Blue Sky would potentially utilize this application, such as SMS messaging a large group of pickers in one area, sorting the data in ascending order to see who the most prominent pickers were, and also figuring out how frequently the communities should be visited. Using this list as a starting point, we will create some practice applications and test these on our phones in order to get an idea for where to begin. It may be difficult to implement the wide range of components that Blue Sky would like, but we shall attempt to accommodate all of them.

Ideas for Going Forward:

The team feels that this pilot programme will be a very good one for Blue Sky to incorporate into its recycling pickup. It does not cost anything for the programme implementation and there is not an overwhelming amount of additional equipment needed which are two very strong positives. The inefficient paperwork process could be consolidated into a much shorter amount of time with the use of this technology. We look forward to sharing our knowledge with John and Gershwin and teaching them how the system would be utilized.