Buna Africa: The participatory design of an online aquaculture platform



Learning & Interaction Design
Software, UX & Game Design


  • 4IR, aquaculture, design for social change, participation design


Aquaculture has become the fastest-growing animal production sector globally, with production in Africa especially, steadily increasing. The move from subsistence to commercial fish farming requires emerging farmers to access technical information and support services. In order to address this need, the Rural Fisheries Programme, a developmental unit with the Department of Ichthyology and Fisheries Science at Rhodes University, South Africa, developed Buna Africa.

Buna Africa is an online platform intended to support the development and management of the aquaculture sector by providing fish farmers with technical support and services to assist them in increasing production and becoming more efficient and secondly, providing governments with a means to track production data in their area, and to use this data to inform policy and management decisions. Buna is currently being piloted in Zambia and Malawi. During this process, it was recognised that the design of the platform needed to allow greater access to, and understanding of the content, to enable farmers with low literacy, or limited experience with digital platforms to make optimum use of the platform. For this reason, an interinstitutional and interdisciplinary project was embarked on to address both user interface design and scientific information of the platform, with members from Ichthyology and Fisheries Science at Rhodes University, Graphic Design at the University of Johannesburg and Information Design at the University of Pretoria.

The research is framed using the following questions: What are the current user and stakeholder perceptions of the Buna platform in terms of ease of use, accessibility and understandability, what type of online formats are required to allow easy access to the Buna platform, and lastly, how can the design of the Buna platform allow for easier access, engagement and understanding its content?

Literature reveals that designing for users with low literacy is a balancing act between designing for their needs, without alienating more technologically skilled individuals. Participatory design methodologies are as such recommended as being an effective means of creating digital solutions. Fish farmers from the Vhembe district in Limpopo were purposively sampled for the project, as they had been part of the initial development of the Buna platform. Spinuzzi’s (2005) participation design phases were used to collectively formulate the Design Brief for the Buna platform with the fish farmers, to analyse the website and create prototypes and to then collect feedback on the implemented changes. Engagement with the farmers was positive, and valuable, context relevant feedback was received on how the Buna platform functions, and more importantly, how farmers envisage themselves engaging with it. Findings emphasised that access to information, and the ability to create a community of practice were the most valuable aspects of the platform. More broadly, the paper speaks to how participatory design can be viewed as a strengths-based and proactive way to engage with, and involve local communities in the development of systems that will allow them to actively participate in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

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