Oky: Trailblazing Girl-Centered Tech
UNICEF’s period tracker app Oky, developed with and for adolescent girls, becomes a digital public good
Oky is the world’s first digital menstruation app co-created with and for girls.
The app provides evidence-based information about periods, puberty, and reproductive health in fun, creative and positive ways, straight into girls’ hands. Oky is tailored to girls’ lives, language and digital realities and is currently live in Mongolia and Indonesia, with more markets coming soon.
Oky has been recognized by the Digital Public Goods Alliance, a multi-stakeholder initiative that facilitates the discovery, use, and acceleration of digital public goods (DPGs). To earn recognition as a DPG, digital solutions must adhere to the DPG Standard, which requires solutions to be open source, relevant to the achievement of the SDGs, include important measures such as data privacy, and to take steps to do-no-harm. Digital public goods like Oky help to create a more equitable world.
This is an exciting moment for Oky, which is the first solution from the UNICEF Innovation Fund to be approved as a digital public good. It is also an opportunity to harness Oky as best practice for building solutions to girls’ digital realities and spark the digital ecosystem to bridge the gender digital divide.
Raising the bar: girl-centered design
Digital public goods uphold internationally agreed principles for digital development. The first principle is to design with the user. But despite best intentions, teams habitually design with a user base that is predominantly male. Too often, girls are left out of co-creation, design, or product testing.
What is different when designing with adolescent girls?
When co-creating with girls, you learn about their digital realities, their opportunities and restrictions, their wants and needs. These insights will influence every choice you make in the digital development journey. Generally, girls face greater restrictions in use of and access to digital technologies than boys. As a result, the starting point to build for girl users is very different.
Oky put girls at the core of the app, using a girl-centered design process. More than 400 girls in two very different markets, Indonesia and Mongolia, took part in the ideation and design phase. In co-creation workshops girls crafted app models that would meet their wants and needs. This shaped prototype development and many other digital development choices for Oky. Girls also determined the look and feel, and named it Oky, which is a fun, made-up word.
Matching tech to girl user requirements
Through this girl-centered design, Oky emerged as a gamified, light-weight application. It runs offline, is easy to navigate by design, and includes a read-out option and visual tutorials. It also allows for girls who share phones - either within the family or with peers - to have high data protection and privacy.
What might make your digital solution more equitable and girl-friendly? Draw inspiration from Oky's experience.
- Devices and operating systems
Girls in emerging markets tend to use more basic handsets and older operating systems than the male population. Smartphones are often lower-end, with limited and slower functionality. Oky therefore works on a wide variety of devices and systems. The app is lightweight to not take up a lot of memory on a device. It works on lower screen resolutions and older software (Android 5 and above). Oky’s design and user interface also works on all screen sizes.
- Privacy, security and discretion
Digital products can put users at risk by not safeguarding their personal information or data. Girls are often at even higher risk of harm. Having a private, secure, and discreet app was one of the major Oky features that girls requested. The app icon is discrete and unrelated to menstruation or sexual and reproductive health. The gamified interface does not look like a traditional period tracker wheel or calendar to anyone looking over a user’s shoulder. Very strict data protection and privacy measures govern Oky’s code and backend. Oky never asks a user for personally identifiable information (such as email address, social media accounts or IP address) as it can provide valuable services to girls without this data.
- Download options
Some girls in low- and- middle-income countries do not have email addresses. But the Google Play Store requires an account and email address to download apps. Oky is also available as a direct app download from the website, as well as on the Play Store. It can also be accessed via a shareable link or QR code.
- Offline considerations
Female users are much less likely to be online than boys and men, while girls in rural areas have even more limited connectivity. Oky was built to fully function offline if needed. Once downloaded, Oky can be used without an internet connection. Data is stored in the app itself, and Oky does not need to connect to external databases to provide services to girls. This includes the period prediction engine, with machine learning that works offline.
- Device sharing practices
Girls are more likely to borrow devices from friends, or share phones within the family. Oky is therefore built to allow multiple user logins. Users can access the app on a shared device but with unique accounts and passwords. Oky protects user privacy with password prompts each time the app is opened.
- Digital literacy levels
Female users tend to have (or believe they have) lower levels of digital literacy than male users. Girls helped to design Oky to be gamified and easy to navigate, ensuring that all users, regardless of their digital literacy, are comfortable using the app without difficulties. This was done through visuals, avatar support and interactive tutorials, content in local languages, and engaging girl-friendly content. Oky has text-to-speech features in different languages that enable users to hear written content read aloud.
Building an open-source (girl) community
As a digital public good, Oky upholds particular standards - and in line with the DPG Standard, Oky is open source. The Oky source code is publicly available on GitHub.
Being open-source allows Oky to continuously be improved, through a global community. Oky’s community is growing rapidly, with implementation partners developing Oky in 12 markets to date. This is supported by an international network of technology, content, research, outreach and design partners.
Girls themselves are current Oky collaborators by providing feedback through the app, and suggesting new content, features and design amendments. Moving forward, the Oky team is exploring actively engaging girls through STEM and coding communities to write, amend, and improve the app’s code, design, features, and content.
Breaking the digital glass ceiling
Innovation holds incredible promise to benefit more children and young people in new ways. This applies not just to technology, but to new partnerships, new ways of working, and new ways to scale promising services.
To reach more young people means girls must be deliberately included. Oky not only meets best practices for digital development, but has also started a conversation about best practices for girl-centered digital development. By putting digital principles for women and girls into action, Oky exemplifies how a digital public goods ecosystem can greatly improve the lives of girls, working to break the digital glass ceiling.