Horizon CDT Research Highlights

Research Highlights

Study of the use, limitations, and possibilities of peer-to-peer digital marketplaces for rural micro-enterprises in developing countries.

  Yang Bong (2021 cohort)

Micro and Small Enterprises (MSE), which are enterprises typically defined as having less than 10 workers and annual turnover of less than $100,000, play a significant development role in leveling income inequality, especially amongst developing countries (Asiedu et al., 2019; Duncombe & Heeks, 2002). This is because MSE is recognised for its ability to create employment and generate income for sustainable and social development (Duncombe & Heeks, 2002). In the meantime, appropriating digital technologies into commerce has become crucial for the survival of enterprises evident through the COVID19 pandemic (Modgil et al., 2022). MSE likewise have begun adopting numerous digital solutions to innovate and optimise their business operations across its business areas: including logistics, access to market, payments, and access to finance. Despite so, within the umbrella term of MSE, rural micro-enterprises (ME) face a myriad of challenges in digitalisation compared to its urban counterparts due to infrastructural, technological, social(Philip et al., 2017) and interventional approach (Makoto et al., 2021).

Digital computing technologies have in the past two decades been predominantly designed by technological companies in developed countries, often for an urban, infrastructurally well-connected and digitally sophisticated audience (Hardy et al., 2019). The traditional approach in addressing the digital divide between rural and urban despite being seen as worsening (Hollman et al, 2021), has primarily been through a deficit model, whereby rural technological capabilities need to ‘catch up' with its urban counterparts. The deficit model and the lack of inclusion in technology design calls for a critical view of present digital technology design for rural communities and a need for appropriate technology tailored to the rural and in the discovery of unique digital solutions (Hardy & Wyche, 2019) based on the distinct technological, economical and human needs of rural communities (Räisänen & Tuovinen, 2020).

Motivated by the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals No.8 of “Decent Work and Economic Growth” and No.10 of “Reduced Inequality”, my PhD proposal attempts to combine the overlooked digital needs of rural micro-enterprise (ME) with the rising adoption of peer-to-peer (P2P) digital marketplaces across the developed and developing world (Akhmadi & Pratolo, 2021) to study the use, limitations, and possibilities of digital marketplaces for rural ME in developing countries. This research calls for a user-centred and co-produced approach in studying rural ME’s human-computer interactions (HCI) with P2P digital marketplaces. Through ethnographic observations, key stakeholder interviews, and participatory-design workshops in rural Malaysia, this research attempts to understand the HCI of rural ME’ with digital marketplaces and seek to co-design a peer-to-peer digital marketplaces framework with local stakeholders suited to the needs and limitations of rural micro-business in developing countries.

Research Questions:

  1. How are rural micro-enterprises interacting (or not interacting) with digital technologies in their day-to-day business operations?
  2. What are the limitations of current digital marketplaces in the context of rural entrepreneurship in developing countries?
  3. What are the requirements for designing a peer-to-peer digital marketplace suited to the needs of rural entrepreneurs and rural communities?


Akhmadi, H., & Pratolo, S. (2021). Online Marketing of Food Products through Marketplace Platform: A Study of Community Based Online Marketplace of BEDUKMUTU. E3S Web Conferences . https://doi.org/10.1051/e3sconf/202123202015

Asiedu, E. M., Shortland, S., Sabri Nawar, Y., Jackson, P. J., & Baker, L. (2019). Supporting Ghanaian micro-entrepreneurships: the role of mobile technology. Journal of Entrepreneurship in Emerging Economies, 11(3), 306–327. https://doi.org/10.1108/JEEE-05-2018-0046

Duncombe, R., & Heeks, R. (2002). Enterprise across the digital divide: Information systems and rural microenterprise in Botswana. Journal of International Development, 14(1), 61–74. https://doi.org/10.1002/JID.869

Modgil, S., Dwivedi, Y. K., Rana, N. P., Gupta, S., & Kamble, S. (2022). Has Covid-19 accelerated opportunities for digital entrepreneurship? An Indian perspective. Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 175, 121415. https://doi.org/10.1016/J.TECHFORE.2021.121415

Hardy, J., & Wyche, S. (2019). Rural HCI Research: Definitions, Distinctions, Methods, and Opportunities. PACM on Human-Computer Interaction, 3. https://doi.org/10.1145/3359298

Hardy, J., Phelan, C., Vigil-Hayes, M., Makoto, S.M., Wyche, S., &  Sengera, P. (2019). Designing  from  the Rural. https://dl.acm.org/doi/10.1145/3328487

Hollman, A. K., Obermier, T. R., & Burger, P. R. (2021). Rural Measures: A Quantitative Study of The Rural Digital Divide. Journal of Information Policy, 11, 176–201. https://doi.org/10.5325/jinfopoli.11.2021.0176

Makoto, N. S., Vigil-hayes, M., Hardy, J., & Veinot, T. (2021). Introduction: Performing Rurality with Computing. ACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction, 28(3), 16. https://doi.org/10.1145/3461832

Philip, L., Cottrill, C., Farrington, J., Williams, F., & Ashmore, F. (2017). The digital divide: Patterns, policy and scenarios for connecting the ‘final few’ in rural communities across Great Britain. Journal of Rural Studies, 54, 386–398. https://doi.org/10.1016/J.JRURSTUD.2016.12.002

This author is supported by the Horizon Centre for Doctoral Training at the University of Nottingham (UKRI Grant No. EP/S023305/1).