Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for May, 2010

the Ghana team: row 1: Steven, Joyce, Yaw, Samuel; row 2: Bismark, Maakusi, James, Chris, Dan

I was in a workshop in the Upper West Region of Ghana this past week.  The goal was two-fold.  1) to train a small group of staff, ICT teachers and local partners on social media and new technologies for communications; and 2) to help them prepare for a project that will support 60 students to use arts and citizen media in youth-led advocacy around issues that youth identify.

I was planning to talk about how social media is different from traditional media, focusing on how it offers an opportunity to democratize information, and how we can support youth to use social media to reduce stereotypes about them and to bring their voices and priorities into global discussions.  But all those theories about social media being the great equalizer, the Internet allowing everyone’s voices to flourish and yadaya, don’t mean a lot unless barriers like language, electricity, gender, and financial resources are lowered and people can actually access the Internet regularly.

Mobile internet access is extremely good in this part of Ghana, but when we did a quick exercise to see what the experience levels of the group were, only half had used email or the Internet before.  So I started there, rather than with my fluffy theories about democratization, voice, networks and many-to-many communications.

We got really good feedback from the participants on the workshop.  Here’s how we did it:

What is Internet?

I asked the ICT teachers to explain what the Internet is, and to then try to put it into words that the youth or someone in a community who hadn’t used a computer before would be able to understand.  We discussed ways in which radios, mobile phones, televisions are the same or different from the Internet.

How can you access Internet here?

We listed common ways to access Internet in the area: through a computer at an internet café or at home or work, through a mobile phone (“smart phone”), or via a mobile phone or flash-type modem connected to a computer (such as the ones that we were using at the workshop).  We went through how to connect a modem to a computer to access internet via the mobile network.

Exploring Internet and using search functions

Riffing off Google search

We jumped into Internet training by Googling the community’s name to see what popped up, then we followed the paths to where they led us. We found an article where the secondary school headmaster (who was participating in the workshop) had been interviewed about the needs of the school.

Everyone found it hilarious, as they didn’t know the headmaster was featured in an online article.  This lead to a good discussion on consent, permission and the fact that information does go global, but it doesn’t stay global, because more and more people are able to access that same information locally too through the Internet, so you need to think carefully about what you say.

The article about the school had a comments stream. The first comment was directly related to the article, and said that the school deserved to get some help.  But the comments quickly turned to politics, including accusations that a local politician was stealing tractors.  Again this generated a big discussion, and again the local-global point hit home.  The internet is not ‘over there’ but potentially ‘right here’.  People really need to be aware of this when publishing something online or when being interviewed, photographed or filmed by someone who will publish something.

Other times when we’ve done this exercise, we haven’t found any information online about the community. In those cases, the lack of an online presence was a good catalyst to discuss why, and to motivate the community to get the skills and training to put up their own information. That is actually one of the goals of the project we are working on.

We used a projector, but small groups would have also been fine if there was no projector and a few computers were available. We generally use what we can pull together through our local offices, the small amount of equipment purchased with the project funds, and what the local school and partners have, and organize it however makes the most sense so that people can practice.  4-5 people per computer is fine for the workshop because people tend to teach each other and take turns. There will be some people who have more experience and who can show others how to do things, so that the facilitator can step out of the picture as soon as possible, just being available for any questions or trouble shooting.

Social networks and privacy

When we Googled the name of the community, we also found a Facebook page for alums from the secondary school.  That was a nice segue into social networks.  I showed my Facebook page and a few others were familiar with Facebook. One colleague talked about how she had just signed up and was finding old school friends there who she hadn’t seen in years. People had a few questions such as ‘Is it free?  How do you do it? Can you make it yourself?  Who exactly can see it?’  So we had to enter the thorny world of privacy, hoping no one would be scared off from using Internet because of privacy issues.

One of the ICT teachers, for example, was concerned that someone could find his personal emails by Googling.  I used to feel confident when I said ‘no they can’t’ but now it seems you can never be certain who can see what (thank you Facebook).  I tried to explain privacy settings and that it’s important to understand how they work, suggesting they could try different things with low sensitivity information until they felt comfortable, and test by Googling their own name to see if anything came up.

Online truth and safety

Another question that surfaced was ‘Is the internet true?’ This provoked a great discussion about how information comes from all sides, and that anyone can put information online.  And anyone else can discuss it.  It’s truth and opinions and you can’t believe everything you read, it’s not regulated, you need to find a few sources and make some judgment calls.

A participant brought up that children and youth could use Internet to find ‘bad’ things, that adults can prey on children and youth using the Internet.  We discussed that teachers and parents really need to have some understanding of how Internet works. Children and youth need to know how to protect themselves on the Internet; for example, not posting personal information or information that can identify their exact location.  We discussed online predators and how children and youth can stay secure, and how teachers and communities should learn more about Internet to support children and youth to stay safe.

We discussed the Internet as a place of both opportunities and risks, going back to our earlier discussions on Child Protection in this project and expanding on them.  I also shared an idea I’d seen on ICT Works about how to set up the computers in a way that the teachers/instructor can see all the screens and know what kids are doing on them – this is more effective than putting filters and controls on the machines.

Speaking of controls: virus protection and flash drives

The negative impact of viruses on productivity in African countries has been covered by the media, and I enthusiastically concur. I’ve wasted many hours because someone has come in with a flash drive that infected all the computers we are using at a workshop.  Our general rule is no flash drives allowed during the workshop period.  I have no illusions, however, that the computers will remain flash drive free forever.  One good thing to do to reduce the risk of these autorun viruses is to disable autorun on the computers.  This takes about 2 minutes.  After you do that, you just have to manually access flash drives by opening My Computer from the start menu. A second trick is to create an autorun.inf file that redirects the virus and stops it from propagating on your machine. Avast is a free software that seems to catch most autorun viruses.  Trend Micro doesn’t seem to do very well in West Africa.

Hands on, hands on, hands on

I cannot stress enough the importance of hands on. We try to make sure that there is a lot of free time at this kind of workshop for people to play around online.  This usually means keeping the workshop space open for a couple hours after the official workshop day has ended and opening up early in the morning. People will skip lunch, come early, and stay late for an opportunity to get on-line. Those with more experience can use that time to help others. People often use this time to help each other open personal email accounts and share their favorite sites.

No getting too technical

People don’t want to listen to a bunch of theory or mechanical explanations on how things work. They don’t need to see the inside of a CPU, for example. They need to know how to make things work for them.  And the only way they will figure it out is practice, trial and error, playing around.  If a few people in the workshop are really curious to know the mechanics of something, they will start asking (if the facilitator is approachable and non-threatening), but most people for starters just want to know how to use the tools.

No showing off

I’ll always remember my Kenyan colleague Mativo saying that in this kind of work, a facilitator’s main role is demystifying ICTs.  So that means being patient and never making anyone feel stupid for asking a question, or showing any frustration with them.  If someone makes a mistake or goes down a path and doesn’t know how to get back and the facilitator has to step in to do some ‘magic’ fixing, it’s good to talk people through some of the ‘fix’ steps in a clear way as they are being done.

My friend DK over at Media Snackers said that he noticed something when working with youth vs adults on Internet training: youth will click on everything to see what happens. Adults will ask what happens and ask for permission to click.  [update:  Media Snackers calls this the 'button theory'].  Paying close attention to learning styles and tendencies of each individual when facilitating, including those related to experience, rural or urban backgrounds, age, gender, literacy, other abilities, personality, and adjusting methodologies helps everyone learn better.

Have fun!

Lightening up the environment and making it hands on lowers people’s inhibitions and helps them have the confidence to learn by doing.

**Check back soon for a second post about photography, filming, uploading and setting up a YouTube account….

Related posts on Wait… What?

Child protection, the media and youth media programs

On girls and ICTs

Revisiting the topic of girls and ICTs

Putting Cumbana on the map: with ethics


Read Full Post »

On the road up to Wa (Upper West Region of Ghana) last week, I noticed something. I tried to capture it on the way back to Accra, yesterday. I snapped the shots from a moving vehicle, so they are not great quality. I posted several, because the remarkable thing for me was their sheer quantity.  (I am only posting about half the shots, and I was asleep for about 4 of the 10 hour drive). See for yourself. As far as I could tell these are not mobile phone company offices or kiosks, but houses and buildings used for advertising. Reminds me of political graffiti or turf wars you see between gangs.  [Note - if you have similar shots, please add a link in the comments!]

Read Full Post »

The basic premise of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (referred to as the ‘CRC’) is that children are born with fundamental freedoms and the inherent rights of all human beings.

According to the CRC, the 4 main categories of rights that children have are survival, development, participation and protection. The CRC’s guiding principles help further shape the way that child rights should be interpreted. These are non-discrimination, the best interest of the child, right to life, survival and development, and respect for the views of the child.

Child protection concerns a child’s right not to be harmed and to protection from violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation.  It involves the duty of care placed on those that work with children or that come into contact with children.  It encompasses the responsibilities, measures, and activities that must be undertaken to safeguard children from both intentional and unintentional harm.

Child protection encompasses many different areas, such as juvenile justice systems and a child’s right not to be tried as an adult or incarcerated with adults; special care needed by unaccompanied children; protection from sexual exploitation and dangerous forms of child labor; prevention of trafficking and harmful traditional practices such as female genital cutting; support for children in emergency and conflict situations; prevention of exploitation by the media; the right not to be abused or taken advantage of by family, caregivers or institutions; and so on.  This link gives an explanation of a protective environment, and this one offers an excellent broad overview of child protection.

Child protection policies and strategies create mechanisms to prevent any type of harm to a child.

Child protection in youth media programs

The organization where I work frames its efforts within the CRC.  Most of the programs that I focus on are related to child participation and child protection.  These two areas go hand in hand, because good participation initiatives need to take child protection into consideration, and good protection initiatives are only successful when children participate in designing them and in protecting themselves.  Children should both know what their rights are and take an active part in achieving them and in protecting themselves.

This week, for example, I’m at a workshop with a small group of colleagues, teachers and local partners from the Upper West Region of Ghana. We’re preparing for a youth arts and media project that they will implement in June. By the end of this facilitator workshop, we will have a localized training plan that fits the context of the community and the youth participants, and the facilitators will have learned some new media skills that they will train the youth on when the project starts.

As part of the facilitators’ training, we cover the CRC, going in depth on child participation and child protection.  There is always a certain tension between these two areas. We want to encourage children to participate to their fullest, yet both children and adults need to be aware of potential risks that participation can bring with it, and know how to mitigate and manage them.

Three child protection risks that we are focusing on with facilitators at this week’s workshop are:

  • Intentional or unintentional abuse by staff or local partners
  • Retaliation or harm to a child who appears in a media story or art piece on a sensitive issue
  • Retaliation or harm to a child who authors or creates media or arts on a sensitive issue

Internal child protection policies

To begin our sessions on child protection, my colleague Joyce covered our organizational Child Protection Policy, which clearly states our intention to protect children from harm and advises that we will take positive action to prevent child abusers from becoming involved with the organization.

Joyce explained that child abuse is never acceptable:

  • Child abuse in our case is defined as:  All forms of physical abuse, emotional ill-treatment, sexual abuse and exploitation, neglect or negligent treatment, commercial or other exploitation of a child and includes any actions that result in actual or potential harm to a child.
  • Our child protection policy applies to staff at all levels, including board members, volunteers, community volunteers, supporters, consultants, contractors; partner organizations, local government people who have been brought into contact with children via our organization, visitors, donors, journalists, researchers and any other type of person or institution associated with us.
  • We recognize that child abuse may be a deliberate act or it may be failing to act to prevent harm. Child abuse consists of anything which individuals, institutions or processes do or fail to do, intentionally or unintentionally which harms a child or damages their prospect of safe and healthy development into adulthood.
  • We follow through on cases of child abuse to the fullest extent of the law.

Point three, unintentional abuse, refers to situations where someone has good intentions but their lack of planning, knowledge, foresight, or their recklessness puts children in harm’s way.  As Joyce explained, “It’s  like an excursion that is not well planned.”  The good intention is to take children out so that they could have some fun.  But if proper care is not taken to plan the trip and ensure children’s safety during the trip, then unintentional harm could be done. A child could be lost, a vehicle could be unsafe, a child could drown.  Though the good intention of the person planning this event is not in question — they wanted the children to have fun and enjoy themselves — if proper planning is not done and something happens that causes harm to a child, it is still considered child abuse.  Good intentions are not enough.

Here are some resources on institutional child protection standards and an excellent overview on minimum participation and protection standards when working with children and residential events.

Use of children’s images in the media

Since this is a youth arts and media project, we need to think about the use of children’s images and identities in the media: print, broadcast, radio, internet or visual arts. The CRC asserts that every child has the right to privacy, and this extends to the right not to have their image used for any purpose for which they have not given consent.

Key points related to the use of children’s images and working with children’s stories include:

  • If the person is below 18, you must seek the consent of the parents/guardians
  • Consent forms must be kept securely for future audit or proof purposes
  • A child’s real name should not be used in publication or broadcast unless they would benefit from increased self-esteem by seeing their name in print
  • The information given about the child should not allow their precise location to be identified (either directly or indirectly)
  • A story should not be published, with or without names or identities altered, if it could put a child, siblings or peers at risk
  • The best interest of the child comes above all else

Helping people see the implications

Expanding on the aspects above, Joyce offered ideas on how to discuss and ensure that children and adults that might portray others, or be portrayed in media, are aware of all the implications and potential risks:

  • Today’s media is global and can be accessed anywhere in the world through the internet.
  • When you talk to the media nowadays, you are talking to the world. The story may not reach everybody in every country, but you can be sure that it will reach further than you can imagine.
  • Ask yourself the following:
    • How would friends and family react if they saw the story, or found out that it had been published?
    • Think through who might be harmed.  Would the subject of the article, artwork or video be at risk of any harm if someone saw it?  Could this story or artwork put anyone in danger?
    • This story can stay documented for years. How would the person feel if their children were to read the story in a few years?
    • There is no guarantee that this story cannot be seen by people whom you do not want to know about it.  Help people thoroughly understand the implications of sharing their stories. This protects not only the subject of the story, but the person who is authoring the story.
    • Are there people we need to protect when telling our story? Friends that we need to protect?  What needs to be edited out so that nobody is implicated in the presentation of the work?

Here is an excellent resource on use of children’s images in the media, and a guide for journalists reporting on children, and guidelines for reporting on children in the context of HIV/AIDS.

Stories that cause unintentional harm

To illustrate some of the points above, we used 2 examples.  A New York Times/Nick Kristof article that identifies a child from the Democratic Republic of the Congo who was raped and his opinion piece on why he believes that was OK, and a scenario where a film is made of a girl who reports that her mother beats her and doesn’t allow her to attend school.

General consensus from the group in our workshop on the New York Times case was that child protection and media guidelines were not followed, and that Kristof was reckless and unintentionally put the girl at risk.  Workshop participants felt that appropriate respect for the child was not shown. “The journalist would never be able to do that in the US”.  One participant exclaimed “So, he didn’t feel that any Congolese would ever be enlightened enough to access the story?”  It was recognized that “his intention was good, that people should know about these terrible crimes, but there is no need to share all the specifics.” Participants wondered whether this was in the best interest of the girl, and how she would feel in the future if someone she knew found the article.  “In our culture, this type of thing can be very stigmatizing.”  Participants asked why technology wasn’t used to cover the girls’ face and disguise her voice, or why she wasn’t filmed from behind to conceal her identity.  The conclusion was that this story could have been told in a way that protected the child and had equal impact on readers.  [Update: Laura over at Texas in Africa has a great post on Connectivity and Child Protection which comes to the same conclusions.  You can also find related posts from awhile back on Wronging Rights.]

In the second scenario, consensus was that the story could create difficulties for everyone involved.  One participant commented that the mother might get angry and beat the child even more.  Another said that it the whole village might feel betrayed by the child exposing the story. “When a child does something, people ask – from which village are you? From which house?  From which family?  Whatever you do to a member of the village you do to the whole village. This can cause a threat to the child by the whole village.  Those who give out the story, if they are known by the village, will also be at risk.”  Another issue was that the community might say that the children are given too much power. “They will wonder who is behind it and may not wish to work any longer with the organization that is supporting the project.”  It was suggested that if a story like this were filmed, it should show a resolution, a happy ending, so that it could be used as an example. “That way you can favor all who are involved.”  The group concluded that when topics are quite sensitive or individuals are implicated, the story should be altered to protect identity and the same situation could be brought out using simulations, song, theater or drawings.

As we are training children as citizen journalists in this project, case studies that highlight the potential risks and impact of a story are critical learning tools.

In conclusion….

Child protection needs to be considered whenever children are involved.  Adults and children need to be aware of potential risks and thoroughly discuss how to mitigate them. Mechanisms need to be in place to address any intentional or unintentional harm that could be caused to a child or children.  There are plenty of good resources around on how to do this, so there is really no excuse not to.

————————–

The Child Rights Information Network provides excellent all around resources on child protection and child rights, and a list of over 1000 global resources on child rights

Keeping Children Safe offers a toolkit for developing your organization’s internal child protection policies

The International Federation of Journalists has created Guidelines and Principles for Reporting on Issues Involving Children

Related posts on Wait… What?

Child protection, from emergency response to a sustainable mechanism

Children in emergencies: applying what we already know to the crisis in Haiti

Read Full Post »

the road to Wa

I’m in Ghana this week for a workshop in Wa, the district capital of the Upper West Region.  I wasn’t too excited about the trip from Accra (the capital of Ghana) to Wa when I heard it was a 10-12 hour drive. I figured it took so long because the road was in bad condition, but I was wrong, it’s just a long trip and there is a lot of traffic. The road to Wa is paved.  Not with gold. Not with good intentions, just paved.  And what a difference that makes.

All kinds of vehicles and travelers use the road. Motorcycles, cars, taxis, 4x4s, Land Cruisers, big trucks, small trucks, semi trucks with trailers.  People walk and bike alongside the road.  I even saw an adolescent boy trying to rollerblade – he wasn’t getting too far in the gravel but was pretty determined regardless.

All kinds of people move in and about and around all the shops and businesses along the road… people making purchases, moving supplies, carrying firewood and water, socializing, flirting, arguing.  Vendors sell fruits, clothing, electronics, car parts, prepared food, plastics, new clothing, used t-shirts.  There are tons of stalls selling airtime  for mobile phones and entire buildings painted bright red with the white Vodafone logo on the side, not to mention doorways, sides and fronts of buildings, market stalls and taxis similarly painted.  Tigo, Glo and MTN also have their noses in the business with signs, billboards, stalls, buildings and such – obviously a lot of competition for mobile phone customers.

collision

The road holds both opportunities and dangers. Some people go very fast and others crawl along, creating accident potential as drivers try to pass them on curves and hills.  As in many countries, a good number of crashed vehicles dot the roadside; though unlike past road trips, this time I didn’t see anyone get hit or observe any bodies lying on the road after being hit, a small crowd around them, fresh blood pooling around their head and twisted frame.   Every so often on this road to Wa, there are toll booths and customs check points.  Speed bumps slow you down as you enter towns.  Police officers stop you for no reason wanting bribes. The road is really happening.

Aside from the rich and fertile rolling hills in between the towns as we got further north, the most striking thing to me was the image of the funeral crowds. You see large groups of people on both sides of the road dressed in very fine black West African clothing with accents of red: black for mourning and red if the person who passed away was strong and in their prime; sometimes white if the person was very old.  Stunning. My colleague Stephen said that funerals happen on Saturdays and that is partly why the road is so busy on weekends.  He also said that politics paved the road, because the current vice president lives in the north and made this road a priority, helping him win the elections.

While driving, we listened to a lot of political talk radio.  Obama’s honeymoon is definitely over if those who were talking are any indication. “We thought there would be a change with Obama, but his foreign policy continues along the lines of Bush.” The commentators argued for nationalization and control of Ghana and Ghana’s resources without foreign intervention and without selling off resources to foreigners, a shaking off of old colonialism.  They heavily criticized the US’s current strategy of opening military bases in West Africa and the US’s failed and reckless policies in the Middle East. References to Chile, Castro and the CIA reminded me of the kinds of conversations you hear in Latin America.  I need to read up more on this, and find out who Kosmos (Cosmos?) is, and what their relationship is with Bush, Exxon Mobile and Ghana’s oil.  [Update: here's some background on that: Ghana blocks Exxon Oil-Field Deal.] I miss being in Central America where I knew the history of all the politicians and movements, and could read beyond fiery words to interpret motives; where I could read my own truth into things.

As we drove along I thought about the road, and all the activity that it enables. Before my flight to Accra, I visited the  Museum of Modern Art in New York with my brother who studies biology, and we saw an exhibit about Design through the Ages.  Some of the modern pieces showed graphics or moving visualizations of communication networks and systems.  One piece tracked and visualized the movement of taxis in New York City.  Another showed internet connections across the world.  My brother and I talked about our fascination with micro and macro networks and systems… synapses in the human brain, the flow of blood in the body, the New York subways, sewers.

dusk settles on the long drive north

Looking out the window of the car on our seemingly endless drive north, I thought about the similarities between this highway and the internet — road networks and communication networks.  All the people traveling down and alongside the road to Wa. The communication among and between them.  The small and large businesses that have sprung up and are prospering because the road is there allowing access.  The opportunities and dangers, the police and the periodic barriers to speed.

I’m sitting here, 12 hours north of the capital city, uploading this post, with photos even, using 3G wireless internet. Not long ago that wouldn’t have been within my capacity to imagine.

I know there is nothing new in comparing communications infrastructure and networks to a road system. But I am struck today, after the drive to Wa, with the similarities — and the vital need for both. I’m convinced that, just like the roads that provide a basis for connection, communication and commerce; Internet, via undersea cable or mobile or whatever, is essential infrastructure for development.

Read Full Post »

courtesy of bioweb.uwlax.edu

One of the best things about the Great Tshirt Debate has been the variety of voices and perspectives that are weighing in.  This one potentially misguided project was able to catalyze a huge discussion on the nature of ‘aid’.  Once again the power of social media to engage people in debate and dialogue was demonstrated.

There are a lot of angles to follow up on from last week’s blow up. There’s a lot to unpack and it goes much deeper than a conversation about t-shirts.  One thread I find particularly interesting is the use of social media and ICTs (information and communication technologies) for bringing greater accountability and generating input and dialogue around ideas for aid and development.

Christopher FabianOwen Barder and @Morealtitude wrote about this specifically in relation to the Tshirt Debate; and Duncan GreeneOwen Barder, Aidwatch,  Tim Ogden, and others in a broader debate about accountability, aid and development. Certainly there are many posts and discussions out there on this topic.

Some things that stand out for me in the aftermath of the tshirt discussion:

Broadening perspectives.

It’s easy to forget that we all mean something different when we use the terms ‘aid’ and ‘development.’ There is a big difference between emergency aid and longer-term development.  And there are countless theories and approaches and understandings of both of those terms  (Alanna Shaikh and Talesfromthehood have both written on that).  This was really apparent throughout the discussion last week and in the on-going commentary.

I’m still trying to sort out in my own mind the difference between the various aid and development theories, the perspectives of the ‘aid bloggers’ that I follow, and the frameworks of other people who were involved in the Tshirt Debate. People’s views are intimately linked with cultural, political, economic and religious worldviews, and varying levels of snark (which I have to say can be very intimidating) making it even more interesting.  Before Twitter and the blogosphere, I certainly didn’t have daily exposure and access to such an array of thoughts.  Score one for social media.

The elephant in the room.

All this access to all these perspectives and on-line debate and open participation is great for me. And for you. Because we read English and have access to the internet.

But there is a really big elephant in the room.  One that was lurking on the global conference call hosted by Mobile Active on April 30 and that is still standing around quietly as the discussions continue.  I’m talking about the voices and perspectives of the people that the 1millionshirts project was aimed at helping.

I would bet money that some of those voices would have said “I want a tshirt.”

There are a lot of possible outcomes when ‘beneficiaries’ and ‘donors’ actually talk to each other.  Like donors wanting to give t-shirts and people wanting to receive them.  Then what?  Most of those involved in aid and development and work with local economies can and have listed a myriad of reasons why handouts are not a good idea, but most also believe in listening to voices of ‘beneficiaries.’   It seems paternalistic to say that NGOs or businesspeople know best what people need.  What will happen when more donors and beneficiaries are using social media to talk to one another?  And what if NGOs or governments or business people trying to improve ‘developing country’ economies don’t agree?  Then what?  That’s going to be pretty interesting. For a taste of this can of worms, read this post and related comments.

Development education.

This brings me to thinking about the educational processes that contribute to good development results.  Around the world, people have been presented with hand-out and silver bullet ideas around development and aid for a long time. Donors need to be educated about effective aid and development, but communities do also.  People have been trained to gravitate towards one-off donations and charity mentalities, and need to learn why that isn’t actually very helpful in the long term. They’ve been taught that there is a silver bullet we just need to find. People have also been trained to take hand outs and see themselves as victims and need to re-learn how to take the reins and do for themselves.  This is true everywhere – people look for the easy way out. Consider how many people in the US for example prefer to get plastic surgery or take miracle diet pills and medications over adopting healthier lifestyles involving a good diet and exercise.  Complicated situations require integrated approaches and often need cultural shifts and behavior changes.  Those take time and effort and are hard to explain.  How does social media impact on or shift this in terms of aid and development, and in which direction is it shifting?

Barriers to social media participation.

Both #1millionshirts and Kiva were held up to a huge amount of scrutiny online via social media.  But again, who was scrutinizing, and who had access to the tools and means to participate in these widespread discussions?  It was not the people getting loans from Kiva or the eventual t-shirt wearers.  It was donors and ‘experts’.  I would hope that there are plenty of discussions happening about Kiva programs at local levels, in person, in meetings and in local media or newspapers. But these don’t normally make their way to the internet.

I don’t know Kiva’s programs well, but I would also hope that Kiva staff and/or partners, for example, are listening to that local input and using it to improve their programs on the ground to make them more useful to participants.  And I would hope that those discussions take place within a longer term education, training and relationship building process as with many NGOs.  This kind of input from and dialogue with program participants is every bit as important for adapting and improving programs and initiatives, and maybe more important, than all the public discussions on the internet…. as long as it’s being listened to and responded to, and as long as local offices are taking these messages up the chain within the organization, and as long as local offices also are being listened to and carry weight within the organization. What might be the role of social media there to move those offline discussions further within organizations and to educate, inform and engage the broader public and ensure that responses and changes are forthcoming and everyone learns from it?

There are still huge barriers to social media participation for many people in communities all over the world… not having electricity, computers, smart phones and internet, to start with. There are also barriers like language, literacy, age and gender based discrimination, hierarchies and cultural norms that limit participation in general by particular groups in discussions and decision making.  When working face-to-face, good organizations are in tune with the barriers and find ways to gather input from those typically left out of the discussion.  How can organizations use what they know about engaging more marginalized populations and apply it to a more creative use of social media to ensure that all voices are heard?  What resources and ICT tools would be needed to do that effectively?

Offline to Online to Offline

And how could more of the discussions that happen on the ground with communities, when programs are being designed, implemented, evaluated and re-designed; be shared in the open by those who are involved – whether participants, local bloggers, citizen journalists, NGO workers or others?  And how can the debates happening online make their way back to communities that are not connected? It would be amazing if more program staff and community workers were blogging and sharing their work and their challenges and accomplishments.  And if more organizational decision makers were listening to what their community workers or other staff who are blogging and tweeting are saying. And if more people participating in programs could share their viewpoints via the internet.  This would be useful to the global commons and would also help the fields of aid and development to improve.

How can we support more communities to have access to social media and ICTs as tools to participate more broadly? And how can community members be the owners and drivers of this discussion and input. How can we help bring voices from the grassroots to a broader public and also bring these broader public debates back to communities.  How can the access, language, literacy and cultural barriers be addressed?  There are some programs out there doing this, for example Global Voices Rising, MIT’s Department of Play at the Center for Future Civic Media, and the Maneno platform, but we really need more of it.

Youth.

I think as connectivity becomes less of a challenge, we will see the younger generation claiming spaces in this way. More organizations should be working to engage more young people in the development process and supporting them to access ICTs and social media.  When a consultation with children and youth was done after the Haiti earthquakes, for example, young people did not say that they wanted hand outs.  They said that they wanted to participate. They wanted to play a stronger role in the recovery and the reconstruction.  They said they wanted education, a voice in how things were to be done, decentralization.

Staff that I’ve worked with on youth and ICT programs in several countries have said that ICTs and community media are excellent tools for engaging youth in the development process and maintaining their interest, for supporting youth-led research and collecting opinions about community processes.  With advances in technology, these voices can reach a much broader and public audience and can be pulled into donor communications as well as used as input in the resource and problem analysis, program design,  program monitoring and evaluation processes.  Youth can access information previously unavailable to them which broadens their own views and helps in their education processes. They can also contribute information and images of themselves and their communities to the online pool of resources so that they are portraying themselves to the world in their own image as opposed to being shown by and through the eyes of outsiders.

In addition to the Tshirt Debate stirring up questions about good donorship, I really hope it stirs up the debate about the value of more local ‘beneficiary’ voices in aid and development discussions, and that it fuels more efforts to use, adapt, and develop social media tools and ICTs to support these voices to join the debate.

What about you?  What do you think?

Related posts on Wait… What?

Children and young people’s vision for a new Haiti

It’s not a black and white photo

Meeting in the Middle

Mind the gap

Putting Cumbana on the map: with ethics


Read Full Post »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 746 other followers