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Archive for October, 2012

At the October 17, 2012 Technology Salon NYC, we focused on ways that ICTs can be used for qualitative monitoring and evaluation (M&E) efforts that aim to listen better to those who are participating in development programs. Our lead discussants were:  John Hecklinger, Global Giving; Ian Thorpe, UN DOCO and the World We Want 2015 Campaign; and Emily Jacobi, Digital Democracy. This salon was the final in a series of three on using new technologies in M&E work.

Global Giving shared experiences from their story-telling project which has collected tens of thousands of short narratives from community members about when an individual or organization tried to change something in their community. The collected stories are analyzed using Sensemaker to find patterns in the data with the aim of improving NGO work. (For more on Global Giving’s process see this document.)

The United Nations’ Beyond 2015 Campaign aims to spur a global conversation on the post-MDG development agenda. The campaign is conducting outreach to people and organizations to encourage them to participate in the discussion; offering a web platform (www.worldwewant2015.org) where the global conversation is taking place; and working to get offline voices into the conversation. A challenge will be synthesizing and making sense of all of the information coming in via all sorts of media channels and being accountable now and in future to those who participate in the process.

Digital Democracy works on digital literacy and human rights, and makes an effort to integrate qualitative monitoring and evaluation into their program work stream. They use photography, film and other media that transcend the language and literacy barriers. Using these kinds of media helps participants express opinions on issues that need addressing and builds trust. Photos have helped in program development as well as in defining quantitative and qualitative indicators.

A rich conversation took place around the following aspects:

1) Perception may trump hard data

One discussant raised the question “Do opinions matter more than hard data on services?” noting that perceptions about aid and development may be more important than numbers of items delivered, money spent, and timelines met. Even if an organization is meeting all of its targets, what may matter more is what people think about the organization and its work. Does the assistance they get respond to their needs? Rather than asking “Is the school open?” or “Did you get health care?” it may be more important to ask “How do you feel about health?” Agencies may be delivering projects that are not what people want or that do not respond to their needs, cultures, and so on. It is important to encourage people to talk amongst themselves about their priorities, what they think, encourage viewpoints from people of different backgrounds and see how to pull out information to help inform programs and approaches.

2) It is a complex process

Salon participants noted that people are clearly willing to share stories and unstructured feedback. However, the process of collecting and sorting through stories is unwieldy and far from perfect. More work needs to be done to simplify story-collection processes and make them more tech-enabled. In addition, more needs to be done to determine exactly how to feed the information gleaned back in a structured and organized way that helps with decision-making. One idea was the creation of a “Yelp” for NGOs. Tagging and/or asking program participants to tag photos and stories can help make sense of the data. If videos are subtitled, this can also be of great use to begin making sense of the type of information held in videos. Dotsub, for example, is a video subtitling platform that uses a Wikipedia style subtitling model, enabling crowd sourced video translations into any language.

3) Stories and tags are not enough

We know that collecting and tagging stories to pull out qualitative feedback is possible. But so what? The important next step is looking at the effective use of these stories and data. Some ideas on how to better use the data include adding SMS feedback, deep dives with NGOs, and face-to-face meetings. It’s important to move from collecting the stories to thinking about what questions should be asked, how the information can help NGOs improve their performance, how this qualitative data translates into change or different practice at the local and global levels, how the information could be used by local organizers for community mobilization or action, and how all this is informing program design, frameworks and indicators.

4) Outreach is important

Building an online platform does not guarantee that anyone will visit it or participate. Local partners are an important element to reach out and collect data about what people think and feel. Outreach needs to be done with many partners from all parts of a community or society in order to source different viewpoints. In addition, it is important to ask the right questions and establish trust or people will not want to share their views. Any quality participation process, whether online or offline, needs good facilitation and encouragement; it needs to be a two-way process, a conversation.

5) Be aware of bias

Understanding where the process may be biased is important. Everything from asking leading questions, defining the meta data in a certain way, creating processes that only include certain parts of the community or population, selecting certain partners, or asking questions that lead to learning what an organization thinks it needs to know can all create biased answers. Language is important here for several reasons: it will affect who is included or excluded and who is talking with whom. Using development jargon will not resonate with people, and the way development agencies frame questions may lead people to particular answers.

6)  Be aware of exclusion

Related to bias is the issue of exclusion. In large-scale consultations or online situations, it’s difficult to know who is talking and participating. Yet the more log-in information solicited, the less likely people are to participate in discussions. However by not asking, it’s hard to know who is responding, especially when anonymity is allowed. In addition, results also depend on who is willing and wants to participate. Participants agreed that there is no silver bullet to finding folks to participate and ensuring they represent diversity of opinion. One suggestion was that libraries and telecenters could play a role in engaging more remote or isolated communities in these kinds of dialogues.

7) Raising expectations

Asking people for feedback raises expectations that their input will be heard and that they will see some type of concrete result. In these feedback processes, what happens if the decisions made by NGOs or heads of state don’t reflect what people said or contributed? How can we ensure that we are actually listening to what people tell us? Often times we ask for people’s perceptions and then tell them why they are wrong. Follow up is also critical. A campaign from several years ago was mentioned where 93,000 people signed onto a pledge, and once that was achieved, the campaign ended and there was no further engagement with the 93,000 people. Soliciting input and feedback needs to be an ongoing relationship with continual dialogue and response. The process itself needs to be transparent and accountable to those who participate in it.

8 ) Don’t forget safety and protection

The issue of safety and protection for those who offer their opinions and feedback or raise issues and complaints was brought up. Participants noted that safety is very context specific and participatory risk assessments together with community members and partners can help mitigate and ensure that people are informed about potential risk. Avoiding a paternalistic stance is recommended, as sometimes human rights advocates know very well what their risk is and are willing to take it. NGOs should, however, be sure that those with whom they are working fully understand the risks and implications, especially when new media tools are involved that they may not have used before. Digital literacy is key.

9) Weave qualitative M&E into the whole process

Weaving consistent spaces for input and feedback into programs is important. As one discussant noted, “the very media tools we are training partners on are part of our monitoring and evaluation process.”  The initial consultation process itself can form part of the baseline. In addition to M&E, creating trust and a safe space to openly and honestly discuss failure and what did not go so well can help programs improve.  Qualitative information can also help provide a better understanding of the real and hard dynamics of the local context, for example the challenges faced during a complex emergency or protracted conflict. Qualitative monitoring can help people who are not on the ground have a greater appreciation for the circumstances, political framework, and the socio-economic dynamics.

10) Cheaper tool are needed

Some felt that the tools being shared (Sensemaker in particular) were too expensive and sophisticated for their needs, and too costly for smaller NGOs. Simpler tools would be useful in order to more easily digest the information and create visuals and other analyses that can be fed back to those who need to use the information to make changes. Other tools exist that might be helpful, such as Trimble’s Municipal Reporter, Open Data Kit, Kobe, iForm Builder, Episurveyor/Magpi and PoiMapper. One idea is to look at some of the tools being developed and used in the crisis mapping and response space to see if cost is dropping and capacity increasing as the field advances. (Note: several tools for parsing Twitter and other social media platforms were presented at the 2012 International Conference on Crisis Mapping, some of which could be examined and learned from.)

What next?

A final question at the Salon was around how the broader evaluation community can connect with the tools and people who are testing and experimenting with these new ways of conducting monitoring and evaluation. How can we create better momentum in the community to embrace these practices and help build this field?

Although this was the final Salon of our series on monitoring and evaluation, we’ll continue to work on what was learned and ways to take these ideas forward and keep the community talking and growing.

A huge thank you to our lead discussants and participants in this series of Salons, especially to the Community Systems Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation’s monitoring and evaluation team for joining in the coordination with us. A special thanks to Rockefeller for all of the thoughtful discussion throughout the process and for hosting the Salons.

The next Technology Salon NYC will be November 14, 2012, hosted by the Women’s Refugee Commission and the International Rescue Committee. We’ll be shifting gears a little, and our topic will be around ways that new technologies can support children and youth who migrate, are forcibly displaced or are trafficked.

If you’d like to receive notifications about future salons, sign up for the mailing list!

Previous Salons in the ICTs and M&E Series:

12 lessons learned with ICTs for monitoring and accountability

11 points on strengthening local capacity to use new ICTs for monitoring and evaluation

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As part of the work I’m doing with the mEducation Alliance around mobile technologies and youth workforce development (mYWD), we’re putting together an event focused on innovation in the mYWD space on October 15  from 9-12.30 EDT.

Some of the topics we’ll be looking at include:

  • How do workforce development programs address different forms of exclusion? And how do different forms of exclusion affect approaches to youth and workforce development programming?
  • What do innovation and ‘disruption’ mean in the context of mobile technologies and youth workforce development?  What are some different frameworks for thinking about innovation?
  • What role might mobile technologies play in increasing access to information and work/entrepreneurial opportunities for young people?
  • Where are there opportunities for innovation with mobile technologies in YWD? What are some examples? What are some precautions?
  • What can mYWD learn from other areas/sectors? What can be adapted and built upon?

Philip Auerswald (The Coming Prosperity: How Entrepreneurs are Transforming the Global Economy and the Innovations: Technology, Globalization, Governance Journal), Nick Martin (Tech Change), John Zoltner (FHI360), and a host of development and technology practitioners working in mobiles and youth workforce development (mYWD) and related fields will be joining.

From the event preparation research and the discussions, we’ll assemble a short publication to share, and (if all goes well!) we’ll do some short videos exploring what innovation means to different people working in this space.

If you’d like to join the meeting, RSVP now by emailing Matthew French at MFrench [at] jbsinternational [dot] com. In person space is limited, so hurry! The event will take place at FHI 360 Conference Center, 1825 Connecticut Avenue NW 8th Floor, Washington, DC 20009 (Map)

If you are not able to participate in person, contact Matthew by October 11 for details on joining the session online.

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September’s mEducation Alliance Symposium included a special track around mobile technologies for youth workforce development (mYWD) as well as a session to discuss a new mYWD Working Group,  which is now up and running online. (Join by first registering at the mEducation Alliance website, then clicking here to join the mYWD Working Group.)

If the topic of mobile technologies and youth workforce development is of interest, don’t miss the October 15th event Innovations in Mobiles for Youth Workforce Development.  Among others, we’ll have the brilliant Phil Auerswald (@auerswald) helping us frame what we mean by ‘innovation’ in the mYWD space. RSVP info here.

In the meantime, here are some highlights from the mYWD sessions at Symposium:

Session 1: Mobiles for Youth Workforce Development (mYWD): Taking Stock of mYWD started with a presentation on the GSMA’s ‘Shaping the Future report by Lauren Dawes.  Then we heard from Theo Van Rensburg Lindzter (M-UBUNTU) and Thabang Mogale (Millenials as Mobile Educators).

  • The GSMA report found that education was a key priority in the lives of the young people surveyed, preceded only by family and health. Respondents also prioritized a good career and noted that they need to improve their skills to find better work. Only 25% of the young people surveyed listed the classroom as their primary source of education. Word of mouth was their main source of information on employment. The single largest barrier to educational information noted was lack of funds; meaning services need to be affordable if aiming to reach the majority of young people. Mobiles are an important asset for young people, ranking above clothing and shoes. Voice is a favored service among youth; most do not use their mobiles to access data. Key recommendations for mLearning and informal education include that youth are enthusiastic about the possibility and potential of learning and improving their chances of finding meaningful work via their mobiles. Linking mLearning to existing activities and behaviors will bring better results. Targeting the whole family is important as youth may not always be owners of mobiles, and parental gate-keepers may not see value in a handset. The youth surveyed expressed willingness to receive advertising in return for access to content and services.
  • The Millennials as Mobile Education Providers project takes place in South Africa. The pilot project grew out of a partnership between Durban University of Technology (S Africa), the M-Ubuntu Project (Sweden, S Africa, US), Sprint Re:Cycle (US), and six rural and township schools in S Africa. A key part of the program is working to shift attitudes from “youth as a problem” to “youth as untapped resources who can engage, lead and contribute to training initiatives.” The project includes subsidized internships for unemployed or out of school youth that tie vocational skills training to related community service; service learning as a credit-bearing component of university degree programs; in school service learning opportunities for secondary school students; service that meets an identified community need and upfront training accompanied by ongoing support and mentorship. The program utilizes recycled devices as platforms for curriculum-aligned educational content. University students serve as literacy/numeracy coaches for students in under-performing rural and township high schools, especially students who are preparing for graduation exams, and where there is typically a very low rate of passing. Young people like Thabang serve as mobile tech apprentices at schools, handing device charging, repair and content transfer for teachers. Thabang has found incredible personal success through the program, finding a useful skill. He emphasized the numerous global connections made through the program which have motivated him to keep working and striving to be his best.

Session 2 was Connections and Content for Out of School Youth, facilitated by Kimberley Kerr from the MasterCard Foundation. It featured Scott Isbrandt from Education Development Center talking about PAJE-Nieta and the Stepping Stone mobile content authoring platform (video) and Jonathan McKay from Praekelt Foundation talking about: the Ummeli job portal.

  • PAJE-Nieta is aimed at increasing literacy and entrepreneurship skills among 14-25 year olds in small rural villages with few services. The hope is that by increasing those skills, the youth can access market information systems which can then lead to enhanced livelihoods. Scott noted that local youth may produce, but they run into difficulties when it comes to knowing where to sell. There is a database of information available, but it is not accessible unless a person is literate. The challenge is taking the wealth of what has been done with ICTs to places with no electricity and no connectivity, and making it affordable and accessible. EDC determined which handsets were widely available, cheapest, run on Java, could run simple multimedia,had a speaker, and were within the purchasing power range of youth. Then they built Stepping Stone for this model so that teachers could create and push out local content. Stepping Stone includes digital text books, learning assessments, direct feedback capability and an interactive audio that is pre-loaded onto phones. A concern is what happens when the grant is over, so EDC is looking at ways to work with kiosks, pre-loading content on micro SD cards, and thinking about membership fees as something that would enable people to continue to load additional content. Stepping Stone will be released as an open source platform so that others can use it.
  • Ummeli is a mobile platform created because youth who participate in Praekelt’s Young Africa Live initiative expressed that finding meaningful work was a higher priority even than HIV prevention.  Praekelt worked with Vodacom to ensure that there would be no cost, because youth, in marginalized and/or rural communities normally cannot cover data charges. Ummeli has a CV builder that youth can fill out and fax to a potential employer for free. They can also fill out surveys that gain them points that they can use to cover the cost of faxes. Ummeli was designed specifically for mobile and as a community rather than as an individual tool. It is the first purely mobile job platform in South Africa. Rather than only listing job opportunities, Ummeli enables users to create their own opportunities and has extensive supplemental support such as career advice, life skills and peer networking. Youth can geocode or do other small microtasks to earn points that they can use in the Ummeli system. Rather than only looking at ‘finding employment’, Ummeli is set up to help youth find ‘meaningful work.’ This can be in their communities, volunteering or interning, all of which give youth experience, help them make contacts, and help them build their resumes. Ummeli hopes to turn depression into action by positioning youth’s free time as an asset that can be used for positive things like helping their communities. Ummeli is looking at taking existing course work and enhancing it for low-end handsets; they are looking at how to get around the verification and accreditation issue so that these opportunities will be seen as credible. Ummeli currently has 87,000 unique users.

Session 3 was facilitated by Suzanne Philion (U.S. Dept. of State) and looked at mYWD: Mobiles for Youth Skills Development. Speakers were Michael Carrier (British Council) on “Using mobile devices to strengthen educational systems, specifically in English for Basic Education and supporting workforce readiness;” Bhanu Potta from Nokia on “Nokia Life Education services – mLearning at scale of millions;” and Shayan Mashatian from Appexiom – Petanque, with A demonstration of a mobile learning pilot and findings from its implementation.

  • The British Council’s Learn English Apps focus on applications that can help youth to learn English via mobile to increase their chances to obtain employment.  One point that Michael brought up was that people can use their short bits of downtime to learn English on their phone rather than go on a cigarette break or check their Facebook. The Council’s programs are available on different devices from iPhone, Nokia, Samsung, Ovi and the Android OS. Apps include podcasts, a soap opera, pronunciation exercises and games to improve grammar and vocabulary
  • Nokia Life provides education, youth empowerment and lifelong learning; health, agriculture and entertainment services. Nokia has developed software that makes a very cheap mobile look more like a data-enabled phone because, as Bhanu noted, all levels of consumers wish to have a data-like experience. This includes a dynamic home screen with a rotating menu for high discoverability, integration with voices services, a dynamic inbox that highlights new content, and new content channels that can be added using just SMS. Social elements available include ‘ask an expert’, share, and ‘respond to polls’. Nokia Life is currently available in India, Indonesia, China, Nigeria and some additional countries in Middle East and Africa. Nokia Life will provide curated content rather than offer access to all the information available on the Internet via Google. Nokia Browser, a cloud based service will make this information easier to access by compressing the information by 85% making it 3 times faster to download and much cheaper for people to access.
  • Appexiom-Petanque allows for educational content creation via a simple set-up where creators can drop in content, making it easy to publish. This helps overcome some of the current failures of distance learning and addresses the need to see learning differently. Rather than try to put textbooks onto a phone, Sayan commented, m-Learning needs to be re-organized, re-formatted and re-engineered for the mobile phone. It needs to focus on the user experience and provide interactive content, allowing people to choose, multi-task and integrate social media.

Session 4. The final mYWD session shared some initial findings from the mYWD Landscape Study (in process) and looked at setting the foundations of the mYWD Working Group, brainstorming some priorities and topics for the group to tackle, and discussing what makes for a successful community of practice or working group. From this session came the idea for the October 15 Learning Series event on Innovations in mYWD. If you’d like to attend, either let me know or RSVP directly to MFrench at JBSInternational dot com.

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Everybody loves memes and those who work in or care about international development are no exception. One meme that popped up early 2010, is the oft-quoted “there are more mobile phones than toilets.” Apparently, the origin of the phrase was the India census. Subsequently, the statistic was used to raise a point about water and sanitation in India by a UN institute. It was picked up in a New York Times article and became generalized to “more people have [access to] mobile phones than toilets” and “there are more mobile phones than toilets” and other variations.

This simple idea has captured the hearts and minds of many development and technology practitioners and theorists the world over. The phrase has become a staple illustration for those who are looking at the potential of mobiles to change the world. But there is more to it than simple ‘access.’ We need to think beyond access.

What is missed in this meme’s beautiful simplicity is that the mobile access/mobile phones referred to are not necessarily equally distributed. A recent blog post by Marc Bellemare refers to a study he worked on (with Ken Lee) called “Look Who’s Talking: The Impacts of the Intrahousehold Allocation of Mobile Phones on Agricultural Prices.”

“…mobile phones do not seem to be the household public good many development practitioners think they are. In other words, policies designed around the distribution of mobile phones to households (rather than individuals) might contain the seed of their own failure if the intrahousehold [use] of technology matters.

Moreover, after a referee asked us to look at whether major household surveys asked about mobile phone ownership at the household or individual level, I was surprised to find that many of those surveys only collect information on the former.

So if there is one thing I would like our article to change, it’s the kind of data that are collected: We should really collect information on individual rather than on household mobile phone ownership.”

The GSMA and Cheri Blair Foundation study on women and mobiles found that women lag behind in mobile phone ownership in many African, Latin American, Middle Eastern and Asian countries. Women are even further behind in terms of access and use of the Internet.

At the practitioner level, assuming women everywhere can access and use mobiles and Internet can make a project run into problems, as described in this quick video.

In some places where women’s literacy and numeracy skills are quite low, projects designed to share or collect information by mobile can run into additional challenges as related below.

Girls themselves in some places note that despite their interest, boys will physically fight them to access available computers or mock girls who want to learn.

The existence of open and available spaces and platforms (whether virtual or physical) doesn’t automatically mean they are  “accessible” to everyone, including in many cases, to women and girls.

As wonderful as the idea of ‘open’ is (and don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of ‘open’), ‘open’ can still exclude. Even in purposefully open spaces and frameworks like the Open Knowledge Festival, women lag behind in terms of papers submitted for presentation and women speaking on panels. We lag behind slightly less in terms of doing the legwork of organizing, which shouldn’t surprise anyone.

At the Beyond Access Conference put on by IREX yesterday, I had the opportunity to facilitate a discussion session on Women and ICTs where we got into some of these issues and talked about how libraries can help. The panelists included Thinley Choden from the READ Bhutan project, Danica MacAvoy from Clinton Global Initiative, and Marieme Jamme of Africa Gathering. The session space was filled with engaged and insightful folks who shared their valuable ideas and experiences as well, including:

  • Numbers that showed the big access gap between men and women.
  • Access is not the only measure, however – as the conference notes we need to go “Beyond Access” to look at use, purpose, and many other aspects.
  • Safety is the number one reason that girls and women give for not accessing ICTs.
  • Libraries are often seen as knowledge centers and conceived of as more reputable spaces than Internet cafes for girls and women to frequent.
  • Librarians and community facilitators at library spaces can serve as mediators to help ensure that access to equipment and other materials is equally open to all.
  • Women mentors and role models, eg., female librarians, are an important way to encourage girls and women to spend time at libraries or to be more confident in accessing information and communicating through technology.
  • One of the most important things a library can do is create safe space for girls and women to gather and discuss issues of importance to them.
  • Depending on context, in some places this needs to be a physical space; in others situations, a virtual space can work.
  • Men and boys play a big role in advocating and encouraging girls and women to access information, to communicate, and to come together and participate.
  • If offered space and opportunity, women and girls (and anyone else) can teach themselves to use new technologies.
  • Libraries will be most successful for women and girls if they facilitate access and sharing of information that is relevant and in demand by women and girls, not what outsiders think should be in demand.
  • Low information access is holding back girls and women from advancing in careers such as ICTs and coding, because up-to-date books are not accessible in many places.
  • Supporting people to ‘join the global network’ through uploading information about themselves and their lives can serve as a tool by which community and personal projects can be examined, discussed and shared.
  • What a library is and what one looks like will vary according to context and culture; the key is having a physical or virtual safe space where information and communication can take place.

So even if there are more mobile phones than toilets, the conversation can’t stop there. We still need to talk about access, and we need to go “beyond access” too, as this great gathering yesterday so aptly noted.

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This post is copied from an email that my colleague Kelly Hawrylyshyn sent to me. Kelly works on disaster risk reduction (DRR) with Plan UK. If you work on DRR and gender, go on, get yourself on the map!

Women and girls make a major contribution to disaster risk reduction and yet their role and involvement often go unacknowledged. In recognition of this gap, the Gender & Disaster Network, the Huairou Commission, Oxfam International and Plan International are facilitating the greater visibility of women and girls as part of the International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR), October 13th, 2012.

Gender inequalities around the world mean that women and girls are most severely affected by disaster. However, they also have significant experience and knowledge to contribute to disaster prevention and to the resilience of communities.

With this in mind, our efforts aim to move beyond portraying women and girls as mere victims of disasters and to provide spaces and opportunities for women and girls to connect and partner freely with local governments and organizations. We aim to showcase how women and girls around the world are carrying out disaster reduction and prevention actions; engaging and leading in climate change awareness activities; taking part in demonstrations and simulations; promoting resilient cities initiatives; and mapping risks.

Using crowdsourcing and crowdmapping tools, we aim to generate greater visibility and recognition of local initiatives by women and girls worldwide for disaster risk reduction.

Visit our map and report your own examples, in advance of the International Day for Disaster Reduction, October 13th, 2012.

We need your help to “put on the map” the numerous research initiatives, media events, publications, training materials, advocacy, workshops, networks/associations, and other activities that are happening and need to be made VISIBLE!

Contributions from both individual women and girls and organizations engaged in DRR are welcomed.

And who knows, you may get to find out about some interesting work taking place in your country, or miles away from you!

Join Us to make visible Women and Girls on the Map!

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