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Posts Tagged ‘end’

Original published on the Guardian’s Poverty Matters site as part of a series of year-end reflection pieces.

An Egyptian anti-government protester holds a flag in Cairo's Tahrir Square earlier this year. Photograph: Miguel Medina/AFP/Getty Images

Waking one lazy Sunday morning and checking my Twitter feed, the first link I clicked on was a video of the Egyptian military beating unarmed protesters. The second was a series of Lego reconstructions of key moments in 2011, including the now-famous campus policeman pepper spraying unarmed student protesters in the face. It’s impossible to look back on 2011 without recalling the massive number of people who joined in worldwide protests to push for openness and inclusion – financial, political and social. No less memorable is the violence with which those protests were met.

As 2012 approaches, protesters across the world continue to occupy public spaces and fight for a voice in how things are run. They seek greater transparency, and new means of participating in social, financial and political life.

Many of 2011’s more horrifying and memorable images – captured on mobile phones, and generating global outrage and solidarity – involved systemic repression by the powers-that-be. Progress has been made in some countries, but sadly it’s not clear what the end result of the world’s uprisings will be.

Inclusion was not only a theme of large-scale world events, it was also key in aid and development. Organisations continued to push for adolescent girls’ inclusion in development initiatives and to emphasise that the most excluded and marginalised populations need to be reached in order to advance towards shared development objectives such as the millennium development goals. In June 2011, in a clear move forward on inclusion, the UN endorsed the rights of gay, lesbian and transgender people, yet the world still has a very long way to go.

Another central themein 2011 was openness. Whether it was the World Bank’s open data site, the Open Government Partnership (OGP), theInternational Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI), the Busan high level forum on aid effectiveness, the increase in “fail faires“, or grassroots initiatives pushing for more transparency – in aid and government funding as well as political decision making – “open” was everywhere.

As yet, however, the trend hasn’t reached quite far enough, and it would be good if it expanded in 2012 to encompass banks and other private sector entities. Hopefully, openness can help to advance inclusion and itself become more inclusive. All this amazing, open data needs to be re-used and it needs to connect back with people who might not be technology or data experts, have an internet connection or speak one of the major languages.

I hope 2012 sees greater effort to support communities and local organisations to access and use open data. I also hope there will be more effort to understand what information communities and local groups need to improve their own situations and exact more accountability and better governance from aid agencies, governments, service providers and the private sector.

Along with inclusion and openness, authenticity was a key concept in 2011. I enjoyed seeing critiques of simplistic media pieces about “the poor” and “the excluded”. Lakota youth, for instance, responded in a video to a Forbes [should be ABC] piece about poverty and hardship on reservations, emphasising: “We’re more than that.”. The Forbes piece, headlined “If I was a poor black kid“, caused a huge stir and response. One close reading of simplistic mainstream journalism called out the author for habitually ignoring the complex, systemic causes of poverty and exclusion.

I look forward to hearing more voices in these debates in 2012, continued questioning of simplistic messages, and more authentic reporting. New media can help previously excluded people tell their own, unspun stories and comment on simplistic reporting about them elsewhere. I hope aid and development agencies will increasingly support this, not as a gimmick or marketing ploy, but as a core element of their work and a way to better understand and share the issues and opinions of the people they aim to support through their programmes.

My wish for 2012 is that the world makes serious gains in reducing social, political and financial exclusion, in advancing participatory and accountable governance, and in achieving a better distribution of power and resources. Hopefully, aid and development organisations will continue to make progress in understanding what inclusion, openness, and authenticity in the global landscape mean for the kinds of programmes they fund and support.


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There are a lot of great ideas floating around about how Information and Communications Technology (ICTs) and technology in general can help to rebuild Haiti.  I hope these ideas keep coming.  I would love to see international development organizations, aid agencies and non-profits in general open up more to ideas on how technology can improve the lives of the people they are trying to support as well as facilitate coordination and program implementation.

But I also hope that the technology folks who haven’t worked in a crisis context such as that in Haiti will lend an ear to those who have experience working in past disasters and on-going development programs, human rights work, volunteer initiatives and advocacy. Those experiences shouldn’t be tossed out as old-school.  Good programs and experiences exist that can be examined, processed and built on.

I work globally, with one foot in community development and the other in ICTs, and I notice a gap between these 2 sectors, though they could really learn a lot from each other and work nicely together.

Cool technology ideas, just like cool program ideas can flop on the ground if the local culture and context are not taken into consideration, users were not involved or consulted during design and testing, the supposed ‘problem’ really wasn’t a problem at all, the proposed idea is not sustainable, a better/preferred local solution already exists, etc., etc.

Sometimes when I hear enthusiastic people sharing ideas for new applications, innovations or program ideas that they want to implement in ‘developing’ countries, I find myself thinking:  “Wow.  They have no idea what it’s like on the ground.”  I don’t want to shoot down someone’s excitement.  But I do wish that those who are not intimately familiar with their end users would slow down, think for a minute, and realize that local context is king. I wish they would remember that ultimately this is not about them and their ideas for other people. I wish they would stop being mad that abc organization won’t take that shipment of xyz technology that they want to send over, or that no one wants to implement such and such program that was so successful in such and such place.  Solutions looking for problems are not the best way to go about things, even when you have the very best of intentions.

However, non-profit organizations (large and small)  can be totally resistant to trying new tools, technologies and programs that could make a huge difference in their effectiveness, impact and quality of programming. They can be bureaucratic and slow to put new ideas to work.  They can be risk averse, afraid of failure, and resistant to innovation and new ideas.  The seemingly limitless relationships that need to be negotiated around can really slow things down.

Sometimes I see non-profits doing things they way they’ve always been done and I find myself thinking “Wow.  I wish they’d be open to trying ________.” I wish organizations would be more willing to test out new technologies and new ideas that don’t come from within their sector. I wish it were easier to make change happen.

When it comes to the Haiti earthquake response, the technology and non-profit sectors are 2 of the key players.  I’m worried that the outpouring of interest in helping will lead to a lot of wheel re-inventing.  I’m worried about local relevance and executability (if that’s even a word) of some of the ideas I am seeing.  I have concerns about the amount of projects being conceived and designed from afar.  I also see that there are new program and technology ideas out there that have the potential to make people’s lives easier if they were well integrated into the local reality, yet there are many factors that prohibit and inhibit organizations from exploring them or using them.

The technology and non-profit sectors benefit quite a lot from each other when they work together and understand each other.  It would be great to see a bigger effort to bridge the gap between these sectors.  Regardless of whether people believe NGOs and/or private enterprises and/or technologists or the Haitian government or the UN are good or bad, there are a lot of experiences that can be learned from and/or improved on from all sides.

The links below might be helpful for thinking about designing technology, ICT and programs in ‘developing’ country contexts and to help avoid known pitfalls and overcome obstacles. They can help reduce the amount of time and other resources wasted on projects that are not sustainable or impactful, or at worst are actually harmful in the short or long term to the very people that we all want to support and help.  There are certainly many more resources out there… please add ones that you find helpful in the comments section.

ICT Works and The 4 C’s of ICT Deployment

Mobiles for Development Guide by Hannah Beardon

IDEO Human Centered Design Toolkit

Changemakers and Kiwanja collaboration: SMS How To Guide

Mobile Active‘s case studies

ML4D:  Mobile learning for development’s design narratives

Ushahidi Blog: February Archives have a lot of information on the Haiti response

iRevolution: thought provoking posts on technology and crisis situations

Educational Technology Debate:  Sustaining, rather than sustainable ICT4E and Designing and sustaining a sustainable ICT4E initiative

Posts on Wait… What? that might be useful:

7 (or more) questions to ask before adding ICTs

Finding some ICT answers in Benin

Meeting in the Middle: A good local process

It’s all part of the ICT jigsaw

I and C and then T

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