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Posts Tagged ‘Global’

For our Tuesday, July 27th Salon, we discussed partnerships and interoperability in global health systems. The room housed a wide range of perspectives, from small to large non-governmental organizations to donors and funders to software developers to designers to healthcare professionals to students. Our lead discussants were Josh Nesbit, CEO at Medic Mobile; Jonathan McKay, Global Head of Partnerships and Director of the US Office of Praekelt.org; and Tiffany Lentz, Managing Director, Office of Social Change Initiatives at ThoughtWorks

We started by hearing from our discussants on why they had decided to tackle issues in the area of health. Reasons were primarily because health systems were excluding people from care and organizations wanted to find a way to make healthcare inclusive. As one discussant put it, “utilitarianism has infected global health. A lack of moral imagination is the top problem we’re facing.”

Other challenges include requests for small scale pilots and customization/ bespoke applications, lack of funding and extensive requirements for grant applications, and a disconnect between what is needed on the ground and what donors want to fund. “The amount of documentation to get a grant is ridiculous, and then the system that is requested to be built is not even the system that needs to be made,” commented one person. Another challenge is that everyone is under constant pressure to demonstrate that they are being innovative. [Sidenote: I’m reminded of this post from 2010….] “They want things that are not necessarily in the best interest of the project, but that are seen to be innovations. Funders are often dragged along by that,” noted another person.

The conversation most often touched on the unfulfilled potential of having a working ecosystem and a common infrastructure for health data as well as the problems and challenges that will most probably arise when trying to develop these.

“There are so many uncoordinated pilot projects in different districts, all doing different things,” said one person. “Governments are doing what they can, but they don’t have the funds,” added another, “and that’s why there are so many small pilots happening everywhere.” One company noted that it had started developing a platform for SMS but abandoned it in favor of working with an existing platform instead. “Can we create standards and protocols to tie some of this work together? There isn’t a common infrastructure that we can build on,” was the complaint. “We seem to always start from scratch. I hope donors and organizations get smart about applying pressure in the right areas. We need an infrastructure that allows us to build on it and do the work!” On the other hand, someone warned of the risks of pushing everyone to “jump on a mediocre software or platform just because we are told to by a large agency or donor.”

The benefits of collaboration and partnership are apparent: increased access to important information, more cooperation, less duplication, the ability to build on existing knowledge, and so on. However, though desirable, partnerships and interoperability is not easy to establish. “Is it too early for meaningful partnerships in mobile health? I was wondering if I could say that…” said one person. “I’m not even sure I’m actually comfortable saying it…. But if you’re providing essential basic services, collecting sensitive medical data from patients, there should be some kind of infrastructure apart from private sector services, shouldn’t there?” The question is who should own this type of a mediator platform: governments? MNOs?

Beyond this, there are several issues related to control and ownership. Who would own the data? Is there a way to get to a point where the data would be owned by the patients and demonetized? If the common system is run by the private sector, there should be protections surrounding the patients’ sensitive information. Perhaps this should be a government-run system. Should it be open source?

Open source has its own challenges. “Well… yes. We’ve practiced ‘hopensource’,” said one person (to widespread chuckles).

Another explained that the way we’ve designed information systems has held back shifts in health systems. “When we’re comparing notes and how we are designing products, we need to be out ahead of the health systems and financing shifts. We need to focus on people-centered care. We need to gather information about a person over time and place. About the teams who are caring for them. Many governments we’re working with are powerless and moneyless. But even small organizations can do something. When we show up and treat a government as a systems owner that is responsible to deliver health care to their citizens, then we start to think about them as a partner, and they begin to think about how they could support their health systems.”

One potential model is to design a platform or system such that it can eventually be handed off to a government. This, of course, isn’t a simple idea in execution. Governments can be limited by their internal expertise. The personnel that a government has at the time of the handoff won’t necessarily be there years or months later. So while the handoff itself may be successful in the short term, there’s no firm guarantee that the system will be continually operational in the future. Additionally, governments may not be equipped with the knowledge to make the best decisions about software systems they purchase. Governments’ negotiating capacity must be expanded if they are to successfully run an interoperable system. “But if we can bring in a snazzy system that’s already interoperable, it may be more successful,” said one person.

Having a common data infrastructure is crucial. However, we must also spend some time thinking about what the data itself should look like. Can it be standardized? How can we ensure that it is legible to anyone with access to it?

These are only some of the relevant political issues, and at a more material level, one cannot ignore the technical challenges of maintaining a national scale system. For example, “just getting a successful outbound dialing rate is hard!” said one person. “If you are running servers in Nigeria it just won’t always be up! I think human centered design is important. But there is also a huge problem simply with making these things work at scale. The hardcore technical challenges are real. We can help governments to filter through some of the potential options. Like, can a system demonstrate that it can really operate at massive scale?” Another person highlighted that “it’s often non-profits who are helping to strengthen the capacity of governments to make better decisions. They don’t have money for large-scale systems and often don’t know how to judge what’s good or to be a strong negotiator. They are really in a bind.”

This is not to mention that “the computers have plastic over them half the time. Electricity, computers, literacy, there are all these issues. And the TelCo infrastructure! We have layers of capacity gaps to address,” said one person.

There are also donors to consider. They may come into a project with unrealistic expectations of what is normal and what can be accomplished. There is a delicate balance to be struck between inspiring the donors to take up the project and managing expectations so that they are not disappointed.” One strategy is to “start hopeful and steadily temper expectations.” This is true also with other kinds of partnerships. “Building trust with organizations so that when things do go bad, you can try to manage it is crucial. Often it seems like you don’t want to be too real in the first conversation. I think, ‘if I lay this on them at the start it can be too real and feel overwhelming.…'” Others recommended setting expectations about how everyone together is performing. “It’s more like, ‘together we are going to be looking at this, and we’ll be seeing together how we are going to work and perform together.”

Creating an interoperable data system is costly and time-consuming, oftentimes more so than donors and other stakeholders imagine, but there are real benefits. Any step in the direction of interoperability must deal with challenges like those considered in this discussion. Problems abound. Solutions will be harder to come by, but not impossible.

So, what would practitioners like to see? “I would like to see one country that provides an incredible case study showing what good partnership and collaboration looks like with different partners working at different levels and having a massive impact and improved outcomes. Maybe in Uganda,” said one person. “I hope we see more of us rally around supporting and helping governments to be the system owners. We could focus on a metric or shared cause – I hope in the near future we have a view into the equity measure and not just the vast numbers. I’d love to see us use health equity as the rallying point,” added another. From a different angle, one person felt that “from a for-profit, we could see it differently. We could take on a country, a clinic or something as our own project. What if we could sponsor a government’s health care system?”

A participant summed the Salon up nicely: “I’d like to make a flip-side comment. I want to express gratitude to all the folks here as discussants. This is one of the most unforgiving and difficult environments to work in. It’ SO difficult. You have to be an organization super hero. We’re among peers and feel it as normal to talk about challenges, but you’re really all contributing so much!”

Salons are run under Chatham House Rule so not attribution has been made in this post. If you’d like to attend a future Salon discussion, join the list at Technology Salon.

 

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I joined Twitter because of frequent flyer miles.

No really.  It’s true.

I kept trying to use my miles and failing, due to blackout dates or not having enough points to go where I needed to. The use-em-or-lose-em deadline came up on one particular airline, so I accepted an offer to sign up for some magazines. In addition to a hefty increase in junk mail, I began receiving Wired Magazine – and my synapses started firing at a million miles per hour.

This was around 2006. I’d find myself suddenly having breathless conversations with the few people around who would listen about technology and the science of networks and other similarly nerdy stuff. This really wasn’t like me, but then, I was late to the game for a couple of reasons: for one, I spent the 1990’s in El Salvador and there was not much Internet or Wired magazine available there at the time. Secondly, I’d always been much more of an alternative music/ development/ social sciences geek than a computer / video game geek.

But something had changed since high school and college. There was Radiohead for starters… but on top of that, it became strikingly clear to me that things were aligning in a way I hadn’t seen before. Tech could really have a social purpose.

In Wired, I started reading about the idea that the Internet was horizontal, that things could be free, that people could collaborate in self-organized nodes, that social media could bypass ‘official’ pronouncements and allow alternative voices and ‘citizen journalists’ to be heard. I started thinking about how many of the principles and philosophies behind social media networks were closely aligned with those underpinning participatory approaches to development:  self-organizing, community-led processes and self-management, accountability and transparency, ownership, learning by doing, building on local knowledge and localized expertise. I got hooked on trying to link some of the ideas that were fueling social media and online networking with the work that the organization that had been employing me for several years (Plan) was facilitating with young people and communities. I started reading blogs about technology and aid, and I began writing one too.

Over time, my initial interest broadened to how new technologies — not only social media networks, but also new tools like mobile phones and GPS units and digital maps and all kinds of other new tools and platforms — could be put at the service of community development.

In large part, the reason for the branching out and wider perspective was that in December 2008, a couple of development and technology leaders/ bloggers/ mentors (Ken Banks and Erik Hersman) gave me a suggestion. “Get on Twitter,” they said,” if you really want to keep up with what is happening.”  I was wary of the platform, so instead of my real name, I used the name of a kitten we used to have – @meowtree  – also a bit of a play on my last name.

Quickly I realized there was nothing to fear. Twitter opened up a whole world at the professional and personal level. I found all kinds of people from a variety of disciplines and backgrounds who were discussing, debating, trying, failing, learning, blogging, and collaborating on a variety of projects related to technology, human rights, global development, community work and other fields I am very interested in.

Joining Twitter was like signing up to get an online degree in a very specialized field, where everyone was both teacher and learner. The quantity of information and knowledge shared among practitioners and theoreticians in my field and related areas was infinite, as were the ranges of opinions.

Through Twitter I’ve had the opportunity to work on voluntary side projects and connect with experts and practitioners for research and professional or personal advice. Sometimes a number of us join together to get across a certain point that we feel strongly about, and it ends up getting to the ears of someone who’s making major decisions or it gets brought up by individuals in personal conversation, spreading the ideas offline. A group of Twitter folks who are part of the ‘Smart Aid’ collaborative recently conducted a survey to find out more about who reads aid and development blogs, for example, and what they do with the information there.

Not just a news and professional education platform, Twitter is also a friend and colleague network. Over the past 3 years, I’ve met a few hundred new people in real life that I initially connected with on Twitter.

It’s a great feeling when you are chatting with someone at a conference, and they look down at your name tag (where you’ve penned in your Twitter handle with a Sharpie) and exclaim “Wait! You’re @meowtree!? I’m @so-and-so!” You’ve only just met, but because you’ve connected on Twitter, you already feel like old friends. You can immediately jump into a conversation and continue on with a topic you’d been batting around on Twitter or make plans to partner up on a work-related initiative or simply discuss the fact that you both like the same kind of beer.

Last week a colleague alerted me (via Twitter, naturally) that I’d been named by the Guardian as one of the “20 Global Development Twitterati” to follow. It was unexpected, and I’m hugely honored.  The Guardian’s Global Development team does fantastic and highly credible work facilitating forward-thinking debates and discussions around development. Being listed alongside the 19 other “Twitterati” is indeed a privilege, as they are some of the leading voices in the aid and development debate.

So if you have an interest in development and/or new technology, you can either accumulate a ton of unusable frequent flyer miles and follow my convoluted path, or you can skip all that in-between and simply “Get on Twitter!” Once you do, be sure to follow the Guardian’s list of 20 Global Development Twitterati. But don’t stop there – the Twitterverse is full of brilliant minds and voices that you won’t want to miss if you are serious about engaging in a stimulating global development conversation.

Note: this post originally appears on PlanUSA’s blog.

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Group work at a regional consultation

Children and adolescent’s participation in decisions that affect them is key. More and more, decision makers are realizing that they need to consult with children when they are making decisions about children, meaning that children have more opportunities to weigh in on issues that impact on their lives.

Not knowing how to manage a good participation process or not listening to past lessons learned, however, can make it difficult for children and adolescents to take advantage of opportunities offered them to input into these decisions.

Children’s rights to participate

A child is anyone under the age of 18.  According to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UN CRC), in addition to survival, development and protection rights, children also have participation rights.

  • Children have rights to be listened to, to freely express their views on all matters that affect them, and to freedom of expression, thought, association and access to information.
  • Participation should promote the best interest of the child and enhance the personal development of each child.
  • All children have equal rights to participation without discrimination.
  • All children have the right to be protected from manipulation, violence, abuse and exploitation

from the “Minimum Standards for Children’s Participation 10th draft”, written by Helen Veitch,*drawing on Articles 2, 3, 12, 13, 17, 19, 34 and 36 in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child

What are the principles of participation? (Summarized from the above document)

An ethical approach: transparency, honesty and accountability

Adults involved need to follow ethical and participatory practices and put children’s best interests first. Because there are power and status imbalances between adults and children.  An ethical approach is needed in order for children’s participation to be genuine and meaningful.

A child friendly environment

The atmosphere should be safe, welcoming and encouraging.  Because in order for children to feel comfortable participating they need to feel safe and supported.

Equality of opportunity

Space should be ensured for those groups of children who typically suffer discrimination and are often excluded from activities. Because children, like adults, are not a homogeneous group and participation should be open to all.

Participation promotes the safety and protection of children

Child protection policies and procedures are an essential part of participatory work with children. Because organisations have a duty of care to children with whom they work and everything should be done to minimize the risk to children of abuse and exploitation or other potentially negative consequences of their participation.

Child participation in national, regional and global consultations

Children’s right to participate is key. However in practice, a safe and open environment for child participation at national, regional and global events can be difficult to ensure. It requires resources as well as a great deal of preparation.

Over the past several years, I’ve participated in some disappointing events where:

  • lessons learned about effective child participation and child protection were ignored
  • those tasked with ensuring child participation and protection were powerless to influence event organizers to ensure quality and safe participation
  • those organizing the event or sending children to it simply had no idea that there are standards and protocols and plenty of lessons learned that they should have taken into consideration.

Minimum standards for child participation

For example, back in 2005, several organizations in East Asia and the Pacific* collaborated to produce minimum standards for child participation in national and regional consultation events. These were initially developed for the UN Study on Violence against Children.

They offer a comprehensive overview of how to manage child participation and can be used as a guide for other national, regional or global events where children participate.  They should be considered whenever organizing, hosting or participating in an event where children are being consulted or their participation is desired.

You can have the most amazing and wonderful children present and the very best intentions, but fall very short of your goals of quality child participation because logistics and organization are poor and/or child participation and protection protocols are not followed.

What often goes wrong?

Child participation holds tremendous value, but when it’s not properly facilitated or supported; results can be negative on many levels, including:

  • Children are tokenized or used
  • Poor organization gets in the way of participation
  • Important opportunities are missed
  • Children become frustrated
  • Children are put at risk
  • Money and time are wasted

Oh, the things I’ve seen…

Mistakes those new to organizing events or supporting child participation in events often make:

  • Having singing and dancing in traditional costumes be the main role for children
  • Setting up totally new groups to participate in an event rather than working with existing groups
  • Not understanding the concept of ‘representativity’ and not ensuring democratic and fair selection processes of those children who participate
  • Not realizing (for global events) that the visa application process takes a very long time, and requires visa invitation letters and appointments in advance
  • Forgetting to get children their required vaccines
  • Not realizing that children may not have birth certificates or passports, meaning the visa process takes even longer
  • Not preparing children well for visa interviews, including the possibility that their visa request will be denied
  • Not allocating time and budget for travel necessary to obtain visas, permission from parents who do not live with the child (child trafficking laws often require this now) and other documentation
  • Not obtaining permission slips, medical histories, media releases from parents and/or not obtaining travel insurance for children
  • Not getting the above materials translated into a language parents can understand
  • Not having child protection policies in place and adhering to them
  • Not doing background checks on people who will be working with children
  • Thinking it’s OK to send children overseas without a chaperone, not budgeting for chaperones
  • Forgetting that not all children speak a major language like English, Spanish, Portuguese or French and will require translation of all materials before the event as well as constant translation during the event, and support following the event if they will continue to participate in event follow up

Children's responses on what they feared at an event.

Mistakes that even experienced child participation facilitators make:

  • Influencing too much on what children will say
  • Using children to promote the sponsoring organization or INGO’s agenda
  • Having children represent an NGO or INGO rather than representing themselves, their own groups or their communities
  • Having children wear NGO/ INGO t-shirts, caps and other branded items
  • Asking children from some countries (usually those from countries deemed ‘exotic’) to bring traditional costumes and share their culture, but not asking the same from other countries
  • Creating/building up ‘professional’ child participants and creating child star speakers
  • Relying on the same children all the time to represent because they have passports or visas or prior experience
  • Only bringing children who speak a major language or live in the capital to events
  • During sessions, not organizing group work in ways that facilitate communication across different languages
  • Sending any adult as a chaperone, rather than sending the best or the right adult as a chaperone
  • Not planning ahead on how children will be supported when they get back home to continue inputting into global networks and processes
  • Not ensuring a space for children to share their experiences with home offices and groups
  • Making children work long hours to fit everything in
  • Not giving children pocket money so that those with less means can also purchase small things for themselves or for family members
  • Housing children in fancy hotels with fancy food that they may not be used to; (not cooking enough good quality rice at lunch and dinner!)
  • Not realizing children may need to be shown how to use things like hotel showers, air conditioning, toilets
  • Not realizing that children may not want to sleep alone in a room
  • Not providing additional warm clothing for children if the conference climate is colder than their own
  • Not realizing that a trip overseas creates culture shock, children may feel lonely for their families
  • Not ensuring that children have the means to call home as soon as they arrive to an event and periodically during their stay
  • Not realizing that those facilitating child participation or working on child protection may not have the power to influence event organizers, especially if events are being organized in hierarchical ways with governments and high level committees involved
  • Not establishing at what point enough is enough, and children shouldn’t participate because conference organizers simply haven’t created favorable conditions, and children are put at risk or their participation will not be of good quality or have any real impact

Mistakes I’ve seen conference and event organizers repeat over and over:

  • Focusing on number of children participants rather than quality of participation
  • Not providing information with enough lead time for it to be translated and shared with children, or for good planning and selection processes to be done
  • Segregating children in parallel events where they don’t interact with adults
  • Not giving children space to lead sessions or engage with adults; offering them the last spot in the opening /closing speeches, and giving them a small percentage of the time that the adult speakers are given; or reducing children’s participation time because adults have gone over their allotted time
  • Patronizing children by clapping every time a child says something, or saying “oh that’s such a great idea!” not treating children respectfully as equals
  • Encouraging adults to get their photos taken with ‘exotic looking’ children in costumes
  • Not balancing the number of local participants and global participants
  • Not understanding that they need certain conditions to be available to fulfill child protection protocols (eg., children and adults need separate rooms; boys and girls as well as older/younger youth need to have separate rooms; the venue selection needs to have a measure of safety/security to prevent outsiders from taking advantage of any of the participating children, etc.)
  • Packing too many activities into the day and leaving children no time to rest
  • Not allowing any time for sight-seeing or recreation
  • Thinking all children have access to internet and computers to fill out registration forms, etc. and to participate in networks post conference
  • Not realizing that they need to listen to child participation and protection committees and adjust their ideas for their event so that children can effectively participate and are not put at risk
  • Thinking they can hire just anybody to manage child participation at the event
  • Not including a child participation/child protection point person in the organizing committee

So, what then?

I do honestly believe that children should participate and have a say in these issues, and that only by listening to children can decision-makers ensure that they are coming to the best decisions that benefit, resonate with, or have the best impact on children’s lives.

However unless proper organization, logistics, preparation and care are taken, these opportunities can be frustrating or a waste of an opportunity for everyone involved, and the validity of the efforts can easily be questioned.

Child participation needs to be taken seriously, not as an add-on or nice to have or cute to have. Unless and until regional and global events can ensure that this is happening, it might be a better investment to work with children at local and national levels.

Event organizers and child participation facilitators need to look at existing protocols, documentation, minimum standards and lessons learned and use them. Organizations shouldn’t be coming up with the same ‘lessons learned’ after every event and repeating the same mistakes at the next one. Surely we can do better than that.

What guidelines does your organization have? What mistakes have you made and learned from? What recommendations can you give? How can we get it right? Please share your thoughts in the comments section…

Download

Minimum Standards on Child Participation

Protocols and documents to use to help ensure good quality participation

*The following organizations participated on the steering committee that elaborated the Minimum Standards: UNICEF East Asia Pacific Regional Office, World Health Organisation, Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights, ILO IPEC Asia and the Pacific, NGO Advisory Panel on the UN Study on Violence Against Children, Save the Children Alliance, Child Workers in Asia, ECPAT International, World Vision International APRO, Plan International, Terre des Hommes Germany, ASEAN Foundation.

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I recently had the honor of leading a group of tech, development and gender folks in a discussion around Girls and ICTs at the Technology Salon.  The conversation revolved around 5 aspects I wrote about in an earlier blog post On Girls and ICTs:

  • Tension between participation and protection
  • Online behavior is an extension of, and a potential amplifier of offline behavior
  • Qualifying the digital divide
  • Girls’ involvement in developing and designing ICT solutions for their own needs
  • Research on Girls and ICTs

Check out the Technology Salon’s page for a round-up of our discussions!

Photo:  Informal evening one-on-one ICT time at a Youth Empowerment through Arts and Media (YETAM) project workshop in Cameroon.

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On Girls and ICTs

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Girl Power and the CGI

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Next week I’ll have the honor of (wo)manning the expo table for Plan at the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) Exchange [the networking event after the actual CGI meeting]. It’s Plan’s first year at the CGI, which is exciting for us as an organization. The project that we’ve committed to is a convergence of many of the things that Plan has been getting deeper and deeper into in the past few years – youth engagement, youth employment, participatory media, social media, ICTs, youth voice, youth-led advocacy, and last but not least, girl power. I’ll be supporting the project with some training around social media and ICTs based on experiences in past projects such as the Youth Empowerment through Arts and Media project.

Our commitment, Vocational Skills and Media Training for Adolescent Girls in Ghana, is a three-year project that combines job skills training for girls with media production by girls.  The combination of these two elements will give girls key skill sets for employment opportunities while also creating public platforms for girls to raise awareness and advocate on issues affecting them. Through the project 140 adolescent girls will participate in training on media production and journalism, including citizen journalism/social media.  Of those, some will go on to participate in an internship program to do hands-on work in media.  The girls will be trained on how to use diverse types of media, including traditional as well as new media, to advocate against gender discrimination.  Adult journalists will participate in Plan’s training program on child rights and gender respect in media.  In the process, the project will engage the public through radio, television and web communication around the challenges that adolescent girls face in West Africa at the community, national, and regional levels. Participating girls will also have opportunities to meet and share experiences with each other and their female Ghanaian journalist mentors.

I really like this project because it brings so many critical elements into one initiative.  More and more Plan is supporting this type of work in Africa, and it really makes a difference in the youth themselves in terms of skills, self confidence, team work, and learning how to communicate issues of importance in a confident and respectful way.  It helps them access information and new skills that help them find employment. It also has an impact on communities who see their youth in a new light and who become more open to dialogue with youth around issues that youth want to discuss but may not be able to bring up in existing forums.  The media produced by children and youth can raise awareness and encourage dialogue at the national level, and it can be presented in global meetings to bring youth voices and a dose of reality into high level discussions. It can be shared on the internet to engage and involve people in other parts of the world, and to break down stereotypes about Africans. I also think one outcome will be that the participating girls and women will contribute to modernizing the field of journalism in Ghana because they will be trained on new media tools and they will likely think seriously about how girls are portrayed by the media in the future.

Plan’s research “Because I am a Girl: The State of the World’s Girls” came out in 2007, highlighting the urgency for us to focus more programs on girls as key players.  Out of this report, a decision was made to make girls Plan’s key focus over the next several years, and the Because I am a Girl Campaign was launched.  Since then, two in depth studies have highlighted specific issues: Because I am a Girl: In the Shadow of War (2008), and Girl’s Economic Empowerment (coming out later this month).

Come by our table to say hi if you happen to be at CGI exchange!

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