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Posts Tagged ‘ICTs’

This is a guest post from David Schaub-Jones who works with SeeSaw, a social venture that focuses on how technology can strengthen sanitation and water providers in developing countries. Follow SeeSaw on Twitter:  @ontheseesaw.

In June, two organisations focussed on using ICT (Information and Communications Technology) in the water and sanitation sector joined forces in Cape Town. SeeSaw, a social enterprise that customises ICT to support sanitation and water providers and iComms, a University of Cape Town research unit (Information for Community Oriented Municipal Services) co-hosted a two day event to look at how ICT tools are changing the way that public services function in developing countries.

(from SeeSaw’s website.)

There are growing expectations that harnessing ICT intelligently can bring about radical improvements in the way that health, education and other sectors function, particularly in developing countries. SeeSaw and iComms wanted to look at this in more detail – and to build on the open sharing of experience to provide general principles to those planning to harness ICT for public service delivery. Their overarching goal is to help practitioners cut through much of the complexity and hype surrounding ICT usage and give them a robust set of guidelines with which to plan and negotiate partnerships and projects on the ground.

The event brought together 30+ practitioners – with water sector professionals from across Southern Africa joined by their colleagues from the health sector – a sector that has been quick to innovate, try different approaches and learn lessons. A full write-up of the event can be found here in the Water Information Network of South Africa’s October Newsletter. (See www.win-sa.org).

Key messages

1) Putting in place an effective ICT system can make a visible impact on the ground. It can pay for itself quite quickly in terms of efficiency gains and even costs saved. Yet a fair amount of thought must go into designing the system to fit the local context – just transplanting a system that has worked in one place to a new environment is generally a recipe for trouble.

2) An important spin-off result of looking at how to use ICT is that the effort taken to design a responsive system forces stakeholders to reflect more closely on the existing structures, process and current information flows. This can have significant benefits even if no system is later built.

3) A recommendation is to spend due time and effort in understanding the system, asking direct stakeholders what information they currently get, what information they need and then seeing how and whether ICT systems can be used to gather data that can generate additional, better or faster information and get it to where it is needed (in a way that suits the working patterns of those individuals).

4) For impact at any significant scale it is crucial that ICT systems, whether in healthcare or water and sanitation, integrate with existing government systems. There is a great risk of fragmentation – too many organisations piloting new ICT systems put in place technologies or processes that cannot easily be absorbed into existing government systems (or worse still, undermine these).

5) A lot of initiatives, particularly in the healthcare system, have tried to harness ICT to get people to do what is good for them. And only that. For instance, cellphones used to gather field information can be restricted so that they can only do one thing and no longer function as a phone. Airtime and data bundles used for transmitting information can be isolated to only contribute to ‘the project’. The disadvantage is that this turns the device into something used only for work, something alien and otherwise ‘not useful’. Alternatives do exist though and can be productive. If frontline workers being asked to use phones and new ICT tools are permitted – sometimes on a limited basis – to use them for their own purposes (browsing the internet, accessing facebook, receiving SMS) then they are more likely to engage with the project, look after the equipment, etc. A balance is surely needed, but a quid pro quo arrangement can be a sensible approach. This was characterised as “give them pizza with their broccoli”!

6) ICT tools can be incredibly powerful at improving the flow of data and, from there, the flow of information. But what if the flow of information is not the real problem? There are many issues that undermine healthcare or water and sanitation systems – and a lot of them have little to do with information. Cultural conflicts, different worldviews, individual rivalries, dysfunctional facilities – all of these can be the ‘sand in the gearbox’. Don’t assume that a new ICT system is going to solve all problems – after all, these are tools, not a panacea to what are typically complex and entrenched challenges.

Next Steps

SeeSaw and iComms are now exploring how to take forward research into how to improve information flows and how incentives shape the behaviour of different stakeholders within any ICT system designed for the water and sanitation sector. A similar event is also planned for East Africa in early 2013.

If you are interested in hearing more about these topics, subscribe to SeeSaw’s newsletter for more details.

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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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On August 14, @zehrarizvi and I co-hosted a Twitter chat on ways that ICTs can support and protect “children on the move,” eg., children and youth who migrate, are displaced, or move around (or are moved). Background information on the issue and the research.

We discovered some new angles on the topic and some resources and studies that are out or will be coming out soon, for example an upcoming Girls Count study on Girls on the Move by Population Council, a UNHCR paper on ICTs and urban refugee protection in Cairo, and Amnesty’s Technology, People and Solutions work.

Thanks to everyone who participated – whether you were actively tweeting or just observing. We hope it was as useful to you all as it was to us! If you think of anything new to add, please tweet it using #CoMandICT or email me at linda.raftree [at] planusa.org.

Read the Storify version here (with a bonus picture of @chrisalbon holding up a ‘burner’ phone). Don’t know what a ‘burner’ phone is? Click and take a look.

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The Open Knowledge Festival (OKFest) happens this September 17-22 in Helsinki, Finland with the theme Open Knowledge in Action. OKFest will explore the benefits of opening up knowledge and information, look at the ecosystems of organisations that can benefit from openness, and discuss the impact that more transparency can have in our societies. OKFest will run 13 key Topic Streams, one of which will focus on the topic of ‘Open Development’.

So what does ‘open knowledge’ have to do with ‘open development’? And why are people putting the word ‘open’ in front of everything these days?

Well, in addition to being a bit of a buzz word or trend, the idea behind ‘open’ is that making data and information more accessible and less restricted can enhance transparency, accountability, sharing, and collaboration. This in turn can benefit development processes. (See this post for ideas on how openness and information literacy links with participatory governance, for example.)

As Matthew Smith, a strong proponent of ‘open development,’ says, ‘openness’ is not a new concept, especially with respect to development theory. Democracy and participation represent an opening up of decision-making processes to more people. Transparency and accountability are about opening up organizations, people and processes to scrutiny and feedback.

The Internet and new ICTs such as mobile phones play a big part in the idea of ‘open’ since these platforms and tools can allow data and information to be shared more freely and widely. The concept of ‘open development’ according to Smith is enhanced by ICTs when it favors:

  • Universal over restricted access to communication tools and information. For example, access to the telecommunications infrastructure through a mobile phone or access to online [educational] content or government information.
  • Universal over restricted participation in informal and formal groups/institutions. For example, the use of SMS to mobilize political protests or new e-government implementations that provide increased transparency and new accountability arrangements.
  • Collaborative over centralized production of information, cultural content, and physical goods. For example, collaborative production of school textbooks, co-creation of government services, mesh networks.

Attitudes and behaviors also play a part in ‘openness.’ Smith notes that egalitarianism and sharing are two core concepts within ‘openness:’

  • Egalitarianism suggests an equal right to participate (access, use and collaborate).
  • Sharing is embedded in the idea of enhanced access to things that were otherwise normally restricted. This enhanced access is often motivated by the normative desire to share – whether through an obligation to contribute to the common good or to participate in a coordinated or collaborative activity.

Policies, practices and philosophies that allow data and information to be shared are also a part of ‘open’. Tim Davies explains ‘open data‘ as:

  • a set of policies and practices – open data should be accessible (online); standardized (in a common format) and reusable (open licenses)
  • a response to how tech and society is changing –  bandwidth is growing, there is more capacity to share and analyze data, people want to do things for themselves and analyze information for themselves rather than have someone do it for them.
  • a tendency towards new combinations of data – seen in ‘mash-up’ websites where people pull data from different sources, combine them with other sources, add crowd-sourced information and maps, etc.
  • a philosophy or movement – there is a push to open information and access to knowledge because information is power; there is a tendency toward greater collaboration, transparency and collaboration

The Open Development stream at OKFest will explore ways that openness can help address key development challenges, from reducing poverty to improving access to education and healthcare to mitigating climate change and managing natural resources to improving transparency, accountability and governance. One of the most important aspects of the Open Development stream will be the participation of development practitioners and thematic experts on development.

As guest program planners for the Open Development stream*, we are determined to support two-way learning about how open data and open knowledge can benefit development. We know that ICTs and new technologies cannot work in a vacuum and that open information on its own is not enough. We know that creating ICT tools and applications without basing them on real needs and local context is not helpful, useful or sustainable. We also know that traditionally excluded and marginalized populations are the ones that most often do not have access to information and new ICTs, and therefore open access to information and knowledge needs to be part of a broader and more holistic development approach that takes care to include those who are often marginalized and excluded.

Within the Open Development stream, we will offer space where those working with new technologies and those working on development issues can learn more about each other and work on joint solutions that are based on local realities and that take advantage of new opportunities that new ICTs and ‘open knowledge’ can offer.

The Open Development stream will bring together key thinkers and doers in the ‘open’ movement and the development sector via a panel discussion. We are also organizing 3 working sessions to explore:

Open development and aid flows.  Here we will look more internally at ways that greater openness in aid and development funding, activities and impact (such as the  International Aid Transparency Initiative – IATI) can help make aid more transparent, accountable, coordinated and effective. What are the new opportunities Open Data and Open Knowledge provide? How can aid and aid organizations be more open, transparent and accountable?

Open = accessible? In this session we will explore practical issues and the realities of access to and use of open information in low-resource settings. We will hear opinions and realities from development practitioners regarding a series of critical questions such as: Open for who? Open for what? Is open data enough? How can we design for accessibility in communities with lower resources and access and/or in ‘developing’ countries? Who are the new information intermediaries (aka ‘infomediaries‘)? How can we ensure that ‘open’ is not replicating existing exclusions, creating a new middle-class or benefiting already well-off sections of communities and societies?

Technologies for open development In this session we will focus on the role that ICTs and open technologies, from open source to open hardware, can play in development. We will hear ideas from development workers, technology evangelists and those who bridge the two fields.

In addition to these sessions, there will be an ‘Open Development Hack Day‘ where development practitioners can share development challenges with the OKFest community to create mobile and other ICT applications.

Events like OKFest can be overwhelming the first time you participate in them, but we are committed to making sure everyone who attends OKFest can join the discussions, contribute ideas, and learn from the wealth of keynotes, sessions and workshops. The organizers of the Open Development Stream will be on hand to support participants working in development and those who are new to the Open Knowledge World to navigate the conference via daily birds-of-a-feather gatherings, catch-up sessions and more.

In order for our stream to be a success, we need the participation of development practitioners and development workers!  The core OKFest team has made a number of travel bursaries available to help potential participants with the costs of getting to Finland, and the open development stream team are also working hard to encourage development organisations to support staff and associates from projects in the ‘global south’ to take part. If you need help securing support from your organization or funders to take part, then get in touch with the team (okfest-dev@practicalparticipation.co.uk) and we will do what we can to help.

UPDATE (July 19, 2012) – copied from the OK Fest website:

Sida, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, offers travel bursaries to a number of development practitioners and coders taking part in the Open Development topic stream. These travel bursaries will cover all reasonable flight costs and accommodation for the duration of the conference core days. A week ticket to the festival is also included. Transportation to/from airport and within Helsinki and food costs are not covered by travel bursaries. 

Who are these Bursaries For?

The Sida travel bursaries are for development practitioners and coders who can make a significant contribution to the festival, but who are not able to take part without financial aid. People who are taking an active part in the Open Development topic stream will be prioritised. We will also prioritise those who truly cannot make it to Helsinki on their own without financial help, e.g. people from developing countries

Be sure to fill out the application form here before the deadline on August 8!

For more on OKFest, watch the slideshow:

*Tim Davies from AidInfoSarah JohnsMika Valitalo and I from Plan

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Where are the spaces for dialogue on good governance? (Image from a workshop on youth participatory governance, April 2011)

As I mentioned in my ‘governance is *so* not boring’ post, I am recently back from an internal workshop where some 20 colleagues from across the organization where I work (Plan) pulled together some basic elements for a global program strategy on Youth, Citizenship and Governance.

One of the key elements that we talked about was the importance of information literacy in citizenship and governance work, including at the level of governments, duty bearers and decision makers and of course at the level of citizens — in our case, especially children and young people. Information literacy is defined by the University of Idaho as “the ability to identify what information is needed, understand how the information is organized, identify the best sources of information for a given need, locate those sources, evaluate the sources critically, and share that information”. (I can hear my librarian friends cheering right now, as they’ve been working on this for years).

Openness as an attitude came up as something that’s important all around for good governance. This doesn’t only mean ‘open’ as a technological specification for data, but rather openness as an entire approach and attitude towards governance, citizen participation and the nature of relationships and interactions in the spaces where citizens and government overlap. We were able to link our work up very well with the concepts of open development, open government and open data; all of which can contribute to better transparency, accountability and governance and which require information literacy and a number of other skills and capacities in order to take advantage of.

My practitioner colleagues said over and over at the meeting ‘we don’t have access to the information we need to do better governance work.’ I was left wondering how those of us working at various levels, including the field of ICT4D and related, can do a better job of supporting access to information, and what are the technology and non-technology tools and approaches that work best. There is still a huge gap between the community- and district-level governance work that my colleagues are working on with children, youth and communities and the big on-line data sets that are part of open data and open government. Both very important, but there really needs to be a stronger link between the two so that they can feed into each other to achieve better governance. Once again – the questions ‘open for who? and open for what?‘ come in, as well as the need for a two-way (multi-way?) information flow.

We talked about how social accountability tools like community scorecards, social audits, budget tracking and monitoring, and participatory budgeting can be an important way for engaging marginalized and excluded populations in governance work outside of more formal channels (eg, elections, law courts, planning and auditing of public expenditure). Social accountability tools and processes allow people to more directly participate in the accountability process and make themselves heard rather than leaving accountability in the hands of the government or relying only on formal mechanisms. During our workshop, we watched the International Budget Partnership’s video ‘It’s our money, where has it gone‘ on using social accountability tools in Kenya. (Long, but very worth watching)

Following the video I explained open data in a nutshell by asking people to imagine that the budget information that the community had to get via their district officials was available online and could be accessed without going through the district officer. It was a good opportunity to think about the potential of open data and open government and how they can fit in with social accountability work.

The video highlights the very real dangers that can be present when working on transparency and accountability. Since in our case we are working with children and youth, we need to be especially aware of potential risks involved in transparency, accountability and good governance work, because this kind of work raises questions and aims to shift power and politics and resources. We need to be very sure that we are not somehow pushing our own agenda through children and youth, or handing them a hot potato that we don’t want to take on as adults or organizations, or even unintentionally putting them at risk because we haven’t fully thought through a project or initiative. We need to be sure that we are conducting thorough, participatory and shared risk assessments together with children and youth and establishing mechanisms and ways of mitigating risks, or making decisions on what to pursue and what to leave for others. Child protection, our own responsibilities as duty bearers, and the notion of ‘do no harm’ are massively important to bring in here.

We spent time talking about what we need to do as an institution to support good governance, and emphasized that openness and good governance is a key element of institutions, INGOs, local NGOs and CBOs who want to be credible in this space.  Organizations that are working with communities to push for local and/or national government transparency and accountability should expect that these same demands will be turned around to them, and the same questions asked of government and decision-makers will be asked of them. Taking those steps internally towards openness, accountability and good governance is critical. When working with youth associations and children’s groups, this is also a point for strengthening so that openness, transparency, accountability, positive leadership and other capacities, capabilities and skills are enhanced. If local associations replicate the bad governance practices that they are trying to change, then things are really not advancing much.

Successful governance work addresses multiple sides of the governance issue. Working only with citizens can create a demand that outstrips government interest, capacity or responsiveness and lead to apathy, frustration and/or conflict. So it’s really important to work with duty bearers and decision makers as well as with children and youth and their communities, and with other non-state adult actors, such as parents, teachers, community leaders and the media; to help create an environment for better governance. In addition, it’s important to understand the  incentives and disincentives that shape the behaviors of different service providers, for example teachers and health care workers.

As my colleague Wale Osofisan from our UK office pointed out today after I shared these videos on governance work: “It is not enough to get the students and communities to monitor absenteeism without really examining the root causes of the problem from the point of view of the teachers and doctors. For example, in the DRC health care workers at PHCs particularly in the rural areas don’t get their salaries paid on time – sometimes for 6 months. Hence, they are forced to abandon their official duty posts and find alternative ways of earning an income either working informally for a private clinic which pays them or they engage in other economic activities. Same goes for the teachers. Thus, civil society interventions also need to focus on the problems encountered in the supply side of the equation… This is quite a challenge because it would require tackling the perverse politics of service delivery in many developing countries and NGOs always find it very uncomfortable to engage in such terrain.”

Good governance work uses existing spaces for collaboration and dialogue among the various actors or creates new space if none exists. It builds skills and capacities in both citizens and government officials. Children and youth, for example, need to have capacities to work effectively together, organize, prioritize, influence, use media and new communication technologies, access information and interpret/analyze it, and to develop partnerships and networks. Decision-makers need to strengthen capacities to engage with children and young people, to hear, respond, follow up and provide feedback. Government institutions need to have the attitudes as well as the resources to be more responsive to citizens’ needs and rights. Government employees, as mentioned above, need to also have the space to share what makes it difficult for them to do their jobs.

We did some group work around the 3 key actors in our citizenship and governance work: the State, children and young people, and other non-state adult actors. I participated in the group that looked at the changes that would need to happen at the level of the State and was again reminded how this work requires so much more than accountability mechanisms, new ICT tools and data. We talked about what would motivate a State to have an open information policy. What is in it for elected officials? How can State actors be motivated to change their attitudes to one of more openness and accountability? Can citizens push the State to be more open? Is international donor or political pressure the only motivator that has been successful so far in most countries? If a State is not governing well, what are the common root causes? If openness is an attitude, what motivates a State and its different bodies to be open? External pressure and citizen demand are one thing, but what about addressing other factors that prohibit good governance?

Linking and promoting collaboration between and among children’s and youth groups was noted as another key piece of citizenship and governance work with young people. This can be supported at a face-to-face level but also needs to happen from the local to the global level, so that young people can connect and share common agendas and experiences both ‘horizontally and vertically.’ The web is a key tool here for taking local issues to the global level and back down again to community level. A question in my mind here was how INGOs can do a better job of linking youth and governance work that they are supporting at local levels with the external social and political environment so that they are not happening in parallel or in a vacuum. Another was whether we are thinking enough about broader social and political movements as related to major events or changes happening in a country or globally (eg, Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street, Rio+20) and our role and position and purpose there. And what about on-line organizing and activism and ‘direct democracy’ as more young people access on-line networks and activism happens in virtual spaces?

We discussed quite a lot about how supporting overall behavior changes and public opinion are critical to creating an environment that supports public accountability and openness and gets these on the agenda. It’s also important to change attitudes with relation to how children and young people are perceived so that adults and decision-makers will listen to them and take their opinions and claims into consideration. Programs that engage children and youth and showcase their capacities and abilities can help decision-makers and other non-state adults to see that the younger generation does have valid points, opinions and ideas for positive change.

And lastly, there is the importance of ensuring that staff are well versed in local political contexts and how government systems work. Without a strong and nuanced understanding of the local context, local power dynamics, local political and local cultural contexts, and how children and young people and other excluded groups are viewed, programs may be over ambitious, wrong-headed, create dangerous conflict, set back governance and accountability work, or put children and young people in harm’s way. The complexity of this kind of work combined with the complexity of the various settings mean that a clear theory of change is needed to guide efforts and expressly address the specific changes that are sought so that initiatives can be well-designed, implemented, monitored and evaluated, and so that there is a better chance of a good impact.

Related posts:

Young citizens: youth, and participatory governance in Africa

A practitioner’s discussion on social accountability and youth participatory governance

Governance is *so* not boring

Does ‘openness’ enhance development?

New technology and good governance

ICTs, social media, local government and youth-led social audits

Digital mapping and governance: the stories behind the maps

What would an International CSO Governance revolution look like?

Resources:

IIED’s Participatory Learning and Action Journal: Young Citizens: Youth and participatory governance in Africa

Plan UK’s Governance Learning Guide

Technology for Transparency network

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I’ve been told that mention of the term ‘governance’ makes people want to immediately roll over and fall asleep, and that I’m a big weirdo for being interested in it. But I promise you governance is *so* not boring! (I’m also fairly sure that whatever my teacher droned on about as I slept through my ‘Government’ class senior year of high school was not ‘governance’.)

If you get excited about the concepts of ‘open’ or ‘transparent’ or ‘accountable’ or ‘sustainable’ or ‘human rights’ or ‘politics’ then you need to also get pumped about ‘governance’ because it includes elements of all of the above.

I am just back from a week-long workshop where, based on our different practical and strategic and thematic experiences, internal and external evaluations and reviews of good practice, videos and documents from other organizations, input from children and youth in several countries (and with the support of a fantastic facilitator), several of us from different Plan offices worked to define the basic elements for a global program strategy on Youth, Citizenship and Governance (to be completed over the next several months).

At the workshop, we got a copy of A Governance Learning Guide, which I’m finding very useful and am summarizing below.

Why is governance important?

Our focus is on children and youth, but many of the reasons that governance is important for them extend to governance overall.

From Plan UK’s Governance Learning Guide, chapter 1.

So what exactly do we mean by the term “governance”? 

In our case, we link governance work with our child-centered community approach (a rights-based approach) and in this particular strategy, we will be focusing on the processes by which the state exercises power, and the relationships between the state and citizens. We have separate yet related strands of work around child and youth participation in our internal governance structures (here’s one example), effectiveness of our institutional governance overall (see this discussion on International CSO governance, for example), and the participation of children and youth in high level decision-making fora.

Our concept of governance for the youth, citizenship and governance strategy is based on the following governance concepts*:

Accountability and responsiveness.  This includes formal government accountability as well as citizen-led accountability. Opportunities for children and youth to participate in formal accountability processes are often limited due to their age — they cannot participate in elections, for example. Citizen-led accountability can open new opportunities for children, youth and other more marginalized groups to hold those in power more accountable.

‘People no longer rely on governments alone to improve governance. All over the world we are seeing experiments in ‘participatory governance’. People and organisations are grasping the opportunities offered by decentralisation and other reform processes to demand more of a say in the public policy and budget processes that affect them. These ways of holding the state to account are often called ‘social accountability’. Examples include participatory budgeting, monitoring electoral processes, using online and mobile technology, and citizen evaluation of public services. These forms of citizen engagement and social accountability are particularly promising for young people, who often face challenges in getting their voices heard in formal policy and governance processes.’ (from the call for submissions for the Participatory Learning and Action Journal (PLA) special issue on Young Citizens: youth and participatory governance in Africa, published in December, 2011)

Accountability is also linked with openness and sharing of information such as local government budgets and plans (this is also referred to as ‘transparency’). Responsiveness, in our case, refers to ‘the extent to which service providers and decision makers listen, meet and respond to the needs and concerns of young people.’ Responsiveness includes the willingness of those in power to engage seriously with young people and a government’s commitment to ‘be responsive’ to the issues raised by citizens, including children and young people. Responsiveness entails also the administrative and financial capacity to respond concretely to a population’s needs, rights and input.

Voice and participation.  This refers to the capacity of young people to speak, be heard and connect to others. Voice is one of the most important means for young people to participate. Within the concept of ‘voice’ we also consider voice strategies for raising and amplifying voices, capacity to use voice in a variety of ways to bring about change, space to exercise the raising of voices, and voice as a means to participate and exercise citizenship rights. (We consider that every child has citizenship rights, not only those who hold citizenship in a particular country). It’s also important to qualify the use of the term participation. In the case of young people’s participation in governance, we are not referring to the participatory methods that we commonly use in program planning or evaluation (we are also not discounting these at all – these are critical for good development processes!). In governance work, we are rather taking it further to refer to the meaningful inclusion of children and young people in decision-making processes.  

Power and politics. These are key in governance work. It is essential to be aware of and understand politics and power dynamics so that children and young people (and other oft-excluded groups) are not overlooked, manipulated, intimidated or disempowered.

Image captured from Plan UK’s Governance Learning Guide, chapter 2 page 14.

A key question here is what children and young people are participating in, and what for. Another important question is where are children and young people participating? Is it in special events or spaces designated just for them or are they participating in adult spaces? How does the place and space where children and young people are participating impact on their ability to influence decisions?

It’s important to note the 4 types of power that are typically considered in power analyses (from VeneKlasen, 2007): power over (domination or control), power within (self-worth), power to (individual ability to act, agency) and power with (collective action, working together). These need to be analyzed and understood, including their social, cultural and historical factors that create and sustain different power dynamics in different situations and spaces.

Capacity. We refer here to the capacity of both decision-makers and young people. Decision makers need to have the ability to perform their duties and ensure services are delivered. This, in our case, includes the abilities of decision makers to interact, engage and listen to children and young people and to take them seriously and to be responsive (see above) to their views, needs and rights. Young people also need to have the capacity to hold decision makers to account and to express their concerns and their views, including the views of other children and young people who may be excluded and marginalized from the decision making process or from participating fully. Information literacy and the capacity to access, interpret and analyze information is a critical skill for children and young people.

Interactions between children and young people and decision makers. These spaces encompass critical aspects of participation, power and politics. An example of a space for interaction would be where children and young people, local government and school leaders come together to discuss budget plans and available resources for school infrastructure. These spaces are shaped by a number of factors, including social, economic, cultural ones. They are also not free of personal agendas, desires, intentions and prejudices. It’s critical to remember this in governance work — ‘tools’ and ‘mechanisms’ are not enough. (ICT4Governance and Tech for Transparency friends, I’m looking at you! Though I think most of us see this point as ‘beating a dead horse’ by now.)

From Chapter 2 of the Governance Learning Guide by Plan UK

*Summarized from Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 of Plan UK’s extremely useful and easily downloadable A Governance Learning Guide. The guide also has a number of practical use cases on different governance initiatives as well as an extensive section on additional resources.

Here’s a follow-up post (since governance is so clearly *not* boring and I’m sure there is high demand for more!) called 15 thoughts on good governance programming with youth.


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This is a guest post from David Schaub-Jones who works with SeeSaw, a social venture that focuses on how technology can strengthen sanitation and water providers in developing countries. “SeeSaw starts from the point that technology is no silver bullet, but when applied right, it can harness and strengthen the ‘business models’ of those that provide services. SeeSaw helps to focus on the sorts of institutional partnerships and relationships needed to support progress at scale. So SeeSaw is about empowering sanitation and water providers.” (Follow @ontheseesaw)

One of the early trends of this decade is how ICT (Information and Communications Technology) tools are changing the way that service delivery works – with radical improvements being hoped for in the way that health, education and other sectors function, particularly in developing countries.

The water sector has not been as quick as some others to take up these new tools, but as the field matures somewhat, interest is growing. The of cellphones to read meters, pay bills, report faults is of great interest to water utilities specifically – whilst regulators, governments, donors and NGOs are all interested in how it can help them better understand what is happening on the ground, react to changing situations and plan and invest better.

To look into this area SeeSaw, a social enterprise that customises technology to support sanitation and water providers has partnered with iComms, a University of Cape Town research unit (Information for Community Oriented Municipal Services).

Today marks the second day of the two-day workshop “But Does it Float?” where practitioners have been both enthusiastic and cautious. While the potential for ICTs in the water sector is fairly clear, it is also clear that there are hurdles to be jumped. Partly this is because getting water and sanitation up and running in poor communities is a very difficult challenge – and is not so much a technological challenge as it is an institutional challenge. It is the messy politics, the lack of voice and visibility, issues around land tenure and poverty, that make it ‘hard to do’, not the technology per se.

Yet practitioners also believe that new technology offers them a way to change some of these relationships for the better, particularly where systems are planned to take account of the different incentives and barriers that key stakeholders face in adopting them.

As Professor Rivett put it to a journalist covering the event, “We wanted to have a very real discussion about the possibilities – but also the challenges – in this area… Many people think using information technologies offers an easy – often even glamorous – solution to research problems. The reality, of course, is sometimes quite different. There are challenges to using mobile technology in everything from reception coverage and system failure to education barriers and municipal capacity to act on the information we gather. This workshop lets us share those challenges honestly and, hopefully, begin to find their solutions.”

In our work at SeeSaw, we’ve noted that one of the key opportunities is that in talking openly about how we can use cellphones to improve services, we are able to also discuss some of the visible and not-so-visible challenges that are currently blocking service delivery. Bringing cellphones into the equation – discussing how they enable us to build confidence, share information, reduce costs – means that we need to focus on practical improvements that can be rolled out widely and, importantly, sustained over time. So even if no cellphone-based system is eventually adopted, we still get valuable insights into what needs to be done.

Members of the media, academic community and public will join the practitioners today for the second day of discussions.

Stay tuned over the next couple of weeks for another post where SeeSaw and iComms share the background paper and post-workshop summary. You will also be able to find links and video in the coming days on SeeSaw’s blog.

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A version of this post originally appears on the World Bank’s Connect4Climate site.

Twenty years ago, at the Rio Earth Summit, 178 governments committed to a series of legally non-binding principles designed to commit governments to balance development and environment in a way that would bring a more sustainable future. Principle 10, the first international declaration that recognizes the rights of people to hold governments accountable for their policies regarding the environment, was one key result of the summit. It provides a means for people to engage in the decisions made by political leaders and government agencies about environmental issues that affect livelihoods and long-term wellbeing.

“Environmental issues are best handled with participation of all concerned citizens, at the relevant level. At the national level, each individual shall have appropriate access to information concerning the environment that is held by public authorities, including information on hazardous materials and activities in their communities, and the opportunity to participate in decision-making processes. States shall facilitate and encourage public awareness and participation by making information widely available. Effective access to judicial and administrative proceedings, including redress and remedy, shall be provided.” – Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration

Video by Article 19

Zero Draft 2012: participation, transparency, accountability and aid effectiveness

Since 2011, key stakeholders have been submitting ideas for the Zero Draft of the Rio+20 outcome document, to be discussed at the Rio+20 Conference in June 2012.

Like Principle 10, the Zero Draft recognizes the need for broad public participation in decision-making, linked to a strengthened right to access information and to better civil society capacity to exercise that right. It notes that technology can make it easier for governments “to share information with the public and for the public to hold decision makers accountable” and that it is critical to work towards universal access to information and communications technologies. (Clauses 17 and 18). A recent analysis showed that participation, accountability, transparency, Principle 10/access to information and social inclusion/ equity are among the terms that share an ‘excellent’ level of interest among governments, UN agencies, civil society groups and other stakeholders.

Along with public participation, the Zero Draft also calls for “increased aid effectiveness, taking into account the Paris Declaration, the Accra Action Agenda and the Busan Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation in ensuring that aid is effective, accountable and responsive to the needs and priorities of developing countries.” Greater coherence at international and national levels is urged, including “effective oversight of resources to ensure that developing countries have steady and predictable access to adequate financing, including by the private sector, to promote sustainable development.’

A role for Communications and ICT tools

ICTs can play a role in supporting Principle 10 and Zero Draft, and pushing for appropriate mechanisms for response and redress.

Mass media campaigns and communication for development (C4D) approaches have long been used to disseminate information and encourage environmental awareness and behavior change. New media has improved access to information and allows multi-channel communication rather than one-way broadcasts. Greater access to mobile phones and to new media channels mean that a broader population than ever before can be engaged in and/or participate proactively in defining and acting on Rio+20 and its outcomes.

In addition to information sharing and behavior change, ICTs have the potential to play a strong role in helping civil society organize and push for greater transparency, openness and accountability around Rio+20. As Chantal Line Carpintier suggests, “Rio+20 should also agree on an effective accountability process for all actors  – governments, business and industry, local authorities, NGOs and other major groups and stakeholders.  Accountability and ownership by all actors would favour implementation. There is growing support, for instance, for public reporting on sustainability performance.  A registry of commitments is one of the tools that have been suggested to follow up on commitments made at Rio+20 to avoid previous lack of implementation.”

An effort similar to the open government partnership and the International Aid Transparency Initiative or the integration of sustainable development goals and Rio+20 commitments into these two efforts could be something to consider, along with a mandate for corporations to also open their activities to public scrutiny.

On-line organizing combined with both online and offline actions (in places that have ready access to social media) can help the world prepare for Rio and to push for its outcomes to be implemented.

Access, capacity and the communication cycle

Despite the great potential for ICTs in communication, change and accountability efforts, however; lack of access to ICTs and potentially low capacity to interpret data that might be presented on-line in such a registry is of concern in less accessible rural communities and among some marginalized groups.

Education levels, literacy, and other excluding factors such as poverty and gender discrimination can severely limit ICT and social media access for a large number of people.  In addition, information produced in dominant cultures or languages can exclude or override those with less power. As Angelica Ospina notes in her post Knowledge Brokers, ICTs, and Climate Change: Hybrid Approaches to Reach the Vulnerable, “There are many misconceptions about what ‘reaching out’ implies, as in practice it requires much more than making climate change information and knowledge publicly available through Internet-based tools such as Web portals and online databases.”

Therefore, there needs to be, “a more holistic understanding of the information cycle, including the creation, acquisition, assimilation, management, dissemination and ultimately the USE of climate change information, particularly within vulnerable contexts. Beyond the provision of climate change information, it’s necessary to consider if/how the information is being integrated -or not- into decision-making processes at the local, regional or national levels,” she says.

The Children in a Changing Climate project uses a variety of participatory development and media tools for children and adolescents to explore and document climate change in their communities, and to share their findings and suggestions to adults and other decision makers.

From information and knowledge to practice

There is also a need “to identify, adapt and adopt innovative approaches for the effective delivery and the local appropriation of climate change messages, and most importantly, for the translation of information and knowledge -both new and traditional- into climate change practice.” This will require strong efforts as well as resources to create an inclusive environment that fosters greater participation, as mandated by Principle 10, and local ownership of sustainable practices.

“Working with knowledge brokers, also called “human infomediaries” who can help bring people together, identify local needs and transfer information and knowledge more effectively is one such approach to improve information and communication flows,” Ospina advises. “Human infomediaries support an active process that involves exchanges between people, facilitating the development of climate change strategies, adoption of adaptation and mitigation practices, and processes of local change and innovation.”

(More here on ICTs and the role of knowledge brokers).

Building on Ospina’s observations on how to bring information to the “last mile,” meaningful ways to bring community knowledge and information into higher level discussions need to be found. Local communities have vast knowledge on resilience, climate patterns, local environments and local situations and histories that can be documented and shared using ICTs both to benefit themselves and to share at broader levels, improving South-South cooperation and innovation. Multi-media curricula such as the Children in a Changing Climate website bring together young people’s voices and opinions around climate change and environment.

Post Rio+20, digital tools are one of many information and communication mechanisms that local communities and their citizens can use to confirm, validate, contest and dispute information related to compliance with commitments being put forward by those responsible for upholding them. Participatory media approaches can be effective in bringing community members as well as duty bearers at local, district, national and global levels into discussions about climate change and sustainable development.

Why are you killing me? Girls in Kenya use poetry to engage adults in discussion on climate change.

Summing up

In summary, ICTs can play a strong role in education, participation and accountability processes if their integration is well thought through, appropriate to the context, and taking into consideration good participatory practices. Hybrid approaches that use a variety of online and offline tools can be effective for reaching populations and decisions-makers at different levels of responsibility, for ensuring that ICTs are not widening existing information and participation gaps and for upholding the goals set forth in Principle 10. Children and youth can and should play an instrumental role in bringing about awareness and accountability, especially since they will be the ones who reap the long-term results of the agreements sown at Rio+20.

The Notes on ICTs, Climate Change and Development blog provides a wide range of research, commentary, and research on these areas.

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At the global level, a very small percentage of development funding goes to urban spaces, yet hard-hitting issues impact many of the urban poor: lack of tenure, lack of legality of land, informal settlements, lack of birth registration and civil registration in general, waste disposal, clean water, politicizing of local authorities and more. Can new technologies be a solution for some of these issues?

Tuesday’s Technology Salon NYC offered a space to discuss some of the key challenges and good practice related to working with children, youth, and urban communities and explored the potential role of ICTs in addressing issues related to urban poverty.

According to UNICEF, who co-organized and hosted the Salon at their offices, half of the world’s people – including over one billion children – live in cities and towns. By 2030, it is projected that the majority of the world’s children will grow up in urban areas, yet infrastructure and services are not keeping pace with this urban population growth. (See UNICEF’s 2012 State of the World’s Children or Plan’s 2010 Because I am a Girl Report: Digital and Urban Frontiers).

We welcomed 3 experienced and engaging discussants to the Salon, who commented on the intersection of children, youth, urban environments and new technologies:

  • Doris Gonzalez, Senior Program Manager Corporate Citizenship & Corporate Affairs at IBM Corporation who manages IBM’s grade 9-14 education model Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH), a program that maps work-based skills to the curriculum and provides mentors to students and teachers
  • Ron Shiffman, a city planner with close to 50 years of experience providing architectural, planning, community economic development, and sustainable and organizational development assistance to community-based groups in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods; and the co-founder of the Pratt Institute Center for Community and Environmental Development [PICCED]
  • Sheridan Bartlett, a researcher affiliated with the Children’s Environments Research Group at CUNY and the International Institute for Environment and Development in London, co-editor of the journal Environment and Urbanization, supporter of Slum Dwellers International, and researcher on the link between violence and living conditions as they affect young children.

Doris shared IBM’s experiences with technology education programs with children and youth in New York City, including the highly successful P-TECH program which prepares youth for jobs that require 21st century skills. Some of the key aims in the PTECH program are making technology accessible, engaging, relevant to children and youth, and connecting what kids are learning to the real world. Through the program, IBM and partners hope to turn out skilled employees who are on entry-level career tracks. They look at what jobs are hiring with AAS degrees, what skills are attached and how to map those skills back into curriculum. Helping children and youth acquire collaboration, communication, and problem solving skills is key to the approach, as are broad partnerships with various stakeholders including government, private sector, communities and youth themselves. The program has been lauded by President Obama and is in the process of being replicated in Chicago.

Ron highlighted that working on urban poverty is not new. His involvement began in 1963 when John F. Kennedy was elected and there was a thrust to address urban poverty. Many, including Ron, began to think about their role in abolishing (not just alleviating or reducing) poverty. ‘We thought as architects, as planners about how we could address the issues of urban poverty.’ Broader urban poverty initiatives grew from work done forming the first youth in action community based organizations (CBOs) in Bedford Sty, Harlem and the Lower East Side. Originally these programs were empowerment programs, not service delivery programs; however because they confronted power, they faced many challenges and eventually morphed into service delivery programs. Since then, this youth in action community based model has served other community based initiatives all over the world. Ron emphasized the importance of differentiating among the roles of CBOs, technical assistance providers, and intermediaries and the need to learn to better to support CBOs who are on the ground rather than supplanting their roles with NGOs and other intermediaries.

Sherry picked up where Ron left off, noting that she’d collaborated with a network of federations of the urban poor in 33 countries, looking at ways they’ve used technologies and how technology presents new challenges for communities.

A large percentage of the urban poor live illegally in non-formal settlements where they can’t vote and don’t have legal representation, she said. They want partnership with the local government and to make themselves visible. The first thing they do is to count themselves, document the land they live on, map every lane and garbage dump, every school (if schools exist), their incomes, livelihoods, and expenditures. This body of information can help them engage with local authorities. It’s an organizing tool that gives them a collective identity that can lead to a collective voice.

This process seems to be a natural fit for technology, in that it can allow for management and storing of information, she said. However, technology use can be incredibly complicated. Traditionally the process has been managed manually. The information comes in on paper, it is fed immediately back to community members, contested and corrected right there. The process is very participatory and very accurate, and includes everybody. Things that have been mapped or measured are validated. Boundaries are argued and joint agreement about the community reality and the priorities is reached right there.

Sherry noted that when technology is used to do this, participation becomes more restricted to a smaller, more technically savvy group rather than the entire community. It takes longer to get the information back to the community. Many urban poor are technology literate, but there are complexities. Sometimes youth want to go with technology and older leaders are more comfortable with the more manual, inclusive processes.

The complexity of urban environments was addressed by all three discussants. According to Sherry, many people still hold a development image of the ‘perfect village,’ contained, people sitting around a tree. But urban communities are very complex: Who owns what? There are landlords. Who represents whom? How do you create the space and the links with local authorities? Ron agreed, saying that cities and settlements  tend to be far more pluralistic. Understanding the nature and differences among them, how to weave together and work together is critical. Doris noted that one organization cannot work on this alone, but that multiple partners need to be involved.

Participants at the Technology Salon. (Photo: UNICEF)

Key points brought up during the ensuing discussion included:

Process, product and participation:

  • It’s important to work directly with community based organizations rather than surrogates (in the form of external NGOs). It’s critical to work on building the capacity of people and organizations on the ground, recognizing them as the core actors.
  • The process by which people engage is just as important as the end product. If new technologies are involved, participation needs special attention to ensure no one is being marginalized and the data is interpreted by local people, and they play a role in gathering it and learning, sharing and discussing during the process.
  • Digital data collection and fly-over mapping should not replace participatory processes of data collection and local interpretation. Bringing in more efficient processes via new technologies is possible, but it often means losing some of the richness and interpretation of the data. If you’re not including everyone in this process, you risk marginalizing people from the process.
  • Every community, village or barrio has a different personality. No one size approach or model or technology fits all.
  • It’s important to let people create solutions to their own challenges; set the right policies so that what is produced can be scaled (open/open source); and make sure things are hyper-local – yet help move the ideas and build networks of south-south collaboration so that people can connect.
  • The technologies only make sense when they are done within a participatory framework or context. People get excited about technology and the idea of really iterating and trying things out very quickly. But this only makes sense if you have a bigger plan. If you go in and start playing around, without context and a long-term plan, you lose the community’s trust. You can’t drop in tech without context, but you also can’t come and create such a huge infrastructure that it’s impossible to implement. You need balance.
Children and youth:
  • We shouldn’t forget protection and privacy issues, especially with children and with mapping. These need to be carefully built in and we need to be sure that information and maps are not misused by authorities.
  • We can’t forget the young people and adolescents that we are working with – what do we want them to gain out of this? Critical thinking, problem solving skills? This is what will serve them. Educational systems need to address the pedagogy – if children are even in schools – where do you get that critical thinking? How do you create space for innovation? What is the role of tech in helping support this innovation? What is the role of mapping? Just accounting? Just quantifying? Or are you helping youth know their communities better? Helping them understand safety? What are we mapping for? Community self-knowledge or outside advocacy?
Technology:
  • We need to always ask: Who owns and manages technology? Technology is never neutral. It can both empower and disempower people and communities, and certain groups of people within communities.
  • The technology is a tool. It’s not the technology that teaches, for example, it is teachers who teach. They use the tech to supplement what’s going on in the classroom.
  • Rather than bring in ‘really cool’ things from the outside, we should know what tech already exists, what children, youth and communities are already using and build on that.
  • The challenge always comes down to the cost. Even if an idea works in the US, will it work in other places? Can other places afford the technology that we are talking about? There are some very good projects, but they are impossible to replicate. We need to find feasible and sustainable ways that technology can help reduce costs while it improves the situation for the urban poor.
Engaging local and national governments and the private sector
  • Bottom up is important, but it is not enough. The role of local authorities is critical in these processes but national authorities tend to cut local budgets meaning local authorities cannot respond to local needs. It’s important to work at every level – national policies should enable local authorities and mandate local authorities to work with local communities.
  • Local authorities often need to be pushed to accept some of these new ideas and pulled forward. Often communities can be more technologically savvy than local authorities, which can turn the power dynamic upside down and be seen as threatening, or in some cases as an opportunity for engagement.
  • Communities may need to learn to engage with local governments. Adversarial or advocacy techniques may be useful sometimes but they are not always the right way to go about engaging with the authorities.
  • It’s useful for CBOs to work with both horizontal and vertical networks, and NGOs can play a role in helping this to happen, as long as the NGOs are not replacing or supplanting the CBOs.
  • There needs to be support from the local city government, and an interest, a need, an expressed dedication to wanting to be involved or these kinds of initiatives will fail or fizzle out.
  • There is a tendency to seek quick solutions, quick fixes, when we all know that creating change takes a long time and requires a long-term perspective and investment. The city of Medellin for example has done a good job of investing in connecting settlements to the city through infrastructure and access to technology. Long-term vision with participation from private, public and  community engagement is critical.
  • The quality of investment in poor areas needs to be as high as that in wealthier areas. Many interventions are low quality or limited when they are done in poor areas.
  • Multiple partners and collaboration among them is necessary for these initiatives to move forward and to be successful. You need to bring everyone to the table and to have an existing funding structure and commitment from local and national governments and ministries, as well as local communities and CBOs, NGOs and the private sector.
  • A role for the UN and INGOs can be to help ensure that the right channels are being opened for these projects, that the right partnerships are established, that systems and technologies are kept open and not locked into particular proprietary solutions.
Learning/sharing challenges, approaches and good practice:
  • There is much to learn from how marginalized youth in communities have been engaged without technologies. Once they have the information, no matter how it was gathered — in the sand, by SMS, on the wall — then how can marginalized young people access and address local authorities with it? How can we help enable them to feel more empowered? What can we learn from past efforts that we can apply?
  • There is a lack of exposure of those working in ICT to the urban space and vice versa. This reflects a need to break down the issues and opportunities and to think more deeply about the potential of technology as a part of the solution to urban poverty issues.
  • We need to make a distinction between wonderful projects that some are doing, but that are very costly and have a high cost per participant; and programs that can be done in developing countries. Consider that 75 million youth are now unemployed. The more we learn about what others are doing, the more information we have on how to do it, the better.
  • ICTs are a relatively new element in the urban space. It would be helpful to have a a follow-up report that focuses on how ICTs have been used to address specific issues with children, youth and communities in urban spaces and what specific challenges are posed when using ICTs in this space. What projects have been done or could be done? What are the challenges in implementing projects with refugee populations, undocumented populations, migrants, and other groups? We need to understand this better. We need a document or guide that explores these issues and suggests practical ways to move forward.
  • Social media and new technologies can be used to spread information on successful case studies, to share our learning and challenges and good practice so that we can apply the best approaches.
A huge thanks to ICT Works, UNICEF, our discussants and participants for making this 2nd Technology Salon NYC a success!

Save the date for our 3rd TSNYC, on April 13, 2-4pm at New York Law School. The topic will be the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI); how it can contribute to  better aid coordination and effectiveness; challenges and opportunities for CSOs in signing onto IATI; and ways that technology and open data are supporting the process. 

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I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the sustainability of ICT4D initiatives over the past couple months in preparation for a panel I participated in yesterday at ICTD 2012 and due to a good discussion on the topic while at a workshop in Cairo hosted by NetHope and Plan International in late February.

At the Cairo workshop a group of INGOs, ICT corporations and a representative from the Ministry of Education’s ICT section discussed replicability, scale and sustainability in ICT and Education programs at length. At yesterday’s panel, we tackled the more specific topic of financial sustainability with folks from NGOs, contractors, corporations, ICT associations and researchers.

The themes and challenges that came up in both of these discussions were similar, whether looking at more ICT-driven projects (eg., providing computer equipment) or smaller social enterprises or very large government or aid-funded programs that seek to integrate ICTs into other areas like health, education, agriculture, or economic empowerment.

Sustainability is a real challenge for all these kinds of programs. Individuals and organizations are trying to build in sustainability in various ways, from supplementing ICT platforms with advertising to charging end users small fees to seeking funds from corporations and institutional donors to conceiving of ICT initiatives as small enterprises.

Some key points I presented yesterday combined with some points brought up in our discussion group include that:

Financial sustainability should stem from the identification of a real need

The need should be identified by the community. The initiative should be owned by the community and co-created with end users, not designed and parachuted in from the outside. When the benefits of a program (ICT related or not) are not tangible, it may be necessary to do some buy-in work and awareness raising with people to help make the benefits of an initiative more clear to the broader population. It’s important to do a baseline and some monitoring and evaluation to know whether or not the initiative is indeed having an impact. If you have to pay people to participate, you’ve got issues.

Where the market doesn’t work…

The market by nature excludes large swaths of people. At the same time, giving away free stuff usually hurts development efforts because people often do not value that which is ‘free’. (On the other hand, if people are not willing to pay for something, some would say you haven’t identified a real need). Even ‘poor’ people do have some resources, so their contributions to this or that project need to be carefully analyzed and weighed as part of the process.

There are differing opinions around the privatization of services like water, education and healthcare and whether people should be paying for these or whether they are rights that governments need to be held responsible for as duty bearers. Some kind of balance needs to be found here.

Financial sustainability cannot be divorced from other aspects of sustainability, such as

  • political – consider election cycles and government budget cycles and support
  • legal –work within local legal frameworks or the project may fail once it gets going
  • managerial – have the right people managing a program, especially if it’s meant to grow and scale.
  • social sustainability – as mentioned above, ensure local community ownership, interest, buy-in
  • transparency, accountability, good governance are key in all the above

Financial (and other kinds of) sustainability requires creativity and a good understanding of:

  • client (end user)
  • context
  • capacity
  • culture
  • connectivity
  • cost

ICT solutions that save people money and time can be sustainable from within. If the problem can be resolved in a cheaper, simpler way without them, then don’t suggest using ICTs. Start small with scale and sustainability in mind from the very start.

Local, local, local and local… and more local…

For both financial and technological sustainability, it’s important that the technology tools and devices as well as the technical support is local. Local partners should be involved in implementation. Research on impact should also not be exclusively done by those from the outside, but rather should involve local researchers. Local feedback loops can assist with more real-time understanding of how the initiative is faring.

Tension between public, private and non-profit institutions is common

Telecoms and IT companies are looking out for their bottom line. Development agencies and civil society organizations by nature are supposed to be looking out for the most marginalized and excluded. NGOs and civil society will likely resist privatization of areas like education and health. Governments will have their own agendas and self-interests. NGOs will have their own funding interests as well. There are vastly different approaches, paces, deliverables, timelines and methodologies among these three types of institutions who are all involved in the ICT4D space. Trying to harmonize these interests alongside what communities want can be a huge management challenge and can have a strong impact on sustainability concepts and approaches.

In aid-funded and government projects

Often the sustainability plan for projects by INGOs or local NGOs is “the government will assume responsibility” or “the community will assume the costs and management.” This can be a big issue if not properly planned from the start. If every development program plans for the government to take on the costs for the program, but this has not been discussed fully, agreed on or budgeted by the government, there will be real issues with sustainability as there won’t be enough budget to cover the continuation of all these projects and programs. There is a role for greater aid coordination here, for example via the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) and for open publication of government budgets and spending plans. Localization of costs is important. If an INGO is paying high salaries during the initial funding stage and then wishes the government to take on the program costs, the project may collapse.

A few models to look at:

Additional good resources on ICTs and sustainability:

Also check out last November’s huge debate on ICT4D vs ICT4$. It’s worth reading as it highlights elements of the sustainability discussion from a broader perspective and pulls in opinions from several well-known authorities on the topic.

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