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Posts Tagged ‘information’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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New technologies are changing the nature of monitoring and evaluation, as discussed in our previous Salon on the use of ICTs in M&E. However, the use of new technologies in M&E efforts can seem daunting or irrelevant to those working in low resource settings, especially if there is little experience or low existing capacity with these new tools and approaches.

What is the role of donors and other intermediaries in strengthening local capacity in communities and development partners to use new technologies to enhance monitoring and evaluation efforts?

On August 30, the Rockefeller Foundation and the Community Systems Foundation (CSF) joined up with the Technology Salon NYC to host the second in a series of 3 Salons on the use of ICTs in monitoring and evaluating development outcomes and to discuss just this question. Our lead discussants were: Revati Prasad from Internews, Tom O’Connell from UNICEF and Jake Watson from the International Rescue Committee. (Thanks Jake for stepping in at the last minute!)

We started off with the comment that “Many of us are faced with the “I” word – in other words, having to demonstrate impact on the ground. But how can we do that if we are 4 levels removed from where change is happening?” How can organizations and donors or those sitting in offices in Washington DC or New York City support grantees and local offices to feed back more quickly and more accurately? From this question, the conversation flowed into a number of directions and suggestions.

1) Determine what works locally

Donor shouldn’t be coming in to say “here’s what works.” Instead, they should be creating local environments for innovation. Rather than pushing things down to people, we need to start thinking from the eyes of the community and incorporate that into how we think and what we do. One participant confirmed that idea with a concrete example. “We went in with ideas – wouldn’t SMS be great… but it became clear that SMS was not the right tool, it was voice. So we worked to establish a hotline. This has connected [the population] with services, it also connects with a database that came from [their] own needs and it tracks what they want to track.” As discussed in the last Salon, however, incentive and motivation are critical. “Early on, even though indicators were set by the community, there was no direct incentive to report.” Once the mentioned call center connected the reporting to access to services, people were more motivated to report.

2) Produce local, not national-level information

If you want to leverage technology for local decision-making, you need local level information, not broad national level information. You also need to recognize that the data will be messy. As one participant said, we need to get away from the idea of imperfect data, and instead think: is the information good enough to enable us to reach that child who wasn’t reached before? We need to stop thinking of knowledge as discrete chunks that endure for 3-4 years. We are actually processing information all the time. We can help managers to think of information as something to filter and use constantly and we can help them with tools to filter information, create simpler dashboards, see bottlenecks, and combine different channels of information to make decisions.

3) Remember why you are using ICTs in M&E

We should be doing M&E in order to achieve better results and leveraging technologies to achieve better impact for communities. Often, however, we end up doing it for the donor. “Donors get really excited about this multicolored thing with 50,000 graphs, but the guy on the ground doesn’t use a bit of it. We need to let go.” commented one participant. “I don’t need to know what the district manager knows. I need to know that he or she has a system in place that works for him or her. My job is to support local staff to have that system working. We need to focus on helping people do their jobs.”

4) Excel might be your ‘killer app’

Worldwide, the range of capacities is huge. Sometimes ICT sounds very sexy, but the greatest success might be teaching people how to use Excel, how to use databases to track human rights violations and domestic violence or setting up a front-end and a data entry system in a local language.

5) Technology capacity doesn’t equal M&E capacity

One participant noted that her organization is working with a technology hub that has very good tech skills but lacks capacity in development and M&E. Their work over the past year has been less about using technology and more about working with the hub to develop these other capacities: how to conduct focus groups, surveys, network analysis, developing toolkits and guides. There’s often excitement on the ground – ‘We can get data in 48 hours! Wow! Let’s go!’ However creating good M&E surveys to be used via technology tools is difficult. One participant expressed that finding local expertise in this area is not easy, especially considering staff turnover. “We don’t always have M&E experts on the ground.” In addition, “there is an art to polls and survey trees, especially when trying to take them from English into other languages. How do you write a primer for staff to create meaningful questions.”

6) Find the best level for ICTs to support the process

ICTs are not always the best tool at the community or district level, given issues of access, literacy, capacity, connection, electricity, etc., but participants mentioned working in blended ways, eg., doing traditional data collection and using ICTs to analyze the data, compile it, produce localized reports, and working with the community to interpret the information for better decision-making. Others use hand-drawn maps, examine issues from the community angle and then incorporate that into digital literacy work and expression work, using new technology tools to tell and document the communities’ stories.

7) Discover the shadow systems and edge of network

One participant noted that people will comply and they will move data through the system as requested from on high, but they simultaneously develop their own ways of tracking information that are actually useful to them. By discovering these ‘shadow systems’, you can see what is really useful. This ‘edge of network’ is where people with whom headquarters doesn’t have contact live and work. We rely on much of their information to build M&E systems yet we don’t consult and work with them often enough. Understanding this ‘edge of network’ is critical to designing and developing good M&E systems and supporting local level M&E for better information and decision-making.

8 ) The devil is in the details

There are many M&E tools to choose from and each has its pros and cons. Participants mentioned KoBo, RapidSMSNokia Data GatheringFrontlineSMS and Episurveyor. While there is a benefit to getting more clean data and getting it in real-time, there will always be post-processing tasks. The data can, however, be thrown on a dashboard for better decision-making. Challenges exist, however. For example, in Haiti, as one participant commented, there is a 10% electrification rate, so solar is required. “It’s difficult to get a local number with Clickatell [an SMS gateway]; you can only get an international number. But getting a local number is very complicated. If you go that route, you need a project coordinator. And if you are using SMS, how do you top off the beneficiaries so that they can reply? The few pennies it costs for people to reply are a deterrent. Yet working with telecom providers is very time-consuming and expensive in any country. Training local staff is an issue – trying to train everyone on the ICT package that you are giving them. You can’t take anything for granted. People usually don’t have experience with these systems.” Literacy is another stumbling block, so some organizations are looking at Interactive Voice Response (IVR) and trying to build a way for it to be rapidly deployed.

9) Who is the M&E for?

Results are one thing, but as one participant noted, “part of results measuring means engaging communities in saying whether the results are good for them.” Another participant commented that Ushahidi maps are great and donors love them. But in CAR, for example, there is 1% internet penetration and maybe 9% of the people text. “If you are creating a crisis map about the incidence of violence, your humanitarian actors may access it, it may improve service delivery, but it is in no way useful for people on the ground. There is reliance on technology, but how to make it useful for local communities is still the big question…. It’s hard to talk about citizen engagement and citizen awareness if you are not reaching citizens because they don’t have access to technology.” And “what about the opportunity cost for the poor? ”asked one participant. “Time is restricted. CSOs push things down to the people least able to use the time for participation. There is a cost to participation, yet we assume participation is a global good. The poorest are really scraping for time and resources.  ‘Who is the data for?’ is still a huge question. Often it’s ‘here’s what we’re going to do for you’ rather than meeting with people first, asking what’s wrong, then listening and asking what they would like to do about it, and listening some more.”

10) Reaching the ‘unreachable’

Reaching and engaging the poorest is still difficult, and the truly unreached will require very different approaches. “We’re really very much spoke to hub,” said one participant, “This is not enough. How can we innovate and resolve this.” Another emphasized the need to find out who’s not part of the conversation, who is left out or not present when these community discussions take place. “You might find out that adolescent girls with mobility issues are not there. You can ask those with whom you are consulting if they know of someone who is not at the meeting. You need to figure out how to reach the invisible members of the community.”  However, as noted, “we also have to protect them. Sometimes identifying people can expose them. There is no clear answer.”

11) Innovation or building on what’s already there?

So will INGOs and donors continue to try to adapt old survey ideas to new technology tools? And will this approach survive much longer? “Aren’t we mostly looking for information that we can act on? Are we going to keep sending teams out all the time or will we begin to work with information we can access differently? Can we release ourselves from that dependence on survey teams?” Some felt that ‘data exhaust’ might be one way of getting information differently; for example a mode like Google Flu Trends. But others noted the difficulty of getting information from non-online populations, who are the majority. In addition, with these new ICT-based methods, there is still a question about representativeness and coverage. Integrated approaches where ICTs are married with traditional methods seem to be the key. This begs the question: “Is innovation really better than building up what’s already there?” as one participant commented. “We need to ask – does it add value? Is it better than what is already there? If it does add perceived value locally, then how do we ensure that it comes to some kind of result. We need to keep our eye on the results we want to achieve. We need to be more results-oriented and do reality checks. We need to constantly ask ourselves:  Are we listening to folks?”

In conclusion

There is much to think about in this emerging area of ICTs and Monitoring and Evaluation.  Join us for the third Salon in the series on October 17 where we’ll continue discussions. If you are not yet on the Technology Salon mailing list, you can sign up here. A summary of the first Salon in the series is here. (A summary of the October 17th Salon is here.)

Salons run by Chatham House Rule, thus no attribution has been made. 

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This is a first guest post by Jacqueline Deelstra, who is working for about 2 months to support Plan Benin to solidify their SMS Reporting and Tracking of Violence against Children (VAC) project.

The VAC Benin project started as a pilot in February 2010. Plan Benin welcomed Paul Goodman (see earlier posts) for the month of May to support refining and optimizing the actual SMS and mapping system, and Jacqui is now spending 10 weeks looking further at the non-technological aspects that underlie the initiative, including staff training, links with government duty bearers, and community input around the idea and practice of SMS-based reporting.

During the initial workshops with staff, government representatives and youth in February 2010, we identified the need to map out and better understand what information should be collected in order to 1) allow Plan staff and government to understand the nature of violence against children in Benin, respond to VAC reports, and to avoid creating parallel information systems and 2) the need to provide clear guidance and training to ensure consistent categorization of reported cases. Jacqui writes about this below. (More on the overall project and process via the links at the end of this post.)

In coming to Benin for two months as a consultant to work with Plan staff on a project using FrontlineSMS and Ushahidi to collect and map citizen reports of violence against children (explained previously in this blog) I knew part of my work would be training staff in the technology and answering their questions about how it works and what it’s good for.  In other words, that this work would fall under the often discussed buzz phrase “capacity building” for local staff. And certainly, many questions have come to me about aspects of the technology.

For example, how data from Ushahidi can be downloaded for analysis and to make graphs for reports and how staff without access to Ushahidi as administrators can use the public site to submit cases of violence that are reported to them in person as opposed to being submitted directly from the reporter to our Ushahidi platform via our SMS helpline.

During the recent trainings I carried out in Cotonou on Tuesday and Wednesday I was able to demonstrate to staff members the features of Ushahidi, but just as important was the chance to field a lot of interesting comments and questions. As this was the first time many staff members had seen the vacbenin.ushahidi.com site, it was a process of discovery. There was resulting curiosity about things I had just taken as given in the system.

Comments were made about how we are currently processing reports of violence received by SMS by classifying them into certain categories and specifically why we chose the categories we did for the type of violence and location. The categories we have are listed below.

Current categories on the Violence Against Children (VAC) Ushahidi site in Benin

From French to English they translate to:

Type of Violence– death, sexual violence, psychological violence, physical violence, negligence, exploitation and kidnapping

Location– At home, at school, at work, in the community and in institutions.

You will see next to categories right now there is the statement: “Select as many as needed.” Everyone knows it is difficult to classify many things into just one box. Thus, with cases of violence such a forced marriage it was initially decided that multiple boxes should be checked because it certainly entails sexual and physiological violence and potentially physical violence, and we wanted to cover all our bases.

However, comments from the standpoint of the country office staff pointed to a different conclusion: you have to categorize each report in just one category or else it will be difficult to do a good analysis of the data. They see instead that there is one category which the case belongs to above all, (for forced marriage this would be sexual violence) and that is how it should be categorized. As it was explained to me they look at the categories and say, “just because only one box is checked does not mean the case does not belong to other categories, and selecting one box ensures there is not double counting of cases in the analysis.”

Finally, in our discussion of the choice of locations when processing a report, questions come up about why “at work” was chosen, when other locations more specifically of interest to staff, such as the market, were not included. (Note: the original categories were taken from the UN Study on Violence Against Children, which provides the framework for the overall program.) Staff explained that markets are known to be dangerous places for children who work in them and thus they would like to see if reports come in specifically about that. They also discussed their feeling that “at home,” is too vague. Violence at home could be committed by parents against their own children. Or it may be violence committed against domestic workers or other children living in the household, which they have the impression happens frequently. But the category “at home” does not provide any insight into that question.

The clear value of this discussion of categories and what information would be of most use to the local staff points to another buzz phrase in development, “participatory methods for program design, monitoring an evaluation.” Without consulting various staff members and getting that local knowledge about what issues a project should be tracking and addressing, it is likely the project will not be as useful and impactful as it could be. Especially with a project like as this one that is gathering data for the sake of advocacy, awareness raising and informing future programming, the way data is collected and classified has to fit the local needs and context.

Thus in my trainings this week it was certainly not only the Cotonou-based staff that learned something. I learned more about what types of violence are of interest to staff and how we can make this project work better for them by better meeting their information needs.

Related posts:

Future proofing the VAC Benin project (by Paul Goodman)

Update from Benin: charting a course forward (by Paul Goodman)

Revisiting the SMS violence reporting project in Benin

Tracking violence against children in Benin video

Community-based child protection

Tweaking: SMS violence reporting system in Benin

Finding some ICT answers in Benin

7 (or more) questions to ask before adding ICTs

Fostering a New Political Consciousness on Violence against Children

Related links:

Text messages to help protect children against violence

Plan International case study: Helping children report abuse in Benin

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This is a guest post by Joe Pavey who, along with Rebecca Tapscott, is interning with us in Cameroon for the next couple months. Rebecca wrote a first post about the what and the why of setting up an Ushahidi system in Cameroon to track violence against children. Here Joe goes more into depth about the technical side of setting the actual system up.

Our first major discussion about the VAC Cameroon site was in regards to how reports should pass through the system. For obvious reasons the information contained within these reports is extremely sensitive, so each step of the workflow process needs to be determined with the best interests of the children involved in mind.

The existing offline system for reporting violence against children was agreed upon through an exhaustive deliberation process with government, community, and local council members. In short, a lot of hard work has gone into making the existing offline system something that all parties agree on and it would not only be negligent, but counterproductive not to use this as a blueprint. For this reason the online system we are working on should respect, support and ultimately serve to expedite the current process, not replace it.

Under this current system Plan serves in the capacity of witness in cases of child abuse. Plan Cameroon has partnered with several governmental agencies to investigate and respond to reports they receive. Which agency this is depends upon the circumstances of the abuse.  Age, gender, and location are all factors in determining which agency will be responsible. For example, abuses taking place in the home are currently handled by the Ministry of Social Affairs, but cases involving female children are handled by the Ministry of Child and Women’s Empowerment.

The current policy also requires that all reports of violence against children received by Plan staff be forwarded to the sector office within 48 hours.

Existing community-level reporting flow

Following this, the report has 24 hours to reach the country office in Yaounde. This one of the processes we are hoping to expedite with the implementation of the digitized system.

Existing flow of next-level reporting - at Program Unit and Plan Country Office

If this sounds complicated, that’s because it is. As outsiders who are new not only to the culture, but also to the peculiarities of local bureaucracy, much of Rebecca’s and my first session was taken up with trying to understand the rules and regulations already in place. Thankfully we have Cameroonian colleagues in the local office to help us navigate and understand all of this.

The Ushahidi System

Ushahidi allows three methods for submitting reports: (1) Text Message, via Frontline SMS or another text messaging tool, (2) Email, and (3) Submitting a report directly through the site. These actions can be taken by individuals in the community or by Plan Staff if they are alerted of a particular incident. A fourth means of submitting reports to Ushahidi, via voice messaging, was previously available through a plug-in called Cloudvox. Unfortunately the company that created the Cloudvox plug-in was recently acquired and has suspended this product for the immediate future, and we haven’t identified an alternative voice messaging system. This is unfortunate as we were hoping to be able to offer voice messaging as a reporting method for non-literate youth — although bandwidth limitations may have rendered this impossible anyway.

Information workflow for Plan Cameroon VAC Crowdmap site (updated; this is version 2.)

Based on the information that needs to be tracked and reported on, our current plan is to separate reports into four categories, each with several subcategories as follows:

  1. Form of Violence
  • Physical
  • Sexual
  • Emotional/Psychological
  • Negligence
  1. Gender of Victim
  • Male
  • Female
  1. Age of Victim
  • 0-5
  • 6-12
  • 13-18
  1. Location of Incident
  • Home
  • Work
  • School
  • Community

Current Crowd Map set up with 4 main categories.

Creating these reporting categories (and each of their subsequent subcategories) will allow this information to be tracked separately, or to be looked at in terms of how categories overlap with each other. Since the Ushahidi platform allows users to choose more than one category or sub-category when submitting an incident report, no data need be lost in the effort to isolate and contextualize information.

For example, by tracking Gender and Location of Incident separately we will be able to more easily visualize how many incidents of abuse are taking place at schools in a certain community, how many of the victims are girls versus boys, and how each of those categories relates to reports from other regions. This will be especially important information to the government who has different agencies in place for tracking violence against children and youth depending on the circumstances. It will also be useful for Plan staff who can then tailor programs and awareness campaigns in a specific community towards the issues that are most prevalent there.

Plan Cameroon staff, partners and youth have create a detailed online map of each council area in which this project will take place, however, mapping of reports will be restricted to a less precise level described to us as the ‘community level’. It’s hard for Rebecca and me to conceptualize just how specific of an indicator this is, though once we are living in the community – a transition taking place this week – it should become easier to measure. The reason for mapping the location of incidents at the community level is privacy. If reports were mapped too precisely they could compromise the identity and safety of a child — a result that would be entirely unacceptable.

On the Ushahidi ‘back end’, each report of an incident will also contain a Description section that will allow information outside categorical parameters to be included in reports. This could be the body of a text message, a summary of a voicemail, or any other details that are deemed to fall outside the determined privacy boundaries (eg., this will allow us to keep identifying information and other details in the system, yet keep it from going public).

Over the course of our week in Yaounde, we engaged in many discussions regarding how we could make the online information workflow match that of the offline system. The conclusion seemed to be that involving community members and Plan staff in initial approval of reports might be possible, but that expecting all six of the varying government agencies that currently respond to such reports to use this digital system would be problematic. At this point we are hoping that the official agreement can be reworked slightly so that only MINAS, the Ministry of Social Affairs would need to be involved in the system.

By week’s end we had drafted an initial proposal for what the workflow for the system could be. It is by no means final and will likely go through numerous revisions over the course of our work here, but it will provide us a good base to build from in the future.

Unfortunately our progress on setting up the site itself has been handicapped by technical issues with the Crowdmap website that cause the site to crash when trying to create subcategories. We have engaged with members of the Ushahidi staff and they are currently working to fix the bug, but we don’t have a timeline as to when they will have the issue resolved.

We have now left Yaounde for Bamessing where we will be initiating our field work on the YETAM project, working with youth on creating short films, performing more community mapping, and we hope that the mobile Internet connection will allow us to continue to work remotely on the Crowdmap site.

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Plan just released a new report called ICT Enabled Development: Using ICT strategically to support Plan’s work. The report is part of an on-going process by Plan Finland (kudos to Mika Valitalo for leading the process) in collaboration with Plan USA to support Plan’s country offices in Africa to use ICTs strategically and effectively in their development work. It was written by Hannah Beardon and builds on the Mobiles for Development Guide that Plan Finland produced (also written by Hannah) in 2009.

The idea for the report came out of our work with staff and communities, and the sense that we needed to better understand and document the ICT4D context in the different countries where we are working. Country offices wanted to strengthen their capacities to strategically incorporate ICTs into their work and to ensure that any fund-raising efforts for ICTs were stemming from real needs and interest from the ground. Plan offices were also in the process of updating their long-term strategic plans and wanted to think through how and where they could incorporate ICTs in their work internally and with communities.

The process for creating the report included 2-day workshops with staff in 5 countries, using a methodology that Mika, Hannah and I put together. We created a set of ICT training materials and discussion questions and used a ‘distance-learning’ process, working with a point person in each office who planned and carried out the workshop. Mika and I supported via Skype and email.

Hannah researched existing reports and initiatives by participating offices to find evidence and examples of ICT use. She also held phone or skype conversations with key staff at the country and regional levels around their ICT use, needs and challenges, and pulled together information on the national ICT context for each country.

The first section of the report explains the concept of ‘ICT enabled development’ and why it is important for Plan and other development organizations to take on board. “With so many ICT tools and applications now available, the job of a development organization is no longer to compensate for lack of access but to find innovative and effective ways of putting the tools to development ends. This means not only developing separate projects to install ICTs in under-served communities, but looking at key development challenges and needs with an ICT eye, asking ‘how could ICTs help to overcome this problem’?

Drawing on the research, conversations, workshop input and feedback from staff, and documented experience using ICTs in Plan’s work, Hannah created a checklist with 10 key areas to think about when planning ICT-enabled development efforts.

  1. Context Analysis: what is happening with ICT (for development) in the country or region?
  2. Defining the need: what problems can ICT help overcome? what opportunities can it create?
  3. Choosing a strategy: what kind of ICT4D is needed? direct? internal? strategic?
  4. Undertaking a participatory communications assessment: who will benefit from this use of ICT and how?
  5. Choosing the technology: what ICTs/applications are available to meet this need or goal?
  6. Adjusting the content: can people understand and use the information provided for and by the ICTs?
  7. Building and using capacity: what kind of support will people need to use and benefit from the ICT, and to innovate around it?
  8. Monitoring progress: how do you know if the ICT is helping meet the development goal or need?
  9. Keeping it going: how can you manage risks and keep up with changes?
  10. Learning from each other: what has been done before, and what have you learned that others could use?

The checklist helps to ensure that ICT use is linked to real development needs and priorities and appropriate for those who are participating in an initiative or a project. The report elaborates on the 10 key areas with detailed observations, learning and examples to illustrate them and to help orient others who are working on similar initiatives. It places the checklist into a 4-stage process for ICT integration.

  1. Understanding the context for ICT work: includes external context and internal experience and capacity
  2. Finding a match between priorities and possibilities: rooting the system in local needs and priorities and finding good uses for tools and applications
  3. Planning and implementing concrete initiatives: carrying out participatory assessments, linking to other development processes and addressing technical issues and concerns
  4. Building a culture of systematic, sustained and strategic use of ICTs: linking ICTs with program work, transforming the role of ‘the ICT guy’, and building expertise on the cultural and social aspects of ICT use

Additional material and case studies, ICT country briefings, and an overview of Plan’s current work with ICT4D in Africa are offered at the end of the report.

The report includes input from Plan staff in Ghana, Mali, Mozambique, Senegal and Uganda who participated in the ICT4D workshops. It also draws heavily on some of the work that Mika has been doing in Finland and Kenya, and work that I’ve been involved in and have written about in Mali, Cameroon, Mozambique, Ghana, Benin and Kenya involving staff, community members and community youth. You can contact Mika to get the workshop methodology in French or English or to comment on the report (ict4d [at] plan [dot] fi).

There’s so much rich material in the report that I almost want to summarize the whole thing here on my blog, section by section, so that people will take the time to read it…  I think this is a really important and useful piece of work and we’re very excited that it’s now available! Download it here.

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Meeting in the middle

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I’ll be speaking on a panel called ICT4D, Innovations and the MDGs next week during UN Week in New York and another on Girls and Mobiles hosted by Mobile Active. So, I’ve been putting together my thoughts around girls, child rights, ICTs and the MDGs.  The angle I’m taking is not from the large donor, top down, huge institutional program side, but instead, looking at examples from the work I’ve been closest to over the past few years at the community and district level, mostly focused on child and youth participation in the development process. Check my MDGs through a child rights lens post for more background.

My last post (3 ways to integrate ICTs into your development organization) uses Hannah Beardon’s framework to discuss how organizations can integrate ICTs into their work. Hannah suggests that ICTs can be integrated directly(providing access to ICTs), strategically (using ICTs as tools to support development processes) and indirectly (using ICTs to improve efficiency and communication within the organization).

To complete that post, I’m listing below 5 ways that ICTs can facilitate accountability and transparency, citizen engagement, and public debate, all of which are necessary to bring about development improvements and achieve the MDGs. Obviously these are not the only ways ICTs can support the MDGs, but this post would have been miles long if I’d listed all the initiatives that are out there.

1) Engaging children and youth in the development process

An engaged and active population is a key ingredient for good development programs. Children and youth have much to offer, are directly targeted in the MDGs and many other development initiatives, offer valuable ideas and energy, and make up around half the population in many of the countries that are lagging in reaching the MDGs. ICTs can help children and youth engage in the development process and bring their ideas, opinions and voices alive at the community, district, national and global level. ‘Using new technology, new media, children and youth can claim a space that they didn’t have before. They can influence certain things, advocate on particular issues that are important to them, take ownership in communities and in leadership. ICTs excite them and encourage them to be more involved and engaged.’ Anthony Njoroge, Plan Kenya Community ICT Manager.

ICTs empower young people with skills that make them more confident and more involved at the community level.‘Using ICTs, children and youth have become more responsible because they are not waiting for adults to come in with something. Now they are designing it themselves, they are creating space for themselves and bringing their agenda to adult meetings instead of waiting to be invited in or having to work within the agenda of the adults. It used to be that you’d start working with 20 youth, you’d invite them into a community meeting. You’d see the number go down to 10, to 4, to 3, because they didn’t see any relation to themselves in the topics and the goings on. With integration of technology and the arts however, youth have a high level of interest. It’s really bringing in their opinions, their thoughts and ideas to join their voices with parents. Now they use arts and media to promote communication, dialogue on their issues and look for ways to resolve them. Before they were totally missing from the discussion, but now they are here.’ Judith Nkie, Plan Cameroon Youth Empowerment through Arts and Media Project Coordinator.

Arts and ICTs were used in the above-mentioned project as tools for youth engagement, mapping and prioritizing, research and community dialog. The media produced with the ICT tools was shared first within the community and then outside at the district, national and global levels as a way of engaging decision makers and the public in the youths’ agenda.  For more on how arts and ICTs are being used in the above-mentioned project, see this post. Watch 100 videos made by youth in 6 African countries on topics they are passionate about.

GPS work in Kwale, Kenya

2) Identifying resources and mapping patterns for better decision-making

Tracking and visualizing information is an excellent way to improve decision-making capacity. The advent of simpler and open source participatory digital mapping tools allows community members to map their communities digitally and to have more ownership of the information. Mapping helps identify patterns that may not have been visible before. Local maps shared on-line allow local people to provide their own information from their own perspective, and that information serves multiple purposes at the local level and beyond.

Digital mapping can be helpful when governments decentralize. Municipalities are mapping resources as well as projects and interventions. District authorities can track their own initiatives and those by local and international organizations to avoid duplication of efforts and wasted resources. When maps are public, the population can better demand answers about where resources are being allocated and why. Maps can help with disaster risk reduction and tools such as Ushahidi can help during emergency response. Mapping information is also useful for holding up a mirror to the population to ask them questions about themselves and their behaviors and for showing the direct consequences of actions; for example in a Community Total Led Sanitation mapping project, the community faces its realities about where their own waste is entering food and water sources.

Map Kibera is a good example of participatory digital mapping. mGEOS is a mobile mapping tool developed to help Plan Kenya staff to gather and share data needed for their daily work. Map Kibera and Plan Kenya are collaborating in Kwale on youth and governance work, and in Mathare to work on Community Total Led Sanitation using digital mapping tools (see July 27th entry). In this video, a district youth officer in Kenya talks about why digital mapping is useful for his community.

Mapping Violence against Children in Benin

3) Pulling in quick information to guide further investigation, response, or advocacy; pushing out information for targeted actions

ICTs can be used to gather quick information from a broad population. This can be useful in a variety of situations and themes, including those outlined in the MDGs. For example, SMS are being used to report on whether teachers are showing up at school, where violence against children and women is happening, where help is needed in the aftermath of a disaster, and for tracking endangered wildlife. Crowd sourced information can help governments and agencies get preliminary information so that further investigation and support can be provided in a particular area. Another example is the use of mobiles in different health initiatives, including:  child-birth care; HIV and AIDS prevention and treatment programs; support for volunteer community healthcare workers; and bed net treatment reminders. Most of the ICT and development world is also already familiar with the work of two organizations:  Ushahidi and FrontlineSMS who have been combining SMS with digital mapping.

A program that I’m closely involved with is SMS reporting of violence against children in Benin, where local communities, government agencies and NGOs are collaborating to improve the child protection system. This type of program shows promise if heed is paid to the pros and cons of collecting information by SMS, and if those implementing are clear about the type of information that will be gathered, privacy implications, and how the system will complement existing systems. (Here is one document that outlines some considerations). Increasing controls by governments and mobile phone companies, including SIM card registry and Mozambique’s recent government shut down of SMS services during the bread riots are good examples of how quickly the ICT landscape can change, and how flexible and agile those working in the area of ICTs need to be.

Checking info on constituency development fund

4) Supporting accountability and transparency

ICTs are useful to support accountability and transparency, necessary for attempts to track and ensure good use of funding for different efforts, including those related to the MDGs and other aid and development programs. Making information more available to the public by mobile is one such way.  SODNET’s budget tracking tool, for example, informs Kenyans of how much funding is allocated by the Constituency Development Fund to different municipalities in different categories. Combined with mapping, as outlined in this post, the budget information can help constituents to track where their funds are actually being spent.  Other interesting examples of how ICTs can be used for transparency and accountability can be found at TacticalTech’s Info Activism site and at Technology for Transparency.

Paper forms will soon be digitized….

5) Improving municipal services and information management

Civil registration documents, especially a birth certificate, are a precursor to demanding any number of rights or accessing a wide array of services. Without a birth certificate a child may not be able to sit for school exams, receive immunizations or free health care or claim rights to inheritance or legal protection in courts of law. Proof of age is critical in successfully prosecuting perpetrators of crimes against children such as child trafficking, sexual offenses, early recruitment into the armed forces, child marriage and child labor. ICTs are being used to digitize civil registry in Kenya, for example. Not only are records being digitized, but mobile phones are used to make it more convenient for the population to know when their documents are ready. This saves people time and money and means that more parents will register their children.

But wait, there’s more!

These are only a few examples of ways that ICTs are being used at the grassroots level to improve participation, transparency, accountability, debate and ownership of the development process.  The MDGs are lofty, but informed local community participation and ownership is key in efforts to reach them and in ensuring that marginalized populations can also be included.

Please add your examples of ways that ICTs can support development and ICTs in the comments section!

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As part of our ongoing work around using ICTs (information and communication technology) in our programs and general operations, 10 staff in Plan Uganda did a 2-day workshop in March, 2010.  The workshop was based on a distance learning pack that my colleague Mika Valitalo (Plan Finland), Hannah Beardon (Mobiles for Development report) and I put together. It includes some narrated slide shows, short videos, and a series of questions and exercises to guide discussion around strategically incorporating ICTs into our work where and when it is appropriate and feasible.  So far the workshops have been conducted in 6 countries with 2 still to come.

Anthony Makumbi, from our Regional Office for Eastern and Southern Africa, facilitated this Uganda workshop (and credit for the information below goes to him). Anthony is the Regional Community ICT Advisor and has a long experience working on ICTs and ICT4D in the region.  He’s also just written up a pretty impressive draft document which will guide Plan’s ICT strategies in Eastern and Southern Africa.

“We initially thought that when you talked about ICT you were referring to the computer guys, but our minds have now been opened further on the topic. We’ve learned that ‘ICT’ does not equal ‘computers’. Instead, the term ICT encompasses any technology tool that enables information flow and communication.”  (participant)

This always seems to come up in these trainings – people realize that thinking about and using ICTs is not something that is limited to technicians, geeks, network specialists, programmers, the IT Department, etc.  Demystifying this term is so important in order to get people interested and to open up to thinking about how ICTs can support their every day work.

Staff also said that they needed more exposure to new ICTs and innovations. “People need to be informed of something in order to be able to seek further information about it.  If we know about available technologies and what they can offer, we will further explore them.”

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Below is a summary of the Uganda team’s general reflections from the workshop:

Multi stakeholder approaches are necessary to promote innovation and a favorable climate for integration of ICTs.  It is vital to work with governments as the main regulators, the private sector to effectively explore the use of technology, and civil society to ensure that the services are accessible to the population. (For example, the Seacom cable was meant to reduce the Internet costs yet there has not been a notable reduction in costs for the general population – what is the role of civil society in making sure this happens?)

Participatory community assessment around trusted information sources. Before embarking on a community ICT initiative, it’s critical to do a participatory assessment of what the trusted information sources are at the community level. This is important especially if you plan on building awareness on particular issues within a community and would like this information to reach as many people as possible.  A participatory assessment can help gain a better understanding of how people communicate and what communication tools  are most effective to reach a particular goal.

Access for women and girls. Cultural practices, the availability or cost of acquiring a tool, and access to that tool or source of information need to be taken into consideration.  Women in many areas are excluded from accessing ICT tools because they do not handle money. A key focus in ICT programs in Uganda should be to strengthen access to information sources, including programs that mitigate women’s and girls’ barriers to use and access. Another tactic might be programs that promote access to basic information for women so that they are also informed and able to utilize information for their own purposes: eg., nutritional information for their children, the need for girls to go to school or avoid early marriages; programs that share information from other sources that influence women’s decisions.

Building on what is available.  Organizations should look at what is around them and leverage available opportunities. In Plan Uganda’s case, for example, this could mean looking at mobile money transfer services linked to Village Savings and Loans Associations (VSLA); closed user group (CUG) services that define private networks and allow calls made within the private network at large discounts; and services such as the Pakalast promotion on Warid Telecom, which gives users access to each other on the same network for 24hrs for about 80 cents. Awareness should also be built about tools that can provide radio signals apart from a radio, such as a phone with radio access.

Literacy levels and local language. In Uganda, literacy levels are low.  Many people do not manage English. Technologies need to be made available in local languages. Fast track learning could also be considered, such as the development of an integrated education program to address technology and literacy. A close look at mobiles phones — which have taken off at their own pace with the existing literacy levels – could help us to think about how other technologies might fare similarly well.

Electricity.  Solar power should be built into all of our initiatives.

Mobile tools. Mobile data collection could be used instead of paper systems that are currently in place and very laborious. Services like use of SMS for accessing national exam results could serve as a stimulus to further expose communities on what these technologies can do for them.  SMS services could also be used to acquire basic quantitative data in, for example, VSLAs to collect information about group portfolios, or gender ratios or youth participation by age. This can then be vital for designing further programming.

GPS. This could be a useful tool in a program like Community Lead Total Sanitation (CLTS). Latrine coverage could be mapped at the start of a CLTS project in a community and after the project has been implemented over time. This could be linked to health programs that could track a reduction in diarrhea cases in the community, and then this information could be linked to home improvement campaigns as evidence based approach.

ICTs in Governance. ICTs can give communities a platform to provide feedback on services rendered and also know of services available to them.

New ICTs or ICT applications that staff found most interesting:  SMS and mobile data gathering, platforms such as Village Diary for managing confidential legal services and potentially HIV/AIDs program information, blogging to open up channels for discussion on issues and bringing together social movements and organizations working on similar issues, wikis for writing reports, podcasting which could be used in capacity building interventions for multiple groups.

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Plan Uganda staff felt that this type of training on ICTs should be expanded to more people in the organization, and to partner organizations, to build more buy in. They recognized the importance of organizational commitment to moving forward in this area, and asked for continuous training on new ICT tools and innovations.  Ongoing evaluation was suggested to measure the value added by ICTs to program activities, and a follow-up workshop was requested to check progress on the ideas that were generated.

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