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Posts Tagged ‘participatory’

This is a guest post by Jamie Lundine. Jamie is a health geographer who works with Map Kibera in Kenya. We first met about a year ago when Plan began thinking about using digital mapping as an element of the Youth Empowerment through Technology, Arts and Media (YETAM) project and we started discussing how we could work together. Since then it’s been exciting to see how Plan Kenya and Map Kibera are collaborating to bring together child-centered community development work and ICTs in programs such as YETAM, youth and governance work, and community led total sanitation (CLTS) programs. Globally Plan is committed to building its capacity to use ICTs where appropriate in its work and to support youth, communities and local governments to use ICTs where useful for their goals. Plan Kenya is one of the offices that is leading the way in ICT4D at Plan, and there is much that the rest of us can learn from their approach and experiences.

Jamie’s original post appears on her blog Health Geography as ‘Documenting a participatory digital mapping workshop with Plan Kenya‘ and on the Map Kibera blog. Michael Warui, Plan Kenya’s ICT director, sent me the workshop report and I was planning to write about it here, but Jamie’s already done all the work, so I’m re-posting.

Map Kibera Trust recently facilitated a 3 day training to introduce participatory digital mapping to target staff at Plan Kenya. The participants in the workshop included programme staff and ICT staff from the Kenya Country office and regional offices around the country. Participants came from Homabay, Kisumu, Kilifi, Kwale, Tharaka, Machachos, Bondo, the Kenya Country Office and the Urban Programme (Nairobi). Their backgrounds ranged from ICT support staff, to Child Rights & Gender Advisor, to M&E Coordinator, to programme staff in 4 of Plan’s 5 focus areas (Protection and Inclusion, Health, Education and Governance).

The training was planned at the beginning of the implementation of the new Kenya country strategic plan (CSP) 2011-2015 for Plan Kenya. Building on the success of Plan Kenya’s work in Kwale on universal birth registration and also from digital mapping work with POIMapper and Map Kibera Trust, the new CSP highlights the importance of ICT in the improved efficacy of Plan’s work. Plan Kenya has chosen to place an explicit focus on participatory ICT in its work. This is in line with Plan International’s focus and leadership in ICT4D globally.

In this context, the workshop aimed to:

  • Introduce participatory digital mapping theories, techniques and tools that Map Kibera Trust employs in its work
  • Provide hands on experience in GPS data collection and data editing using Open Street Map
  • Learn more about how Plan Kenya programmes use information and communicate
  • Brainstorm ideas about how to integrate ICT into programme work

We began with an introduction to Information Communication Technology for Development (ICT4D) by exploring some questions to consider before introducing ICT into programme work. The questions were (and are) meant to stimulate discussion and encourage participants to think systematically about the integration of ICT into new and existing programmes. The questions identify the reasons why you would use ICT, assess what constraints and opportunities exist in the framework you are working in, and explore how people are communicating in order to design appropriate and sustainable systems to build upon existing channels of communication. The questions are modified from Linda Raftree’s post “7 or more questions to ask before adding ICTs,” so thanks to Linda for the inspiration!

  1. Why are you considering the use of ICT?

The Plan Kenya staff identified that using ICT, particularly mobile phones and the internet, has become a desired lifestyle choice that the majority of Kenyans around the country have embraced. This was an important point that the participants wished to build upon and capture in their use of ICT in various communities. The group generally agreed that ICTs are available and can be accessed by many Kenyans. The staff also mentioned that ICTs could improve communication and be used to easily mobilize communities (for example sending one SMS to many people to attend a meeting). ICTs are flexible and can improve accuracy and consistency in information, which can then be easily stored and shared. There was also mention of improved efficiency in programme work through the collection and processing of real-time information.

  1. What are the programme goals or programme framework you are working within?

Most of the participants identified the new country strategic plan for the organization as the overarching framework that Plan Kenya staff are working with. The country strategic plan identifies 5 areas of focus: Health, Livelihoods, Education, Protection & Inclusion and Governance.

  1. What are your specific information and communication needs?

The information needs of Plan Kenya staff members were largely related to programme work. The needs included collecting accurate data for baseline surveys for Monitoring and Evaluation and thus to assess programme impact. There were some suggestions of improving communication through digitizing information that can more easily be shared to large numbers of people. The group suggested that this could improve accountability to other staff members, donors and to beneficiaries in communities. ICT can also improve the ability of Plan Kenya staff to analyze information and make decisions.

  1. How are you already using information and communicating?

In order to integrate ICT into existing programmes within communities, it is important to know how staff members are already using information and communicating in their daily lives. The group came up with a long list of communication tools: email, internet, intranet, websites and social netoworks – namely Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, MySpace), applications (Skype, Yahoo Messenger), SMS and telephone calls, radio, and television. The group is using information during baseline data collection. Some are involved in a project that integrates SMS applications into the birth registration process in Kwale District.

  1. Who are the actors involved in the particular issue you are seeking to address with ICT?

 The Plan Kenya staff won’t be (and aren’t) using ICT in isolation. There are important stakeholders they work with on particular issues, programmes and projects. These include the general community – with a particular focus on youth and children. Important sub-sections of the community include teachers, school administration, Government of Kenya, civil society organizations, Plan Kenya partners (such as Childline Kenya, Community Cleaning Services), the media and private sector actors. Different groups of people use technology differently, and depending on the answer to question 1) and question 6 (below) the staff may need an ICT strategy that is diverse enough to reach the various stakeholders.

  1. How do people use ICT already?

This list of the ways in which Kenyans are already using ICT is a testament to the idea that the group tapped into when answering question 1. The use of ICT in Kenya, specifically mobile phone applications, has become a lifestyle choice. Kenyans use phones for mobile money transfer, SMS, calling, accessing the internet, paying their bills, paying for goods, calling toll-free lines (e.g. Childline call centre, police hot lines) and for data collection and dissemination. Kenyans also listen to the radio, use computers, blog, email, chat, shop online, bank online, join online discussions and news groups and use various forms of social media. They do this for work, but also for pleasure. These were the means identified by the group, however this is not an exhaustive list.

  1. How do people access technology already?

This was a sub-section of question 6 and the group answered: mobile phones (including GPS enabled and internet enabled phones), street phones, computer, internet connection in office and homes, internet modems, cyber cafés, radios, TVs, toll free lines, and resource centres.

  1. How will you close the feedback loop and manage expectations?

How do you make sure the information you are generating, no matter the medium or tool you are using, gets back to the community? How do you promote the use of technology without seemingly presenting a silver bullet solution (even if you don’t intend to do so)?

These questions were answered in several ways. One idea about both closing the feedback loop and managing expectation was to network  with other organizations and partners in the community to share information and raise awareness about the use of ICT and the opportunities and limitations of ICT4D projects.

Another option for closing the feedback loop was to both collect and disseminate information on popular social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

A third suggestion was to close the feedback loop and manage expectations through an informed resource person and/or resource centers and staff having sessions with the community.

Finally, there was the suggestion to start the integration of ICT in development work by outlining and communicating clear expectations and at the end have feedback sessions to monitor the whole process.

  1. What is your sustainability plan?

The final question, and likely the most difficult (we only had a one hour brainstorming session and did not expect participants to come up with final answers to this question but simply consider it as an important component to any project with an ICT component).

One idea was to equip community members, and particularly youth, with skills that will be applicable beyond the program (or project) timeline. The YETAM project (youth empowerment thorough arts and media) was designed in this way and the group agreed that this design was beneficial to the young people involved in the program.

Another suggestion was to involve the beneficiaries/community in the entire process of choosing/customizing appropriate ICT tools that suit their needs and for further development so that it is community owned process and will in theory continue beyond the project/program lifecycle. Other ideas included:

  •  Build partnership with Government and NGOs.
  • Integrate fund raising or income generating activities into the project.
  • Use affordable technology (free and open source)
  • Ensure follow-up mechanisms are built into the project

We discussed the use of mapping, open information and ICTs for development. We also used two of the three training days to focus on hands-on training and skills building. We facilitated training in handling the GPS devices, collecting data and using Java Open Street Map (JOSM) and Potlatch to record open spatial information into the OpenStreetMap databases. As we’ve found in the past, the hands on training is exciting and motivating. The theorietical discussions, combined with the practical field work inspired discussion and debate on ideas on how to integrate participatory digital mapping andICTs into programme work.

The following are ideas generated by the Plan Kenya staff:

  • Ushahidi could be useful for referral partners mapping and identifying the hot spots of child abuse
  • Use of SMS for communication with hearing and speech impaired within the community
  • Using reports and sharing the same information to various media channels. E.g. PPM, a in-house system that is used to track and monitor information and projects progress
  • In governance as a tool for enhancing social accountability, where ICT can be used to track projects
  • Digitization of data collection e.g. in sponsorship (especially photography), child abuse hotspots
  • Involving children in participatory community mapping by mapping schools using walking papers
  • Using blogging as a tool for youth to document governance issues in the new good governance project for the Urban Programme
  • In Kilifi the team is doing a 2 year study on Open Defecation Free villages and health outcomes. They could use mapping and spatial statistics to document findings.
  • Mapping and other ICT4D tools could be used to document and share participatory activities that Plan already undertakes, such  as transect walks and participatory situational analyses

The training ended with a note of caution – the team recognized the potential tension between the processes that are needed for ownership of a community map (and any other ICT4D project) and the haste of development partners to use the budget and report progress to donors. In this case, many projects (ICT4D, mapping and any other project) may “leave the community behind.”

It is thus important to ask the following questions and consider the answers carefully when designing projects:

  • For whom are we doing the mapping (or any project really)? And whose map is it?
  • Of what use is the (spatial) information, what will it compliment?

After another successful workshop with Plan Kenya, we look forward to building on the excitement and enthusiasm generated during the training! Let’s see some of the great ideas turned into reality!

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Where are the spaces for youth participatory governance?

‘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.’

The ‘youth bulge‘ is impacting or will impact hugely in many countries in Africa, but there is limited documentation on youth involvement in social accountability processes in Sub-Saharan African countries. Youth and governance efforts have been ‘largely unsystematic and often constrained by the vague and paternalistic parameters of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (McGee, forthcoming 2010). However this is changing and there are calls for new models, tools and approaches that enable young people to take a more meaningful role in decision-making.’ (call for submissions for the upcoming Participatory Learning and Action Journal (PLA) special issue on Youth and Participatory Governance).

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In March I attended a “writeshop” put on by Plan UK, the Institute of Development Studies (IDS), and the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) to share different youth participatory governance initiatives, reflect on challenges and successes therein, learn how to write better, and finalize articles on the above topic for a PLA Special Issue in December 2011. The special issue will highlight some of the different ways young people are engaging with government to participate in public policy, planning and budgeting processes at local, national, regional, and international levels. Practitioners, youth and government officials from Kenya, Zimbabwe, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Mali, Senegal, Lesotho, the US, the UK, Ghana, Germany and Liberia attended the writeshop. (The PLA will also have articles from Cameroon and Somalia).

The first day we did a cool exercise revolving around 4 statements on voice, youth, participation, and governance. I learned a lot from the discussion and I wanted to share it here.

So, what do you think? and why?

Statement 1. The author’s voice will always be louder than the voices of the people he/she is writing about.

Strongly agree ___

Agree ___

Disagree ___

Strongly Disagree ___

Statement 2. Increased transparency leads to increased accountability.

Strongly agree ___

Agree ___

Disagree ___

Strongly disagree ___

Statement 3. It is possible to do governance work without engaging in politics.

Strongly agree ___

Agree ___

Disagree ___

Strongly disagree ___

Statement 4. Citizen led/social accountability processes offer more potential for youth than traditional accountability processes.

Strongly agree ___

Agree ___

Disagree ___

Strongly disagree ___

****

Here’s what we discussed at the writeshop. I’d be interested in what you think about the statements too…

Statement 1. The author’s voice will always be louder than the voices of the people he/she is writing about:

Discussion: The group mostly concluded that it’s difficult for the author’s voice to stay in the background – it will inevitably jump out and become stronger than the voice of those he or she is writing about.

‘Regardless of that, the author has been given an opportunity to project the voices of those that don’t have a platform to speak for themselves, so he or she should take advantage of the opportunity.’

‘Just by choosing what goes into the piece, the writer is already showing some type of bias. One or the other idea or opinion will be louder than the others because it serves the author’s own purpose.’

‘Writers need to think carefully about their approaches as authors and be self-aware of what biases are coming through in their pieces. This is an issue of credibility.’

‘One thing to aim for in our work with youth is finding more opportunities for them to author their own stories, because they can speak louder and stay true to their own agendas.’

‘How many of us here sat down and wrote our submissions together with youth? What are some methodologies that we can use to ensure that youth are writing about their own work, rather than always being written about?’

Note: Some methods for involving youth in the writing process will be covered in the upcoming Special Issue, based on experiences from the group attending the writeshop.

Statement 2. Increased transparency leads to increased accountability.

Discussion: Most everyone disagreed with this statement, saying that there is no causal relationship between transparency and accountability.

‘Many civil society and faith-based organizations really engage citizens, but if you look deeply, that engagement hasn’t translated into accountability.’

‘Including people in governance and keeping them informed about what is happening can lead to accountability. People will start to take responsibility, report about actions. If they are involved, included and informed they will start to question things.’

‘There is not always a causal link between transparency and accountability.’

‘Having transparent information is one thing, but accountability is what you actually do with the information. Having the habit of discussion, questioning is one thing, but ensuring that feedback is actually taken into consideration is another.’

‘Often those in power say “we’ve heard” but they don’t do anything to change. Accountability isn’t only about voice, you need to have opportunities for redress.’

‘Without transparency there is no accountability. This can mean access to information. We need legislation to make access to information possible. It’s a pre-requisite for increased accountability.’

‘There are NGO and donor accountability issues also. Just because NGOs or donors put information on-line doesn’t mean that they are being accountable. There is the issue of literacy, of whether people seek out information, of access to the information in a variety of languages, of what format the information is shared in and the sheer quantity of information. Who really has access to the information they are sharing? Can those who are supposed to be benefiting from NGOs and donors programs access the information?’

‘Another thing is making people and institutions understand why they should be held to account, why they need to be accountable, changing mindsets about why leaders and power holders need to be accountable.’

‘Flooding people with information so that people don’t know where to look for what is relevant to them or posting the information on-line, in a language that isn’t useful to them, is not really being transparent. Often calls for transparency don’t really go far enough. Transparency is about making the information usable and about information demand.’

One of our facilitators (Rosemary McGee from IDS) pointed us to Jonathan Fox at UCLA who says:

‘Transparency can be ‘opaque’ (the dissemination of information that does not reveal how institutions actually behave) or ‘clear’ (access to reliable information about institutional behaviour). Accountability can be ‘soft’ (‘answerability’ – demanding answers from duty-bearers) or ‘hard’ (answers plus consequences). Information dissemination does not automatically lead to answerability, nor answerability to the possibility of sanctions. If access to information is to guarantee the sanctions that hard accountability requires, public sector as well as civil society actors must intervene.’

Statement 3. It is possible to do governance work without engaging in politics.

Discussion: The group was pretty evenly divided between strongly agree, agree, disagree and strongly disagree, so the discussion was really interesting.

‘I strongly disagree because government is about service delivery and politics is about the opinions of the people. Everyone is a political animal. There is a difference between politics and partisan politics, though.’

‘Every action has a vision and a political orientation. You can’t change a situation without being involved in politics.’

‘Governance has nothing to do with politics; the government can be left or right; but governance means the same thing. It’s being transparent and accountable to the people; and it’s also about including other stakeholders, NGOs, private sector and responding to the citizens needs. Governance is impartial and non political.’

‘Governance is about how power is exercised. It’s about certain practices and systems – in state, family, community, etc. If you are challenging power, whether policy change or change in practice, whether it’s gender or whatever, you want to address unjust power relations, so at some point you need to confront the polity of those structures. However being engaged in governance is not about partisan politics. There’s a difference between a political party and the issue of politics. If I say I’m in solidarity with children, I’ve taken a political position. Political parties are about obtaining power. But governance is about challenging power relationships.’

‘We need to distinguish “governance and politics” and “party politics.” It’s difficult to say that things will naturally happen based on a structure. But the structures will adjust, they will be used differently according to who is in power. You need to know politics and the opinions of political leaders in order to effectively get your agenda through. You need to understand the political dynamics in terms of what happens in the country, what is the ideology, what is their strategy and what are their plans. If you don’t understand that, you can’t address the issues that you are trying to resolve via governance.’

‘It’s not possible to work on governance and not engage in politics. I work in government. Our mandate ends after 5 yrs. We must go back to elections and the people must give us the mandate again to exercise power on their behalf. This is the only clear mechanism whereby the people can engage in politics. Politics is about opinions and perceptions. People have diverging opinions, those opinions will create debate and that leads to political actions. Whenever there is a debate involved about something, that is politics. It’s not easy to exercise power without debate. To give services to people, to exercise power on their behalf, it’s not easy if you don’t take into consideration the opinions coming from them, they need to debate and the debate then needs to be translated into policies.’

‘The people who are most engaged in governance should not be politically engaged. When you work from civil society on governance issues, you should not have a party affiliation. Because then you will carry a bias. To do good governance work you need to be impartial and unaffiliated with a party, or people will consider you to be biased.’

‘If we look at governance and politics, politics is just a subset of governance. There are actually lots of issues under governance. In governance we expect everyone to take part in how things are governed. We see different political actors. Governance encompasses more than politics, it’s above politics.’

Statement 4. Citizen led / social accountability processes offer more potential for youth than traditional accountability processes.

Discussion: Everyone sat on the strongly agree or agree side of this debate.

‘Citizen led processes offer much more openness to youth.’

‘We need to define citizen-led and traditional accountability processes. Citizen led, social accountability processes are where those spaces are claimed by citizens themselves. Secondly the citizen-led social accountability process tends to be less vertical. There is collectivization of the aspirations of the people who are supposed to benefit from a service or a process. The power relationships are much fairer in that situation. Traditional accountability is like something done within government, something led by World Bank or the IMF. In that case, the state creates space for citizens to participate, information is shared but there is actually not much action taking and questioning because it is the state itself running the accountability initiative on its own behalf. But with social accountability, it’s driven and led by people, by civil society, and there is more questioning and participation.’

‘I was being ethnocentric and thinking as a Westerner about “traditional” as meaning “government and voting,” but I’m realizing that there is a range of understandings of “traditional accountability” processes.’

‘If there is a mainstream more traditional accountability process vs a parallel citizen led process it can be confusing. Often youth are not clear how to link the parallel transparency and accountability that they are creating up to the official structures. There is a lack of connection there. Youth get a lot out of the processes individually, but are they also increasing state accountability?  There is also the concept of traditional accountability. Traditionally led accountability comes from many sides.’

‘There are formal and informal politics. What does it all mean? Based on all of your submissions, we would like to be able to start giving some definitions and an “OK” on all these terms and interpretations. There is a gap in understanding on social accountability, citizen-led accountability and the role of young people in these processes. That is why we wanted to do this PLA Journal.’

****

Look for the PLA Special Edition coming out on paper and on-line in December 2011. In the meantime, check out the current editions here, including PLA 59: Change at Hand – Web 2.0 for Development and PLA 54: Mapping for Change – Practice, Technologies and Communication.

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There’s a new Youth and Participatory Governance initiative that I’m going to be supporting from the social media and ICT side, and I’m really excited about.

My colleague Jess in our UK Office gives an overview:

Plan UK is working with the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) and the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) to produce a Special Issue of the journal Participatory Learning Action (PLA) focusing on Youth and Participatory Governance in Africa. The Special Issue will capture and share experiences of the different ways young people in African countries are engaging with government to participate in public policy, planning and budgeting processes at local, national, regional, and international levels.

Key details about the Special Issue:

  • What is the theme? Contributions should capture practical experiences of governance work involving youth. Contributions should include: the processes young people have been engaged in; innovations, achievements and challenges; lessons and ways forward. Each article should be around 2,500 words. (Note: this includes innovative ways that youth are engaging with support of ICTs.)
  • Who can contribute? We are seeking submissions from adults and young people working in the field of youth and governance who would like to contribute an article to this Special Issue. You might be a youth activist, a practitioner from an NGO or international agency, or a member of government, for example.
  • How will contributors be supported? Support will be provided to contributors throughout the drafting process, including a writing workshop (a ‘writeshop’) in Nairobi in March next year during which contributors will receive one-to-one support and meet with others working on participatory governance to discuss and share their experiences
  • When do articles need to be written? Anybody interested in contributing needs to submit a 500 word summary by December 5th. Articles will be selected in December. Authors will submit a first draft of their article in February 2011 and, after further drafting, a final draft in June/July 2011.

Download further information on the Special Issue and the PLA journal here. Download the Call for Proposals here if you think you’d like to submit something or to support youth you are working with to submit.

Why I’m excited about being involved…

I had the chance to talk with Jess (the project coordinator) at Plan UK about my role last week. I’ll be supporting with dissemination (starting here with this post) to help get as many good submissions as possible. I’ll also be reviewing submissions that have ICT components to them; supporting participating youth with writing drafts and at the writeshop in Nairobi this March; and looking at how we can use social media to support the initiative throughout.

I’m really happy to be involved because this is something I want to dig into into and the process will offer a chance to learn about methodological innovations in this area that can be replicated and shared within some of the other programs I’m supporting. I also love that young people are encouraged to submit ideas for the journal and that they will be involved in writing and documenting their experiences. Sometimes their voices are really missing in these debates because they are not in the habit or don’t have time to write and document their work, or because of other factors like language or access. (And we all know that if it’s not on the Internet, to many of us it ‘doesn’t exist’).

To be honest, I’m also excited because it will give me a ton of new stuff to share here, and maybe during the process we’ll be successful in getting some more young people and practitioners blogging.

Another reason I’m keen to participate was this bit in the concept note: Youth and governance efforts have been ‘largely unsystematic and often constrained by the vague and paternalistic parameters of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (McGee, forthcoming 2010). However this is changing and there are calls for new models, tools and approaches that enable young people to take a more meaningful role in decision-making.’ Looking forward to the discussions around that.

Submit a concept!

If you are working on programs around youth and governance, youth and transparency, youth and accountability and related areas or know of young people or young people’s organizations who are, please check out this link on how to submit a concept or contact me (lindaraftree at gmail) or Jess (Jessica.Greenhalf at Plan-International dot org). If the youth you’re working with are more comfortable in a language other than English or French, please let us know so that we could see how to support them to engage.

Please share this call for submissions through your own networks – we are hoping for a real variety of contributions to what should be a great Special Issue!

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At last week’s workshop in Kwale, we had the good fortune to have 4 folks from Map Kibera with us to train us on GSP and Open Street Map so that we could support youth in 3 districts where we’re working on the south coast of Kenya (Kwale, Kinango, Msambweni) to map their own communities. Jamie Lundine and Primoz Kovacic are Map Kibera staff, and Kevin Otieno and Millicent Achieng are youth who are trained on mapping. See the video above where Kevin and Millicent talk about the experience or watch it at the link here.

Kevin Otieno from Map Kibera

Both Kevin and Milli have been working with the Map Kibera staff since October, mapping out different areas in Kibera. For our introduction to Map Kibera, they started us off with a general overview of Voice of Kibera.

Kibera was a blank spot on the map (just like Kinango). (Jamie Lundine)

Jamie continued on with an overview of GPS and the Map Kibera project.

How GPS works. (Primoz Kovacic)

Primoz gave us the details on using the GPS devices and Open Street Map.

Hotel Kaskazi LTI Diani is now officially on the map

We practiced by mapping out our hotel, and adding it to Open Street Maps.

Then we went to Kinango District to start making the community map there. We met with the District Official and George, the District Youth Officer, explained why we were there. The DO said he’d heard good things about Map Kibera, and he ‘wanted to meet some of those youth mappers’. He welcomed us to move around the community.

The 4 teams did the first piece of the map, and will continue on with it in the future in Kinango but also in Msambweni and Kwale. The maps can then be used for different purposes, such as looking at existing resources and missing resources, or resource allocation, social auditing (eg., the government said that they built something here but it doesn’t seem to exist), tracking and responding to child protection issues, etc.

In addition to that, the arts and media content that youth produce as part of the project will have a much nicer digital map to sit on than what we currently have available… practically no information exists on digital maps about these 3 areas.

Here’s a video about the community mapping. If you can’t access, try the link here.

I had the pleasure of attending a Nairobi party on my last night in town and meeting up with Mikel Maron and Erica Hagen, who make up the rest of the Map Kibera team. I also ate some really bright pink rice…. yum….

If cotton candy were rice....

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Nothing to do with the topic of this post, but the Kwale coast is gorgeous.

Last week I was in Kwale, at a Plan Kenya hosted workshop as part of the Youth Empowerment through Technology, Arts and Media program. The team at Plan Kwale has been pointedly using ICTs in their community development programs since 2003 (not counting email and Internet of course) when they began working with radio and video as tools for raising awareness about children’s rights.

It’s really impressive to see how they’ve moved forward with very strategic ideas for integrating ICTs to help reach programmatic and development goals, especially in the areas of youth and governance, universal birth registration, and child/youth-led advocacy around rights and protection issues.

Over the 6 day workshop, the main things we wanted to do were:

  • look at the development context in Kwale, Kinango and Msambweni Districts (South Coast areas where Plan operates via the Kwale Office)
  • better understand the perspective of youth in the 3 districts
  • remind ourselves of rights-based approaches to community development
  • discuss youth issues, governance, advocacy, violence against children and gender within the local context
  • look at the ICTs currently being used by youth, communities and Plan in the Kwale Development Area
  • share and discuss new social media and ICT tools and ways they can be used
  • practice using new social media and ICT tools and see if they can be useful and sustainable in the 3 districts
  • determine next steps for integrating social media and new ICTs in specific local initiatives and plan for how to build on them in Plan Kenya’s overall work

Some elements that made the week positively brilliant:

workshop participants

Engaged and committed stakeholders

We were a group about 20, including staff and university student interns from Plan’s Kwale and Kilifi District Offices and Plan’s Country Office in Nairobi; Government District Youth Officers (‘DYOs’) from the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture; Youth Council members from Kwale, Kinango and Msambweni; 2 staff from Map Kibera and 2 youth mappers from Kibera.

This mix meant that we had a variety of perspectives and opinions, including those of youth from local communities, partner organizations, local government, frontline staff, protection and governance technical advisors, ICT managers, and senior level program managers. This helped to ensure that we were grounded in reality, technically and thematically sound, able to cross-pollinate and integrate new ideas with solid experience and practice, and take decisions immediately forward to a higher level.

Local partners and youth-youth networking

Peer-peer learning and exchange among all the participants was a big plus. Plan and Map Kibera have very similar visions and values, yet each has its own area of specialized technical expertise and experience.  The youth participants from local councils from the 3 South Coast districts and the youth mappers from Kibera brought different perspectives into the workshop which enriched the discussions.  We all learned a lot from each other. Combining expertise as partners brought the workshop to a whole new level, and will help to ensure that the efforts are sustainable and can be built on and expanded. The youth in Kwale can now extend their skills to more youth in their communities, the youth mappers from Kibera can take home new ideas to improve their work, the university-level interns gained practical experience, and the buy-in from the local government’s District Youth Officers (who manage government funds) in the 3 participating districts can help provide the necessary support to broaden the efforts.

Flexible workshop methodology

We had certain goals that we wanted to achieve and we were clear on that, but we let the agenda flow. We started by taking a deep look at the local context and resources. We heard from local experts in the areas that we wanted to focus on (youth and governance, child protection) as well as community youth and local authorities. We spent time getting to know some new tools and discussing the pros and cons of using them.

Hands-on with FrontlineSMS

Hands On Work

We had practical sessions and hands-on work on blogging, FrontlineSMS, Ushahidi, Map Kibera, and mGESA (a local application of the mGEOS mobile platform co-developed by Plan Kenya, Plan Finland, University of Nairobi and Pajat Management and being piloted in Kilifi).

This was important for helping participants feel confident about doing some of the work once the training team was gone. I imagine however that more practice will be needed during some follow up sessions, as most of the participants don’t have regular computer and Internet access for enhancing their skills on a daily basis with additional practice and exploration.

We spent one day mapping our Hotel on Open Street Maps, and another day in Kinango, mapping specific points in 4 teams.  Lessons learned during hands-on work included the importance of engaging and involving the community ahead of time, so that rumors about why people are mapping the community don’t fly. In my group, for example, we were moving around with George the District Youth Officer from Kinango. Someone that he ran into joked to him “Oh, now Kinango is going up for sale!”  A joke, but nonetheless if people don’t know why we were mapping, this or other rumours can quickly spread. (See the video about mapping in Kinango at this link and the background blog post here.)

End goals + new tools + back again

By starting with people’s expectations for the workshop, analysis of the local context, and an understanding of the goals that youth and staff wanted to achieve together, we could be sure that we stayed true to where we wanted to end up. At the same time, by learning about new tools, things that weren’t possible before became imaginable and people started to innovate and mix their existing knowledge and experience with some new ideas.

Combining the two, and having a good variety of perspectives in the room and a lot of space for discussion and practice means that next steps will be more achievable and sustainable, because people are clear and agree about where they want to go, and they feel capable of incorporating some new tools and ideas to get there.

The tools

We explored a number of new(ish) tools at the workshop. They had been identified over the past couple years due to their use by Plan or other organizations in areas such as: community development work, violence tracking, advocacy, governance and social auditing.  We talked about mobile phones, email, Internet, Facebook, Hi5, Google search and Google maps. We did a quick overview of Voice of Kibera, use of GPS, Open Street Maps, FrontlineSMS, Ushahidi, the YETAM project, the PlanYouth website, and a Plan pilot project in Benin using SMS to track violence against children.

The first day, the context analysis was very focused on youth and governance, transparency and social auditing, so we pulled out the 10 Tactics video by Tactical Technology Collective (which @hapeeg had given to me a couple days earlier). This video series talks about 10 tactics for turning information into action. It really sparked ideas among the participants for how they could use social media and ICTs in social accountability work and human rights/child rights work.  Map Kibera partners also shared a tool developed by SODNET (SMS for social auditing of the Constituency Development Fund).

We talked about the use of mapping and SMS in child protection work. One of the main child protection issues in the south coast area is the distance that a child, girl, family has to travel in order to report an abuse. Women’s lack of economic power, inability to own property and the importance of marriageability also mean that often women and girls feel unable to speak out or protest abuse when it’s happening. It’s still not certain what role ICTs can play in this context given the risks involved to those who report, but Plan’s child protection point person, Mohammad, is planning to host a series of meetings with local child protection authorities to discuss possible ways forward.

Digital mapping was immediately cataloged as an important tool for identifying resources, advocating for services and holding government accountable through social auditing. It was also recognized as a potential income generator once areas, shops and local businesses could be added to an on-line map, or if youth could purchase GPS units with funding from the District Youth Office and charge for their GPS services. George, the District Youth Officer for Kinango talks in this video about how mapping can be useful to the Kinango community, even if most members don’t have access to computers and broad band. (Click the link or watch below)

Information and communication gap analysis –> ICT integration plans

ICT integration for youth and governance program

Early on in the workshop, we worked in 2 groups to analyze the goals for the Youth and Governance and the Child Protection programs that Plan is supporting in Kwale. The groups discussed the information and communication gaps that needed to be filled in order to move towards the goals of the 2 initiatives. We looked at what ICT tools might best help reduce the gaps, from existing traditional tools (like meetings, face-to-face advocacy, drama, town criers, radio) to those new(ish) tools that we had discovered (see above paragraph) that might be useful to try out given the goals in the 2 key areas. The groups revisited this gap analysis on the last day after having had more hands-on use of the different tools and turned the gap analysis into an action plan.

ICT integration for child protection programs

Management buy-in and leadership

While the 2 groups worked on local action plans for integrating ICTs into their work, senior management from Plan’s Kenya office created their own action plan for how to build on the workshop experience, engage mid-level managers and other key staff in ICT integration, further develop partnerships and solidify cross-cutting incorporation of ICTs into Plan’s work in Kenya. The Kwale and Kilifi program units have been innovators within Plan for several years. Learning from, supporting and building on concrete work that they are doing on the ground allows for a solid and feasible country strategy based on reality. Having a strategy built from the ground up and with solid support and buy-in from national management means that there is less risk of donor led ICT funding, and more probability that new resources mobilized for ICT work go towards real needs and have better results.

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ICT4D in Uganda: ICT does not equal computers

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Youth in Ndop, Cameroon

For the past few years I’ve been supporting the Youth Empowerment through Technology Arts and Media project (YETAM) in several countries in Africa.  The last few weeks I was in Cameroon, where the initiative is expanding to new communities, based on learning from last year’s work in Okola.

The project

The project uses technology, arts and media to spur youth engagement in the community development process and youth-led actions around challenges youth identify in their communities. In the process they think about their personal and community strengths and resources, develop skills for problem solving, team work, research and investigation, and get training on how to use some different ICTs (information and communication technologies). They also build confidence and self esteem and learn how to bring up different issues in their communities and involve their peers, families, local authorities and local leaders in actions to address them.

Audience

The main ‘audience’ for the arts and media is the communities where the youth live and nearby communities. Some of their teachers, parents and local leaders also take part in the project and related training. This helps youth to build up support for their agenda. The arts and media is aimed at engaging communities in dialog and discussion that eventually leads to positive change.  Youth often have opportunities to participate in and use their new skills and their arts and media to advocate at national levels as well. Via the Internet, the youth’s voices are amplified to also reach their global peers and decision makers. For example, the YouTube site for the project has over 100 videos made by youth over the past 2 years.

Youth drawing on issue of water

Actions

Last year, the youth in Okola identified poor quality drinking water as a key challenge. They got the community moving to restore a damaged and contaminated spring bed and improve the water quality (without external funding).  This year we’ve incorporated a stronger focus on prevention of violence and gender discrimination because those were the themes that emerged most heavily across all the participating countries in the past 2 years of the project.  We hope the youth will improve their analytical skills around these areas and begin to look at these issues in more depth, strengthen their understanding of the causes of violence and gender discrimination, and develop strategies for overcoming them.

Process

The whole process starts when staff begin discussions about the project and its goals with interested local communities and youth. It’s a dialog and negotiation process, aimed at building local ownership and partnership for the initiative. Staff identify local partners skilled in the areas of technology, arts and media to accompany and support the process.

Staff and partners learning to use GPS for Open Street Mapping

TOT

A 1-week training of trainers (TOT) ensures that everyone is on the same page with regard to the project objectives.The TOT also helps deepen staff and partners’ understanding of some of the issues such as gender and violence, and is an opportunity to build skills on new ICTs that can be used in the project.  This year, for example, we had a session on GPS and OpenStreetMap because we want to add digital mapping to the toolbox to complement hand-drawn mapping, since both are of value to the work we are doing. (Shout out to @billzimmerman and @mikel for pointing us in the direction of Ernest, our fabulous GPS and OSM trainer from Limbe).

Critical questions

At the TOT, we discuss some of the critical questions in a project like this, such as:

Whose media? The arts and media created in the project should belong to the community, not to the funding organization or the arts and media partners. This has connotations then in how it is attributed and copyrighted, and who keeps copies of it, and what it is used for. The best way to manage this seems to be to see organizations and funders as ‘sponsors’ of the project and to ‘brand’ the media as such (this project was funded by xxx and does not represent official positions of xxx).

My personal bias is that the media and any web associated with the project should not carry an institutional logo or be hosted on an institution’s website, but should be established and managed locally using free tools like WordPress and YouTube with support from partner organizations.  I think that we should be looking at these kinds of initiatives as youth and community capacity building not as an institutional branding opportunity.

A middle ground could be that the media is ‘owned’ by all the involved partners and all can use it to promote their own objectives, or that some of the media supports an institutional position and that media is put on an institutional site, and other media can be created by the community for its own purposes, and hosted/posted on free sites like the ones I mentioned. This aspect can still be a little bit tricky, if you ask me.

Whose agenda? The agenda should be built by and belong to the youth and the community. They are not making promotional materials for us or the local partners. We also should not be censoring media.  This is an issue sometimes when the position of the community does not follow institutional positions.  This can be addressed by resolving the issue of ‘whose media’.

Which media? The project aims at building skills in various media forms. The primary audience is local, and so we help youth learn to select their media form by thinking about the primary audience’s access and media habits or traditions. Often painting, drama, newsletters, comedy, poems and singing, radio, and video are more effective than say YouTube and blogging for getting a message across to local community members who may not have electricity and/or Internet. Digital media serves a purpose, but for a different audience, normally at the national or global level.  In addition, sometimes one tool is better than another for addressing a particular topic, for example, violence may be difficult to portray on a film without identifying the person who was mistreated and putting them at risk of retaliation.

At the same time, the thing that draws a lot of the youth into the project is the opportunity to learn computer skills, to manipulate and manage a camera, to go onto the Internet. So we bring these tools in as well to build those skills in young people, even though they may not have Internet access on a daily basis. We also ensure that youth have access to the tools and equipment they need to continue making digital media and accessing the Internet and computers by working with schools and partners on an agreement for owning and managing the equipment and supporting youth to use it.

Media for what? We all know that kids can make amazing arts and media and that they can learn to use computers and cameras and mobile phones without a problem. So what? The goal of the project is what children and youth learn in the process of making that media, what skills they build, and then what they actually do with their skills and their art and media that counts, what changes do they achieve for themselves and in their communities? How do they generate dialog while making the arts and media and/or how do they use their final ‘products’ to push for positive change.

Adapting to the local setting

During the TOT, partners and staff create a detailed plan for how they will train the 60 or so participating youth on technology, arts and media over a focused 2-week period and beyond through refresher training and hands-on work. We’ve set the goal of 30% theory and 70% practice to help guide partners and facilitators as they prepare their sessions. The goal is not training professional artists, journalists and technologists – it’s using arts, media and technology as tools for youth participation, action and advocacy.

Mercy presents the youth's map

Mapping

To identify the themes that the youth will focus on, we facilitate a participatory mapping process. The youth create a base map of their community and discuss the community’s history and what makes it unique – they create their community profile.

Then they identify community resources and risks based on the 4 categories of child rights:  survival, development, participation and protection. In other words, they identify what exists currently in the community that supports children to survive and develop, and how the community currently protects children, and what spaces children currently have to participate.  They then look at where those 4 categories are not doing so well, and where children are at risk.

Youth, parents and local authorities discuss the map

The map is shared on the first day of the youth workshop and discussed with participating teachers, local authorities and parents in order to generate additional input and to get buy-in from the adults.  In small groups and plenary, they together prioritize the issues and decide which ones they will focus on during the workshop and beyond, using arts and new media tools. In follow up sessions, they will also make a digital map of their area for uploading to the Internet, and their arts and media work will be uploaded as points on that digital map. The digital map and the hand drawn map bring distinct benefits to this kind of process.

I love mapping. It’s a really interesting process, because when you start by looking at resources and when you are working with youth, so many things come out that would not come up if you came in and asked about needs or problems and only worked with adults. Communities are used to NGOs coming in to ask them what they need, to train them to see only their problems and to feel like victims, and to then expect the NGO or external agent to ‘resolve things.’ If you start by identifying only needs and problems, there are so many things in a community that will be missed. I notice that youth are not as well-trained as their parents in playing the victim. They are much better at talking about their community and what it means or holds for them than their parents are. When I show up as an outsider, they often want to show me beautiful places, special places, things they have and are proud of, not their needs and problems.

Some of the challenges youth identified and will work on

The real work

After the workshops comes the real work.  The partner organizations, staff, teachers and community leaders who are involved support the youth over time to continue their learning in the different areas, to do refresher training in areas they didn’t fully catch during the first round, to generate dialog in the community around the themes youth have identified, and to work on the issues they have identified through organized youth-led actions and advocacy at different levels and engaging decision makers at the local, but also district and national, and sometimes even global levels.

This is where the real change happens and is the real heart of the initiative.

My Cameroonian colleague told me one day ‘This project is like a catalyst in my body.’ It has motivated and driven her to learn new skills and take on new challenges, to push herself to new levels to achieve the goals set out. I’ve seen it have the same effect on the youth and on myself as well. In the end, that is what we want to achieve — motivated and engaged people, working together to make positive change in their communities and beyond.

Resources

This morning I came across this toolkit ‘A Rights-Based Approach to Participatory Video Toolkit’ by Insight, and I absolutely love it. It pretty much spells out what we are doing (though we had nothing to do with writing it up), and confirms a lot of the hunches and ideas that we’ve had while developing the program. I highly recommend it if you are working on rights and media.

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Yesterday I inadvertently clicked on a link to the first blog post by Talesfromthehood that I think I ever read. The post starts by saying ‘There is just no way around the critique that aid is ultimately about imposing change from outside….you’ve got to make your peace with that reality.’  (Not what I like to hear).  Tales goes on to say that we need to better define the term ‘bottom up‘ development and concludes that we may really not be talking about ‘bottom up‘ development at all, but more about ‘meeting in the middle‘.

The idea of imposing change from the outside is a little uncomfortable sounding when you normally think of your work as ‘bottom up‘, and you have seen the countless problems that ‘top down‘ approaches create.  But funny that Tales happened to include a link to that particular post in the more recent post that I was reading, because I was in the process of writing up some notes about a community development approach that I believe is quite good.  And looking more closely, it actually sounds a lot more like ‘meeting in the middle‘ than ‘bottom up‘….

I spent this past week in a workshop with colleagues from Cameroon, Mozambique and Kenya discussing a program we’re all working on at different levels. The initiative (Youth Empowerment through Technology, Arts and Media -YETAM) aims to build skills in youth from rural areas to claim space at community, district, national and global levels to bring forth their agendas. It looks to create an environment where peers, adults, decision makers, partners, schools, and our own organization are more open and supportive to young people’s participation and ideas.  It uses arts and ICTs (both new and traditional ones) as tools for youth to examine their lives and their communities; identify assets, strengths and challenges; build skills; share their agendas; and lead actions to bring about long term and positive change.

It is clear from listening to my colleagues that ICTs in this case have been effective catalysts, tools and motivators for youth participation and voice in their communities and beyond, but that other elements were just as critical to the program’s successes.  Throughout the meeting they kept saying things like ‘we are adopting the YETAM approach for our disaster risk reduction work’ or ‘we are incorporating the YETAM approach into our strategic plans’ and ‘we are going to use the YETAM approach with new communities’.  So I asked them if they could put into words exactly what they considered ‘the YETAM approach‘ to be so that we could document it.

I furiously typed away as they discussed how they are working, and what they consider to be the elements and benefits of the ‘YETAM approach.’ And it’s probably a pretty good example of what is normally called a ‘bottom up approach‘ but which might actually be a ‘meeting in the middle approach.’  And I’m definitely OK with that.

I like the approach because it builds on good community development practices that we’ve endorsed as an organization for quite awhile. It brings in new ideas, new tools and new ways of thinking about things at the community level, but it doesn’t do so in a top-down way.  It doesn’t encourage youth to abruptly raise controversial issues and then leave them to deal with the consequences.  It thinks about implications of actions and ownership.  It addresses the ‘what’s in it for me?’ questions but doesn’t turn the answer into unsustainable handouts.  It looks to instill a sense of accountability across the board.  On top of all that, it incorporates ICT tools in an integrated way that gets youth excited about engaging and participating and helps them take a lead role in advocating for themselves.

YETAM Point Persons: Mballa (Cameroon partner), Anthony (Plan Kenya), Pedro (Plan Mozambique), Lauren (Mozambique Peace Corps Volunteer teacher), Nordino (Plan Mozambique) and Judith (Plan Cameroon)

So, ‘bottom up’, or ‘meeting in the middle’ or whatever, here’s ‘the YETAM approach’:

Meetings…. Lots of them. We meet with men, with women, with children, with youth, with local authorities and district officials and relevant ministries, with partner organizations and community based organization, in short, with all those who have a stake in the initiative, to get their input.  This is an opportunity to understand what everyone wants to get out of the project, what value it adds to what they are doing or what they aspire to do, and what role everyone will play.  Then we meet with everyone all together at a community assembly. Once we pull together what everyone’s interests and contributions are, we can go forward.  This means a lot of time and a lot of meetings, which can be tiresome, but in the end it is worth doing for the long term success of the initiative.

Partnerships. Everyone brings something to the table – communities, local partners, young people, schools, teachers, local leaders, and us.  So we work to ensure that the contributions of each entity are clear and detailed, and that all sides are accountable if they don’t hold up their end of the deal. The community might contribute time or food or labor or a training space or some other resources that they have. We might contribute funds or technical advice or facilitators or the like.  Local partners might bring in technical expertise; schools or governments something else. Youth are putting in time and efforts also. To ensure that the project holds up and succeeds, we negotiate with all involved partners to see what they can contribute. If you see that people are not willing to put something into the initiative, it means that it is not of value to them.  If you push the project on people, and move it forward without it having value for them, it will be a constant struggle and a headache.  Seeing the level of commitment and interest in different community members can tell you if the initiative is a good thing for the community or not, so that you can adjust it and be sure it’s worth doing, not pursue it, or continue to work on buy in if some parts of the community are interested, but others are not.

Accountability. We set up agreements with all partners in the initiative, detailing what everyone will contribute and what they will get out of it, establishing everyone’s roles.  This is critical for accountability on all sides, and gives everyone involved a common basis for any future discussions or disputes, including if the community wants to hold us or a local partner accountable for not fulfilling our promises.

Buy-in. We don’t pay people to participate in projects or for sitting in workshops.  If you pay people to participate in a project once, you will have to pay them forever and it becomes a weak project without any real buy-in.  Our particular role in community development is not creating short term jobs, but contributing to long term sustainable improvements.  So what we do is to sit with the community and any participating partners or individuals from the very beginning and fully discuss the project with them. Then those who participate do so with a clear understanding of the set up, the longer term goals, the value to the community, and they have decided whether they want to be involved, and what is their level of commitment.

Some NGOs find that paying people to participate is an easy way to move budgets. This may help get things done in the short term, but for the type of programming that we do, it doesn’t work in the long term. It takes away people’s ownership of their community’s development if you pay them a fee to participate in their own project. So to avoid misunderstandings, everything needs to be clear before the project activities even start. We spend time with the community and all those who would be involved.  In the very first meetings with the community before concrete activities even get started, we address the issue of payment.  It’s not our project for the community and they are not working for us – it’s the community’s project.  We do negotiate with them to cover additional expenses that they may incur for participation in a workshop or event, for example, transport, food, etc.

What’s in it for me? Many NGOs have come around before, just giving hand outs, and people are used to seeing an NGO come in paternalistically to give them things.  They imagine that you have a lot of money and you’ll arrive to just start handing things out.  This is not how we want to work.  But people want to know – well, I’m not making any money from this, and I’m going above and beyond, so what do I personally get out of it? What’s in it for me? They even ask this directly, and that is normal. There’s a need to help people think beyond the immediate project. What value does this project add to people’s lives in the long term, to what they do on a daily basis?  If they are not thinking in the long-term, it may be hard for them to see value in the project. If during this discussion with them it’s clear that people don’t see any value in an initiative, then you should be aware that they are not really going to participate.  And that is also logical – if there’s really nothing in it for them, why should they do it? So you need to listen to people and be prepared to discuss and redesign and renegotiate the project so that they are really getting something of value for themselves and the community out of it.  If you come in with an idea from the outside and people don’t see value for themselves, and you go the easy route and pay people to participate in the project, you will see the whole thing fall apart and the efforts will have been for nothing, you will see no impact. So we take the time and discuss and co-design with the community to make it all work. That way it becomes a catalyst for long term positive changes.

Understanding local culture and how your government works. We work to involve local governments and ministries in this work as well as other kinds of decision makers. It’s important to understand how local culture works and what the hierarchies and protocols are in order to do this successfully. It’s critical to know what your government is like and how they work.  If you are not aware of this, it will create problems.  You need to know how to engage teachers, district officials, school directors.  We follow local protocols so that we can ensure good participation and involvement, especially when we need support from the government or ministries in order to move forward with something.  We involve people at these levels also because they are the duty bearers who have the ultimate responsibility here in our countries.  If you leave them out of the equation, you are really harming the initiative and its sustainability as well as losing out on an opportunity to make sustainable changes happen at that higher level.

Respecting community schedules. Communities are not sitting around, waiting for NGOs to show up so that they can participate in NGO activities and projects.  They have their own lives, their own other projects, their own work and their own goals that we need to harmonize with.  Projects that we are supporting are just one part of what community members are doing in their lives.  So we need to be flexible and let the community dictate the pace.  Sometimes partners, colleagues from other parts of the organization and outside donors do not understand this, which can cause conflicts and misunderstandings with the community.  In our case, for example, we are working with youth. They are in school.  We can’t interrupt their primary responsibility, which is getting their education, so we work with them during school holidays or after school.  Often parents want them to work during their school holidays. So again those meetings with parents, community leaders and so on become very important so that they see that their children are participating in a broader initiative and they see the value in it.

Gradual processes.  In this particular project, we are working with youth to have more of a voice.  This can be threatening to some adults in the community, and can go against local norms and culture, just like working with women to overcome gender discrimination can.  If youth are not used to voicing their opinions, they may be fearful of reprisals.  We don’t want to show up, give young people the tools and means to speak out, create conflict in the community, and leave.  This can be very counterproductive and even dangerous. This is where those meetings and building those relationships with different parts of the community again become very critical. We’ve adapted a methodology of intergenerational dialogue.  We sit with the elders, with the community leaders who hold elective positions, and share the project idea and what might come out of it, sit with women, sit with youth. This is like a focus group.  You don’t go in accusing people either. You ask them – what issues do you think youth are facing in the community? They will tell you, and when you’ve heard from everyone, you triangulate the information. Then you find a way to bring everyone together to find common points to start from.  The shift cannot come so strong and fast.  You need to take a slow process.

Listening to children and youth. The strongest point of reference will be what children and youth have talked about, because that is our focus. And for a child to tell you something, it’s taken a lot of work inside themselves to say something.  We had one case where a child decided to stand up and raise the issue of incest at an inter-generational dialogue meeting. A man stood up and said ‘you are lying, this doesn’t happen here’.  But there had been an on-going community process already, and there were other people in the community who were aware and were prepared to stand up and support the child.  In that case, a man stood behind the boy and said, ‘in our community we don’t talk about this, and it takes courage.  Let’s listen to the boy.’ This community process and work is really important to give confidence to the children to be able to speak.  If you are not yet at the point where children can stand up publicly and speak out, then ICTs can also be a good tool.  We’ve found that children’s radio is an excellent place to speak out anonymously about a sensitive community issue.  Children can call in to raise an issue and others can call in to confirm it if it’s happening in the community.  Theater, cartooning and other media area also good ways to raise issues.  Making a drama video on a sensitive topic and sharing it with the community can also be a way to raise an issue without directly accusing someone or implicating a child or youth for having raised it.

Expecting yourself to be held to task too. If there is a track record in the community with children speaking out but nothing happening or changing, then that will deter them from saying anything. So if you want to go down that road, of encouraging children and youth to speak out, you need to be prepared to take it through to the end, to support them. You have to be prepared to really take children and youth voices seriously, to follow things through to the end.  This is actually also true if they raise an area where your own organization has failed, that you yourself have not done something that you promised.  If we encourage them to use their voices, we have to expect that they will hold us accountable too.  We raise funds in the name of these children and communities, so we need to be accountable to them.  We need to be open to children, youth and the community also calling us out.  And have no doubt that they will. It’s happened before and will happen again. So we encourage them to challenge us as an organization, to be honest and to hold us to task.

Change and growth from within. As part of the whole community process, we do mapping, problem tree analysis, assets analysis with the youth and accompanying adults, and they learn much more about themselves. They think about where they are coming from and where they are going, and what local resources they have. This offers perpetuity, especially for the children and youth.  Because of knowing where you come from, you can know where you are going. Where you dream to be.  Using this kind of documentation and these tools actually helps a community to be open to absorbing new things, to be open to change and growth. But not external change and growth, change and growth coming from within the community.

Addressing gender discrimination. As part of the process of mapping and prioritizing issues, there is a lot of discussion.  Very often this brings up issues that are closely linked with gender discrimination.  We see this over and over again. Because we are working in a safe space and using different tools, the issues come up in a way that is not so threatening. Boys also are at a stage where they are more adaptable. They see their sisters and mothers being victims of discrimination and they are more open to hearing out their female peers.  So, we are able then to build a shared agenda that is favorable to girls, and which both boys and girls are then acting on and working to address.  Issues like child marriage, early pregnancy, girls’ schooling come up, but there is a way to look at them and do something.  We also open opportunities for youth leadership roles within the project, and we’ve seen girls start to fight to have a space there, whereas before they would not have thought that they could play an executive role.

Opening space for youth. We work to build new skills in youth to manage new technology, new media, and to do research in their communities.  Through this, youth claim a space that they didn’t have before and can influence certain things, advocate on certain issues they feel are important to them. You see them start taking ownership in communities and in leadership, they want to pick up new things for this role.  We used to invite youth to community meetings. We would start with 20 youth, then it would go down to 10, to 4, to 3 to none. They got bored with it because they didn’t see any relation to themselves. But with this integration of technology and arts, youth have a high interest. It’s really bringing in their opinions, their thoughts and ideas to join their voices with their 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. We tried to come in with programs for youth but they never worked before. With this new way of working, they have become more responsible because they  are not waiting for adults to come in with something and invite them in to ‘help’. Now they are designing strategies and solutions themselves and bringing these to the table.  It’s less easy for politicians and parties to manipulate them and incite them to violence.  Arts and media are effective in this way to share ideas, issues and to use in generating dialogue and solutions in their communities.

ICTs providing reach, motivation and skills. In addition to using ICTs to generate interest in young people and for them to take actions in their communities, we also use ICTs as a cost-efficient way of actually advocating at different levels. You can use video at the local level but also at the national, regional and global level. That is cost effective and has a real impact. You can use videos in invited spaces, for example, where governments, schools, other communities, or our organization itself invite children’s and youth’s voices in.  But we also support youth to use these tools to claim spaces, to fight for space and to get their voices heard there.  We give youth the tools, and you see their brains rewiring. They learn better hand-eye coordination by using a mouse and a computer, and you see then that in class, they can copy from the board without looking at their paper. They learn organizational skills by creating folders and sub folders. They learn structure from filming a video and making a time line while editing it.  They learn to speak with adults and decision makers from talking on the radio, using a recorder or a camera.  They become more motivated to complete school.  All this makes them more effective leaders and advocates for themselves and their agenda.  They also know that they’ve learnt a skill that puts them at the top of the pile in their community for jobs now. They are plugged into something that would never have existed for them before.

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