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Screen Shot 2014-06-05 at 7.10.25 AMPlan International’s Finnish office has just published a thorough user-friendly guide to using ICTs in community programs. The guide has been in development for over a year, based on experiences and input from staff working on the ground with communities in Plan programs in several countries.

It was authored and facilitated by Hannah Beardon, who also wrote two other great ICT4D guides for Plan in the past: Mobiles for Development (2009) and ICT Enabled Development (2010).

The guide is written in plain language and comes from the perspective of folks working together with communities to integrate ICTs in a sustainable way.

It’s organized into 8 sections, each covering a stage of project planning, with additional practical ideas and guidance in the annexes at the end.

Chapters include:

1 Assessing the potential of ICTs

2 Assessing the social context for ICTs

3 Assessing the physical context for ICTs

4 Reviewing

5 Choosing the ICT

6 Planning for sustainability

7 Building capacity

8 Monitoring, evaluation and sharing learning

Screen Shot 2014-06-05 at 7.27.32 AMThe sections are not set up as a linear process, and depending on each situation and the status of a project the whole guide can be used, or smaller sections can be pulled out to offer some guidance. Each section includes steps to follow and questions to ask. There are detailed orientations in the annexes as well, for example, how to conduct a participatory communications assessment at the community level, how to map information and communication flows and identify bottlenecks where ICTs might help, how to conduct a feasibility study, how to budget and consider ‘total cost of ownership.’

One thing I especially like about the guide is that it doesn’t push ICTs or particular ‘ICT solutions’ (I really hate that term for some reason!). Rather, it helps people to look at the information and communication needs in a particular situation and to work through a realistic and contextually appropriate process to resolve them, which may or may not involve digital technology. It also assumes that people in communities, district offices and country offices know the context best, and simply offers a framework for pulling that knowledge together and applying it.

Screen Shot 2014-06-05 at 7.07.45 AM99% of my hands-on experience using ICTs in development programming comes from my time at Plan International, much of it spent working alongside and learning from the knowledgeable folks who put this guide together. So I’m really happy to see that now other people can benefit from their expertise as well!

Let @vatamik know if you have questions, or if you have feedback for them and the team!

Download “A practical guide to using ICTs” here.

 

 

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I was in a global strategy meeting at the organization where I work last week. We had people from various disciplines present from across the organization and the goal was to chart a path to 2015 and beyond.

For the first couple days it seemed like a lot of talk and a lot more talk. We had very bright, very capable people representing different aspects of our work in the room. This can make things quite messy and tiring, and it can feel like everyone is talking in circles because there are so many perspectives and angles and factors that need to be considered in finding shared ground. Sometimes we are so participatory and complicated that we get in our own way. But by the 3rd and final day the perspectives had come together into a much clearer view of where the organization is headed, and we had the beginnings of a shared plan for how to get there.

We worked in a few main groups, and I participated in the Communications group. Much of our discussion centered around integrating better communication in all aspects of our work rather than seeing the role of Communications (and the Comms Team) as designing one-way messages out to the public. One colleague described this as ensuring ‘built in’ rather than ‘bolted on’ communications.

For me the discussions and end decisions were great, because there was a shared push in the group to move the organization towards things that I think are very important.

Some of the aspects we talked about included:

Communicating within programs

  • the critical role of Communications within programs – eg., Communications shouldn’t only happen at the end of a program (press releases, events or media work to share what was done); rather communication is a critical tool within programs to help reach program and development goals at various levels
  • the role of information and communications tools (new and old ones, high and low tech) at the community level to improve impact, efficiency, reach, engagement, decision-making, transparency and accountability
  • the need to strengthen our ability to better integrate information and communication tools into program efforts, measure the impact of different tools and efforts, and share experiences around this
Communicating with ‘the public’ (our ‘stakeholders’)
  • ensuring consistency in what we do and how we talk about what we do
  • space for children and young people to tell their own stories both behind the camera and in front of the camera, as producers of media not as objects of or consumers of media
  • reaching people through the ‘heart’ (which we are quite good at) as well as the ‘head’ (which we need to get better at)
  • communicating evidence of impact as well as anecdotal and personal stories
  • using different information and communication tools to communicate at varying levels of complexity and technicality to different ‘audiences’
  • using various kinds of media to tell a deeper and more complex story than is currently told
  • finding the sweet spot between a) talking to ourselves in boring technical language and b) over-simplifying or ‘dumbing down’ the complexity of people’s lives and the work that we’re involved in
  • having a strong and unified global goal so that each team or office can move towards that shared goal, but allowing the flexibility to take the path that makes the most sense locally
  • good communication at every level — community, district, national, global, ‘North’ and ‘South’, internal and external, networked — to involve people (including ‘beneficiaries’, ‘supporters’, ‘advocates’ and any other ‘stakeholder’) in community development work and in achieving child rights
  • opening the channels and lessening hierarchical controls on communications so that staff can feel more confident about communicating and using social media both internally and externally
  • using a combination of communication channels to reach our goals; eg., community radio enhanced by SMS; television programs enhanced by use of web and vice versa
  • new communications technology to facilitate connections among the network of people we reach (the ‘participants’ and the ‘supporters’ and all those in between)
Communicating for decision-making and accountability
  • the role of communications in knowledge sharing and knowledge management, internally and externally
  • creating better feedback and accountability loops to enable communities and the children and youth that we work with to have more of a say about the work we are doing and how we talk about it
  • using new technology to better organize, share and use the information that we already have, both internally and externally
  • using info-graphics to visualize information so that we can make better decisions about programs and to be more accountable to the public and to program participants
Even more important than ‘talking about’ the topics above, we worked on plans to actually do them…!
Note: this is not an official meeting report but rather my own take-aways from the workshop.

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Salim (left) with Solomon in Kinango community.

As I mentioned in my previous post, Plan’s Kwale District office in Kenya has been a role model for Plan on how to integrate ICTs into community-led programming to help reach development goals and improve access to children’s rights.

I talked with Salim Mvurya, the Area Manager in Kwale, last week and asked him for advice for the tech community (0.15), corporations (1.19) and development organizations (1.57) who want to build in ICTs for moving towards development goals. He also comments on the importance of realizing that development is changing (4.43). You can watch the video below or at this link. If you’re not patient enough to watch a 6 min video (often I’m not!) or don’t have a strong connection, see the transcript below.

You can also view Part 1 of the video, where Salim gives some background on how Plan Kwale has been using ICTs in their programs since 2003 (1.11), shares ideas about the potential of new ICTs (3.42) and talks about some key lessons learned (5.03). Or you can read the Part 1 transcript here.

Transcript Part 2

ICTs and Development Part 2: advice for tech community, corporations and development organizations

My name is Salim Mvurya, I’m the Area Manager for Plan in the Kwale Development Area.

What advice can you give to outside tech people who want to develop something for a place like Kenya?

I think that to get an idea externally is a good thing, but that idea has to be blended with grassroots. It has to be contextualized, because there are very many good ideas which may not be appropriate at the community level. So I think my advice, for people who have ideas, who have never been to Kenya or Africa or in the field, is to leave the process to be home grown, so that the ideas that are coming from outside are building on existing issues, so that the ideas are also looking at what kind of skills and what can be done on the ground, and looking also at issues of sustainability. So it’s very important for somebody from outside the country to be sensitive to local conditions, local context, local skills and also looking at putting ideas that can be self-sustaining.

What is your advice for corporations who want to support the use of ICTs in development?

Corporate organizations who are interested in making a contribution to ICT for development, I think it is important that they foster and have partnerships with grassroots organizations that can really give them the issues because, OK, most corporations are very innovative, but working with grassroots NGOs and civil society that can give them the practical sense of those ideas, I think would be a good thing to do.

What is your advice for colleagues trying to successfully integrate ICTs into their programs?

One thing for organizations that are thinking of utilizing ICT is that you need local capacity. Like, if you have a field office, for example, Plan has development areas, in development areas, particularly for Plan, the ICT technical people should also have an opportunity to lead the ICT for development. What I have seen in the few years that I have been trying this is that it requires also the ICT function to be more available to communities. It requires the ICT function to also work around the program issues that the team is thinking, so it’s not just about looking at systems, looking at computers, but looking at how can all these ICT skills be able to help to develop programs. How can the ICT function be able to support innovations that are also going to enhance problem solutions at the community level. How can we use ICT to strengthen our interventions in the community?

And I must say from experience, that the ICT coordinator for Kwale has been more of a ‘program’ person, and I think that is why we are seeing all these gains.  I remember when we were designing the community-led birth registration one afternoon, we sat together and we were thinking, how can we put all these ideas together and include ICTs in it, so I think it’s about having an ICT function that is responsive to the program issues on the ground and not necessarily sitting somewhere and looking at softwares. You know, even designing a software that would be more responsive to what is happening on the ground, like looking at issues of child protection and seeing how can ICT help the response mechanism. Looking at issues of accountability and seeing how ICT can make a contribution to accountability processes in community.  So I think that is the kind of ICT that would be appropriate in the field, but also an ICT function that can learn. You know, learning from other people, but bringing the lessons closer home to see what can work, and what can’t work.

Any last advice for development organizations around integration of ICTs?

The message that I would want to give to stakeholders and development organizations is that a lot is happening in the world in terms of ICT.  Also recognizing that development is changing… ICT is providing opportunities for greater advocacy and accountability, and I think getting the interest for looking at all this and trying to say ‘what does this mean for development’ I think is very very critical. The youth constituency is emerging as very critical and they have interest in ICT. I know in Kenya youth have been trying different things, different groups, but I think ICT is providing an opportunity for them to strengthen accountability but also to be able to get skills that they can use as individuals that can also make a contribution in economic development.

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Modernizing birth registration with mobile technology

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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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ICT4D Kenya:  “ICT and community development is real”

Chickens and Eggs and ICTs

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I spent last week in Kwale, Kenya in the company of several colleagues learning about and discussing the use of mobiles in community development, both for outreach and communications and for mobile data gathering. There was a variety of people — from frontline staff to members of Community Based Organizations (CBO) in Kwale, to monitoring and evaluation (M&E) staff from Plan Kenya’s districts and central offices and Plan’s West Africa Regional office, to IT staff, to youth and those working with youth media, to partner organizations working on child help lines and social media outreach.

Photo: Anthony from Plan along with Mativo, a former Plan colleague, trained us on FLSMS

We looked closely at Frontline SMS (FLSMS) and Nokia’s new Data Gathering Software (NDGS) and brainstormed on ways that this type of tool might support the work that people are already doing. Really an interesting week!

In addition to the more common ideas of using mobiles for health campaigns, disaster/crisis situations and general communications and monitoring, people mentioned:

For youth media programs:

-Organizing weekly radio contests via Frontline SMS and allowing many more youth to participate in the radio program that way. Now for contests, they have to write a letter with their answer and bring it to radio station by foot. Using SMS many more could participate, increasing listeners and engagement.

-Assessing the radio show right after the recording. The youth and children could go in the audience and gather the data they normally do by hand using mobile data gathering software, thus easing the processing time and analysis of the information.

-Monitoring progress and changes made in relation to the show at a broader level — the participating youth could use mobile data gathering to monitor change related to the issues they are targeting in the radio shows and to see if youth organization and awareness building is impacting on the community over time.

Photo: people got really excited when their first forms appeared on their phones to be filled in!

For Child/Human Rights work and Global Child Rights Campaigns:

-Assessing the knowledge/awareness of the communities about rights issues and/or our global campaigns

-Receiving reports and sharing information about violations of rights (gathering info on whether children are being registered at birth, the incidence of school violence, girl’s or women’s rights violations, cases of child abuse) and offer short information on where to go for help.

-Monitoring child abuse cases, e.g. community members could text in key words such as ABUSE or MARRIAGE to report and track child abuse cases and early marriages happening in the community:

Birth Registration (UBR) implementation

-Tracking birth registration certificates and sharing information on the steps of the registration process. With auto SMS replies we could enhance information accessibility 24/7. We could provide instant feedback to people on the status of their birth registration. It would be a very quick way of sending information to many.

-Using mobile data gathering software, the birth registration process could be made paperless and computerized, thus saving time and effort for the population and increasing the number of children who are registered at birth.

Photo: Jackson and 3 other colleagues from Brazil trained us on the NDGS.

Monitor services

-Running a mobile survey or a rapid assessment to find out whether a service like Childline is reaching people and whether the service is known and being utilized in the field.

Communicating among Plan staff, CBOs, Communities

-Passing along information such as training dates, schedules, meetings, etc., to avoid making a trip out to the community to get information

-Surveying on health, school attendance, and school enrollment through a network of teachers

Communities communicating amongst themselves

-Communities have a lot of information they want to share among themselves, among the Community Health Workers (CHWs), with the other communities and other leaders – they could do this with FLSMS.

Managing Meetings and Decisions

-Inviting participants, confirming attendance, updating on the absentees when you’ve reached a decision they could be contacted this way. You could even involve those who are absent in voting by SMS if you don’t have quorum; eg., text in 1 for this candidate, 2 for this other one, or vote yes/no on something.

Photo: SMS was seen as a great way for communities and CBOs to communicate and organize.

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We’ve been thinking and discussing the best way to follow up on the Social Media for Social Change workshop that we had in December in Kenya. Ideas have been going back and forth about the best way to really find out what the Information and Communication needs are in the countries where we are working, and then how to support the different offices and staff to find the best and most appropriate Technology solutions.

We ended up with a chicken and egg situation in a way…. if ICT4D is not your top priority, and you don’t spend your life trying to figure out what is happening with ICT4D, you may not know what all is out there. (Ha, even if you do spend your life doing it, you don’t know what all is out there). So it can be hard to imagine tools and solutions if you’ve not seen them in action, used them yourself, or heard about how others are using them. At the same time, each local situation is different, so one size doesn’t fit all, so in order to find a tool or a solution, the situation analysis must come from those who would use that ‘solution.’ So what do you do first — learn about different tools and potential solutions so that the lightbulb goes off on ways to incorporate/adapt the existing tools to your needs, or discuss your ‘needs’ and design something that works — sometimes re-inventing the wheel. We thought that the best way we could manage the situation was to try to do both at once.

What we want to do is to activate our knowledge and study more about the concrete information and communications needs at the community level as well as in Plan’s program work that could be supported by ICTs. So we are hoping that we can produce a document which offers specific recommendations about utilizing ICTs in our work in the participating countries in Africa. And we then hope that we can identify areas to be developed further including successful initiatives currently being implemented by Plan itself and also those areas where we can build on existing synergy with governmental strategies. We are also hoping to better understand the capacity building needs among Plan and its partners.

It should be interesting research/training and hopefully will take us one step further towards incorporating appropriate technology to improve our communications and management of information so that we can have greater impact in our existing programs or even develop new programs that we didn’t think were possible before….

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