Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘see saw’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advertisements

Read Full Post »