Recommended Read : Lean Startup (better late than never!)

So for a number of years now I have been recommending Lean Startup to ICT4D and development practitioners as a source of inspiration for a better way to work…

But I have to confess, until recently, I had never actually read the original book (oops!) – I’d been to a couple of seminars, read blogs ABOUT it, seen presentations, discussed it…  Loved the ideas behind it, the general approach…  But I wasn’t overly familiar with the detail.

So I finally started reading it recently – about time really!

And it has surpassed my expectations…  Sure the generalities are what I expected – learn from real customers/users, iterate, have a Minimum Viable Product that answers a key question or asumption etc.), but it turns out a lot of the detail, the methods, the real-world examples and so on are also extremely applicable and relevant to the development sector (and ICT4D / digital development in particular).

So I am working on a more thorough piece (probably another semi-rigourous ‘blarticle’ like my Agile piece) which I will post . . .  soon . . .  ish . . .

In the meantime:

  • Read it!  Seriously, it’s an easy read and I can’t think of a single person I know in the sector who wouldn’t find it useful and interesting.
  • If anyone knows of any existing research (anything – not just thorough academic work, even blogs, whitepapers, company reports etc.) about applying Lean Startup principles in the aid/development sector – please post below or email me

Happy reading!

Published this week – ‘Civic Tech in the Global South’

[ Skip the waffle, just want the PDF… Ok fine go ahead download it!! 🙂 ]

In 2014/15, I was working on a research project for the World Bank looking into ways to evaluate ‘ICT-mediated citizen engagement’ – a descriptive but not-so-catchy description, which we later amended to ‘digital citizen engagement’ and has since been replaced with the far catchier ‘civic tech’.

The project involved producing a guide for practitioners to help evaluate these type of civic tech interventions which was published in 2016 (available here), which was informed by the hands-on evaluation of three real pieces of civic tech – U-Report in Uganda, MajiVoice in Kenya and the participatory budget in Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil.

These evaluations helped to create the framework and guidance in the practitioners’ guide but are also extremely interesting and valuable pieces of work in their own right, and have this week been published – along with a comparative study drawing on both these and other evaluations in a new book by the World Bank:

Civic Tech in the Global South: Assessing Technology for the Public Good

The book is edited by Tiago Peixoto (World Bank) and Micah Sifry (Civic Hall), with an extremely interesting foreword by Beth Noveck (Gov Lab at NYU) and contains the following chapters:

  • Civic Tech—New Solutions and Persisting Challenges (Tiago Peixoto and Micah L. Sifry)
  • When Does ICT-Enabled Citizen Voice Lead to Government Responsiveness? (Tiago Peixoto and Jonathan Fox)
  • The Case of UNICEF’s U-Report Uganda (Evangelia Berdou and Claudia Abreu Lopes, with Fredrik M. Sjoberg and Jonathan Mellon)
  • MajiVoice Kenya—Better Complaint Management at Public Utilities (Martin Belcher and Claudia Abreu Lopes, with Fredrick M. Sjoberg and Jonathan Mellon)
  • Impact of Online Voting on Participatory Budgeting in Brazil (Matt Haikin with Fredrik M. Sjoberg and Jonathan Mellon)

So nice to see my first ‘real’ publication – looking forward to getting a copy of the book in the post, but meanwhile the electronic version will do! 😊

All three evaluations are interesting, and all cover civic tech from very different angles, yet through the consistency of the five lenses we designed for the practitioner’s guide, which I have to say gets more useful the more I revisit it (and not just for civic tech work either, for a whole range of ICT4D):



Objective What are the goals of the initiative, and how well is the project designed to achieve those goals?
Control Which actors exert the most influence over the initiative’s design and implementation, and what are the implications of this?
Participation Which individuals participate in the initiative, and to what extent is their participation in line with their needs and expectations?
Technology How appropriate was the choice of the tech­nology, and how well was the technology implemented?
Effects What effects did the project have, and to what extent can this impact be attributed to technology?

I was going to include a summary of the key findings of each evaluation here but… you know what… the download is free, why not just read the originals instead!

And finally, and hopefully not sounding too much like Gwyneth Paltrow bawling her eyes out at an Oscar’s ceremony…  A few thankyous without whom the guide and the evaluations might never have happened…

Aptivate, ICA:UK, IDS, George Flatters, Nate Whitestone, Jonathan Dudding, Evangelia Berdou, Savita Bailur, Rebecca Murphy, Martin Belcher, Claudia Lopes, Fernanda Scur, Fredrik Sjoberg, Jonathan Mellon… and of course Tiago, Sanna, Kate, Daniel and the rest of the team at the Bank… and those involved in the publication of the book… and… a whole load of other people listed in the acknowledgements in the book… and… ok I think that’s probably enough! 😊

Hope you find it as interesting to read as it was to work on!

Oh, and it goes without saying that if you need some advice and guidance on evaluating your own ICT-mediated digital citizen engagement civic technology intervention projects (ahem)…  Drop me a message.

Would you like to read interviews with people working in ICT4D, digital development, tech4good (etc etc…)

Recently my friend Izzy (Isabelle Amazon-Brown) and I were discussing the fact that we both at a point of deciding what we want to do next in our ICT4D careers… And there is not a whole lot out there to help fuel the decision.

Something we both thought would be helpful would be to hear from other people in the broad ‘using technology for social good’ sectors about what they do, how they got there, where they see their careers heading and, most interestingly, what they think the sector needs to give it a bit of a shake-up.

But if we’re going to chat to a range of people about this, why not publish it so everyone can get the benefit.

  • What do people think about the idea – would you find these kinds of interview interesting and useful?
  • Any particular angles you’d want to read about?
  • Are there specific people you’d like to hear from or would suggest we speak to?
  • Would you like to be interviewed?

Ideas on a postcard (well… in the comments threads below would be even better!) 🙂


Corbyn – most successful Labour leader since Blair / Wilson..?

Watching the 2017 general election results and the way the media and the bulk of the Labour party reacted to the results and to Corbyn was interesting yet somehow unsurprising.

After a brief moment of surprise and elation when people generally spoke with honesty, the naysayers and that beacon of partiality the BBC were back to their usual “ah but he didn’t win”, “he didn’t do so well really now did he…”

The implication being that he did good “for a leftie” or in spite of himself, but seriously now, not nearly so good as a serious politician would’ve done in the same scenario.

Well, is there any truth to this?  Can we take a look beyond the stats the media are choosing to share and see just how good this result really was?

Seats vs. vote share

The first thing everyone does know and discuss is the difference between the share of seats (Labour won roughly 40% of each, but our archaic system gives the Tories 49% of the seats for just 42% of the vote).  This isn’t news, its unfortunate but it is what is is…

Vote share vs. vote mobilisation

More interesting is to look at the results against a different backdrop – not as a percentage of those who voted, but as a percentage of those who were eligible to vote.  This figure takes more account of the mobilisation of previously uninterested voters and the impact of the Labour campaign on turnout overall.

By this measure, Labour won 27% of the popular vote against 29% for the conservatives.  Pretty close but, so far, not to different from the traditional measures.

If we look at this historically though, it shows just how impressive Corbyn’s results are.  Not just as a bounce-back from a historically low base, but compared to the Labour party history.

Looking at the chart below comparing the results since 1970, we can see that the 2010 and 2015 results were historic lows – 19% and 20% were the worst performance for Labour since at least 1970 (perhaps ever) as a result of the total electorate – i.e. of all those who could’ve voted – a more meaningful figure in many ways than a percentage of those who DID vote, as it includes reflections of voter apathy vs. commitment and mobilisation[1].


So Corbyn as bounced back from the worst performance of the Labour party in over 30 years, to 27%.  Follow the dotted-line back and see when the last time any Labour leader did so well was.  Blair in his landslide of 1997 did better (on 31%) but interestingly not in his other wins.  And we have to go back to 1979 for any other comparable results.

There are some interesting questions to ask about why Labour are still, consistently under-performing compared to their 1970s results (which let’s be honest were hardly monumental anyway!), but Corbyn is the first leader since 1997 who has shown any hint of being able to change this, can we please stop playing down the scale of this achievement and think about how much better it might’ve been if Labour MPs, non-Momentum Labour activists and the so-called progressive press had been behind him for the last few years instead of taking every opportunity to talk him down.

That’s a lesson we can learn!

Any Corbynista’s looking for some even better (if perhaps statistically slightly dubious given a rising population) figures – here’s how he did if you just look at the absolute numbers of people who voted Labour – an interesting representation of his ability to mobilise people.


NOTE : Statistics obtained from  and

2017 2015 2010 2005 2001 1997 1992 1987 1983 1979 1974 1974 1970
Voting-age population 52,064,501[2] 51,339,161 49,371,188 47,162,665 45,756,018 44,820,250 44,413,873 43,528,600 42,382,172 41,351,997 40,439,384 40,439,384 39,917,580
Electorate size 46,864,730 46,354,197 45,597,461 44,245,939 44,401,238 43,881,939 43,249,721 43,181,321 42,197,832 41,091,260 40,101,265 39,769,321 39,398,518
Turnout 68.7% 66.1% 65.1% 61.4% 59.4% 71.4% 77.7% 755.3% 72.7% 76.0% 72.8% 78.8% 72.0%
Voters 32,196,070 30,640,124 29,683,947 27,167,007 26,374,335 31,331,704 33,605,033 326,148,518 30,677,824 31,229,358 29,193,721 31,338,225 28,366,933
Labour 12,874,284 9,347,003 8,606,517 9,552,436 10,724,835 13,518,184 11,559,735 10,031,914 8,457,164 11,505,203 11,456,597 11,641,143 12,080,977
Tory 13,667,231 11,299,609 10,703,654 8,784,915 8,357,242 9,600,643 14,092,891 13,736,747 13,011,992 13,697,403 10,428,966 11,834,346 12,723,480
Labour % of voting-age pop 25% 18% 17% 20% 23% 30% 26% 23% 20% 28% 28% 29% 30%
Tory % of voting-age pop 26% 22% 22% 19% 18% 21% 32% 32% 31% 33% 26% 29% 32%
Labour % of electorate 27% 20% 19% 22% 24% 31% 27% 23% 20% 28% 29% 29% 31%
Tory % of electorate 29% 24% 23% 20% 19% 22% 33% 32% 31% 33% 26% 30% 32%


[1] I originally did this using the voting-age population – perhaps a better indicator as it would give a clearer picture of the people who had previously not even registered to vote, but the results are not that different and the population figures are problematic for a variety of reasons…

[2] Estimate based on linear extrapolation from 2015

Want to collaborate on some genuine impact evaluation of civic tech / DCE?

I am currently at the TicTEC conference in Florence (yes I know, the sacrifices I make for my work!).

It is interesting and there are some very good presentations, speakers and discussions, but one thing keeps coming up in almost every session – “yes but are we having an impact”, “we are reaching people but what is it achieving” and variations on this theme.

What is conspicously absent from the discussions – an understanding of impact?

It got me thinking – civic tech is a very broad field, there are differing (and sometimes competing) goals for what ‘success’ would look like, there are different factors at play in different countries – its messy, but there seems to be one particular subset of the field that is, in my opinion, the most important, and perhaps easier to distill some measurement of impact or success for…

And I think maybe if a few of us got together, with some relatively modest funding, we could make some proper inroads so this time next year (ok maybe the year after) the questions are different – how much impact did you have, why didn’t you achieve the changes you were seeking – more informed, less specualtive and hopefully more cognratulatory!

The subset of civic tech I am interested in are based on three assumptions:

  1. The work is based in a “poor” country (I leave the academics to decide whether this means it is developing, emerging, low income, middle income or in the global South)
    I am not talking about civic tech in the US or Europe…
  2. The institutions (state and otherwise) in this area are generally unresponsive and do not seem to WANT to respond to citizen needs
    This is not about good governments who just need better information, this is about fundamental change.
  3. In these areas the poor are generally less engaged or less listened to than the middle-classes.
    This is about equity, equality and poverty reduction – not an abstract exercise in increasing representativeness.

To my mind, the above described the overlap between civic-tech and international-development pretty well and is the area I am interested in exploring.

What could be done?

Well I am looking for people to help me work this out, but from my extensive 10 minutes of thinking during and after the last #TicTEC session, evaluating the impact of this types of would could do well to concentrate on factors like…

  • Has it reached the poor and marginalised in a significant way?
  • Has it pressured/enabled government and other institutions to be more responsive than they would have otherwise?
  • Has it caused policy, spending or other tangible action to shift in favour of the poor or towards more equitable outcomes?
  • Has it created methods or institutions by which this change or process of change will last in a long-term and sustainable way?


This is nothing more than a call for interested people for now – but I think there is a lot of expertise out there and together we could make some sertous headway.  I have some experience in evaluating this area but I think a group of us from across the field could do so much more… things like…

Find some funding
Evaluate some existing projects in areas that meet the criteria above
Set up something new to do some action research
Identify some common success/failure factors that are simplified enough to be useful to others working in the field
Maybe even set up some kind of hands-on guide for practitioners in the field setting up this kind of work (if the success factors lend themselves to something so linear that is!)…

If this strikes a chord and you’d like to discuss further, let me know by completing the poll below (please put your name and email in the “other” field along with any comment – sorry a bit clunky but am doing this in a rush!).

And if you think I am barking up the wrong tree and this is already out there – help me (and everyrone else) find it!!!

The literature gap between academia and big business..?

So I am doing a piece of work for a US-based international NGO at the moment.  It includes exploring what the upcoming trends might be for the ICT4D sector.

I am obviously quite cautious about making predictions (recent history being a case-study in the value of these!), and was initially also quite cautious about even finding much useful literature or material to draw ideas from.

Well, in some areas I was proven wrong.

It turns out there is a ton of “big IT” material out there – the likes of pwc, Accenture, deloitte etc. are continually speculating about the tech trends, and some of them are even looking at what that means for Africa, for development etc.

I also found a little academic work exploring the impact of deeper social trends on underlying ICT4D paradigms and reserach interests.  Extremely interesting but only tangentially relevant to this work.

What I have really struggled with – which ironically feels like the easiest part to predict – is practical short-term predictions about the sector – we all know digital has increased and continues to, but by how much?  We all talk about funders and INGOs ‘going digital’ but what does this mean in terms of funding, upcoming calls, programs etc?  There is a lot of discussion about new funders, more funding going direct to the South, governments funding tech directly etc. – but where are the summaries, the numbers, the analyses.

I hope I am just find it hard to find – as at least that would just mean my individual failure.

But maybe I can’t find it because, as a sector we are not producing it.  That would be a collective failure that is more concerning.

So my appeal – do you know of any recent material (literature, websites, blogs.  hell even tweets!) on sector trends, funding trends, anything likely to impact on organisation’s approaches to ICT4D over the next few years?

If so, please contact me urgently!

(I am hoping to publish the results of my own research – pending approval of the NGO, so watch this space and hopefully I will save others from having to hit the same roadblock in the future!)

The image is because I couldn’t find a cartoon that suitably captured my failing to find the research.. but this made me chuckle and is kinda loosely vaguely relevant ahem


An (almost) eyewitness account of today’s attack on Parliament in London

A normal day, turned anything but…

Today has been a strange day, to say the least…

It started pretty normally – I had a couple of very good exploratory meetings with other ‘ICT for Development’ types (Accenture Development Partnerships and 2CV).  They went well, and I decided to head off on a ‘boris bike’ to the gym.

What did I actually see and hear?

As I came off of Embankment towards Parliament Square I saw a car accident.  At least that’s what I thought initially…  A car was mounted up on the pavement by the wall/fence next to Big Ben, with a group of international students gathered around it and some others running towards it – it must’ve literally just happened.  My first thought was how lucky I was not to have cycled past 10 seconds earlier as I would have been right in its path.

My second thought was much darker as I passed the car and saw a body, not moving, covered in blood on the pavement next to it.  At this point it still seemed like an accident.  A tragic car accident but no more.  I pulled over my bike to take off my headphones and call for an ambulance.


At this point I realised there was a lot of shouting, more than seemed normal for a car accident.  And there were some people running towards the gates of the Houses of Parliament who, on a closer look, were dressed in security gear and had guns.  I was beginning to realise there might be more going on.

Walking towards the gates I heard a quick round of gunshots at which point it dawned on me this wasn’t an accident but might be some kind of attack.  Was the car collision a coincidence (unlikely) or could this be something bigger.

There were some people staring through the gates into parliament yard.  Stupidly I went over to join them to see what was going on (it only later dawned on me quite how incredibly stupid this was), only to be moved on by the police after catching a glimpse of what seemed to be a couple of bodies on the ground (dead or simply detained I couldn’t tell).

Now things seemed to be kicking up a notch – more police appeared, ambulances appeared, the police started shouting to move everyone away from Parliament…  We all slowly coalesced at the far end of Parliament Square to watch proceedings.  An Air Ambulance arrived.  More police cars, vans, guns, ambulances.  But little or no information – on or offline – about what was going on.

The media descending…

For me personally, it then got even stranger…

As I was on the verge of leaving, a woman asked me if I knew what was going on and if I saw anything.  When I started to recount the above to her she quickly stopped me and said “I am from CNN, do you mind if I interview you”.

Having never been in front of a camera before, I was understandable nervous but agreed.  The interview was OK, I wasn’t as bad as I thought, and we then got moved on further away from the square to the QE2 centre.

As I started telling a lad who had been there the whole time what I saw, suddenly another journalist appeared, then another…  Then a video camera…

So I then rapidly seemed to recount my fairly minimal take on events to the Mail, the Express, the Telegraph, Associated Press, the BBC, an Australian channel, and a few others I have forgotten.  As it ended, another batch of journalists (is that the collective noun?) asked me to recount it again…  Then another…

How do I feel?

It was only through this continual re-telling that it actually began to dawn on me what I was in the middle of…

During the events, my main emotion was curiosity and surprise, and a bit of adrenalin.  As I retold things for the 4th and 5th time, I began to realise just how strange this was – I was shocked of course, but I hadn’t been scared, and from what I saw neither had anyone else – why else were we all stupidly trying to get closer to see what was going on, instead of running as far and as fast as we could!?

As the shock began to settle in (along with the added shock of my debut TV appearance), I realised I needed to do just that – get far away, have a glass of wine and relax!

So apologies to the tweets I’ve been ignoring, and the other journalists asking for interviews – I’m now home and decided to write this all up once instead.

Now what…

Well, apart from needing a drink and a long rest, the main thing I want is – I guess like everyone else –to find out the full story of what actually happened!  Was it terrorism, was it something else..?  I hope we find out soon!

Note to journalists and media
Feel free to quote this, use it or link to it.
And use the pics or the video (not very good but feel free, all were taken by me)
But please credit me (and link back to this page if you can!)

Am a bit too exhausted and interviewed out for more interviews, sorry,
but happy to receive questions to

Praxis days 6-8 – final update

So we actually did the fieldwork on 6th and 7th March and some final reflections and summing up on 8th, but I managed to contract a stomach bug around the same time (so much for being sensible) so this is a bit late…

Well, the group split into groups for the fieldwork – my group went to an urban slum in NE Delhi called Seemapuri:

to do some work with women and schoolkids there around the Right to Education act in India and their lived experience of it (or more realistically – their experience of its lack of real effect).  The sessions were coordinated through a local transparency focused community based organisation Pardarshita, helping to amplify their voices to get the government to live up to its commitments:


So our first day was… interesting… We had been told virtually nothing about where we were going, who we were meeting, how many people, what kind of space, what their expectations were…  And had tried to plan around this (impossible) the night before…

So the morning was a bit chaotic and felt a bit more top-down than we would’ve liked – but it still emerged lots of interesting themes


After a brief planning session over lunch, the afternoon seemed better and day 2 was much much better – amazing what a difference a bit of planning makes, even when it’s as rough and ready as this!


By the end of day 2, the women had explored some interesting aspects to the education problems in their community (including, a surprise to us, the fact that alcohol and drug issues were one of the main problems!)

And, despite a brief distraction from preparations for a wedding feast outside (particularly disturbing for the vegetarians in our group):


by the end, they seemed happy, we were happy, we all got on well and – we hope – the exercise was useful for them and for Pardarshita, not just a learning vehicle for us!


(honestly there was much much more smiling and hugging until the second before the camera clicked…!)

Day 8…

This was mainly summaries and reflections from our “Participatory M&E” group and the other “Ground Level Panels” group – and I stupidly forgot to get pics of the cool summary flipcharts everyone did, oops!  I did though get a photo of Robert Chambers pretending to be the UN telling everyone what’s best for them.  A nice way to wrap up I think 😉


He also said something I have been harping on about for years – nice to know the feeling is more widespread and I’d love to engage with others on how to tackle it:

“The development sector suffers from a terrible worldwide shortage of facilitators”

Even more true if you make it ‘good and participatory facilitators’!

Praxis Days 4-5 : Participatory M&E and Advocacy… Sort of…

Ok so things have got a bit less structured and more disorganised… But a few interesting take-aways still worth highlighting below…

A great visual recap of day 3 (day 5’s recap of day 4 was very interactive and was impossible to capture on film!):


Some fun and very weird games to kick-off the days…


An interesting discussion about what makes good participatory conditions for collective action:

And some more serious thinking on what is required for collective action and for advocacy at scale:

I have always hated the idea of SMART objectives, so it was refreshing to see an alternative suggestion for creating indicators:


And finally, a cultural evening and a fun evening out in Khan Market.  I don’t think it takes a genius to guess my favourite!

Tomorrow… Day 1 of 2 days fieldwork in Delhi slums.  With virtually no information on what we are doing or who we are meeting… So about 1% of the required preparation done…  And 5 hours traffic jams to look forward to…  Watch this space! 🙂

Praxis Day 3 – PRA and Together Tools

Ok, am exhausted so today’s update is mainly just visual…

After a fun round of re-introductions via terrible drawings…


… we played with lots of tools today – problem trees, circle diagrams, matrix scoring, social maps, mobility maps, before-and-after and seasononal diaires…

… and my personal favourite – a bodymap outlining good and bad aspects of a facilitator – looks like the new Batman baddie… the Facipulator..?


Mostly these were taken from a book produced, ironically, 10 miles from my house and which I have never heard, how on earth!?


I felt it necessary to add a wall-chart of the Ladder of Participation – really it should be engraved on the wall permanently, maybe I’ll offer…


Oh and just to personalise things… Here is a small selection of us… A more comprehensive group photo will follow later I am sure (with me in it grimacing painfully|)