Author Archives: matthaikin

About matthaikin

ICTs for International Development (ICT4D) practitioner, researcher and consultant, specialising in using digital technologies as a tool for social change internationally and in the UK.

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?

Interested?

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!)

PS
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.

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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 matt@matthaikin.com

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:

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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

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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!

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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):

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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!

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(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 😉

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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!):

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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:

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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…

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… 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..?

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

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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…

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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|)

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Praxis Diary – Day 2 – an audience with Professor Robert Chambers ;-)


Now anyone who knows Robert knows how much he hates people using terms of praise about him (I introduced him at a Brighton ICT4D event as “esteemed” and got told off for it… ahem) – hence the title, just a bit of gentle teasing, oops… J

So day 2 of the 20th Praxis international commune on participatory methods in Delhi kicked off with a day of Robert training and facilitating – covering a LOT of stuff around power, uppers, lower, whose voices and related topics.

The agenda was pretty intriguing:

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The group – very diverse – people from community led organisations, international and national NGOs, consultants, private sector and even one person from government (a first apparently!) – from India, elsewhere in Asia, Africa and 2 of us from Europe.

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Despite being in a venue on a military encampment (don’t ask me why), we had some very different types of sessions and got to move around a little

Some of what we covered was updated material I’ve come across before in Robert’s books which was good to revisit and reflect on

Some was new to me, in particular the idea of different aspects of power based not on the traditional types (political, economic etc.), but on a subtler approach about what the aspect of power means in a participatory context (power over, power to, power to empower…)

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And some was led by the group, including a particularly interesting discussion about how we can begin to change our own organisations (or in my case, how to seek windows of opportunity and levers of change to have a positive effect on other organisations)

That’s it for now, a lot to digest… And a video on human rights to watch this evening…

Oh and if you fancy some light reading – here’s the books recommended – there’s at least 2 I’ll definitely be buying!

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Exhausted now!  More tomorrow… or maybe Saturday… or Monday… or…

Blogette – Day 1 of Praxis participatory commune in Delhi


Ok so its not quite as much of a hippy-fest as the title of this short blog (blogette?) suggests…  Today is day 1 of the 20th international commune on participatory methods in New Delhi, run by Praxis India – the institute for participatory practices.

I’m trying to cram in a quick blog in the first break as the 8 days are pretty tightly packed and sound fascinating, so I may not get another chance!

We have a day and a half with Professor Robert Chambers (ironic that it takes travelling half way round the world for me to finally do some training with Robert when we both live in Brighton!), a few days on participatory monitoring & evaluation and then a couple days of fieldwork which, I hope, will be the best bit!

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A few gems so far from Robert Chambers and Tom Thomas (Praxis CEO):

“We live in exciting times, but also in exacting times.  They demand a lot from us”

“The mere act of creating spaces for dialogue is important”

“When things are changing fast, sometimes the worse things are, the more opportunities there are to make them better”

“We need to come together to pish the boundaries of the possible”

And a nice symbolic “lighting of the flame” ritual to get things started (OK so it is a bit hippyfied…)

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And nice to see some old-fashioned revolutionary spirit on the free (environmentally sustainable) bag!

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Hopefully will blog more later in the week but no promises…  If you’re interested in following we’ll be tweeting on #theworkshop2017 (and probably on @praxis_india too)

Oxfam research poses a challenge to NGOs in Digital Development – what should their role be..?


Today Oxfam launches the research that they commissioned my colleague George Flatters and I to do last spring.

(Download Digital Development: What is the role for international NGOs?)

What research..?

Oxfam wanted information to help them decide what is the most useful role they can play with regards to technology in the HECA region (Horn, East and Central Africa); what is happening now; what success/failure factors seem to be important; what opportunities are out there…

George and I were excited to get involved and after reading a ton of related literature, we talked to Oxfam staff from across the region about the really interesting ‘ICT in programme’ work they are doing, interviewed around 50 interesting ‘tech 4 dev’ types across the region (NGOs, tech start-ups, government, donors, civil society and academics), pushed out an online survey to reach around 300 more, and facilitated a very fun participatory learning workshop at Oxfam’s offices in Nairobi.

What did we learn..?

Lots!  Read the report to delve into all the findings, I’ve only highlighted a few things here.

Some findings were interesting but unsurprising – everyone thinks adaptable and user-focused methods are best, and that scaling is hard… (Ok, so that’s hardly news)

Some findings shed more light on known areas – why do flexible user centred approaches remain relaticely rare across the sector, when everyone agrees they’re good?  Is part of the challenge with achieving scale down to the lack of a shared understanding of what it actually is?

And some were surpirising (to us at least) – increasing survey fatigue – the ease and low-cost of mobile surveys means everyone is doing them, and hearing about some fascinating projects like using tiny internet connectivity devices to directly monitor water supplies in rural areas.

A few of my personal favourite quotes give a flavour of what’s in the report:

“It’s a very basic idea—old stuff, known technology, not trying to be fancy—that’s what works in Africa”, Erik Hersman, BRCK

“NGOs tend to do RFPs to build something, rather than scanning for existing services and just using one… this wastes millions of dollars.”, Fabrice Romeo, Echo Mobile

“Building something yourself should be a last resort… Resist the urge to invent “a better wheel” every time you plan a project — explore what else exists first, and challenge yourself to make it work.”, Alexander Nash, Atkins Water and Environment

“Initiatives should be owned by the community and co-created with end-users… a challenge within typical development cycles of planning and funding.”, Linda Raftree, M&E Consultant

“We’ve heard the same ‘lessons learned’ for 15 years: basic issues around understanding your audience and their technology patterns and needs. These aren’t ‘lessons’, these are common sense approaches — and the fact they are still being re-stated shows that we have not succeeded in bridging the gap between the people who are learning and the people who are designing ICT4D projects.”, Carol Morgan, HIVOS

“People are reaching saturation points with mobile surveys in some countries—we risk exhausting the population and it won’t work for anyone in future.”, Claudia Lopes, Africa’s Voices

There is lots more good stuff in the report.

What I really wanted to focus on though, is the unexpected ‘calls to action’ that emerged from our analysis of the results.

What is the call to action for the international NGO sector?

We heard a range of views and comments about the role of the NGO sector in general.  But in regards to their role in the ICT4D space, one thing came through loud and clear:

Those working with tech in Africa want NGOs to support them, not compete with them.

Many NGOs (including Oxfam I should add) have already embraced local partnership working and policies like “buy/adapt, don’t build internally”, which is a great start.  But as a sector we can do much more…  The three core NGO roles we identified as being welcomed by the majority of those in the ICT4D ‘sector’ are:

Convene

Almost 90% of those surveyed thought international NGOs can play a valuable role in convening partners from different sectors and helping develop the capacity of local actors – co-creating shared best practice guidance for technology development and product selection, supporting upskilling of local people and partners and, ultimately, facilitating the emergence of a bottom-up ICT4D agenda owned and led by African partners.

Collaborate

Another role with widespread support was as collaborators – working with each other to develop shared product requirements and reduce the waste and overlap in producing overly similar tools, working more collaboratively with local partners (as equals not just as service providers) and, most interestingly, collaborating on M&E so that it becomes something outside of projects, even outside of individual organisations, but directly owned by the communities who are collaborating with the NGOs.

Advocate

NGOs are uniquely placed to exert pressure on donors, multi-lateral institutions and governments.  If they can adapt to become more collaborative and become a voice genuinely representative of their local partners – they could be a powerful voice in changing the way these bigger players work – to be more flexible, less top-down, more supportive of developing local capacity, more driven by those actually working with tech in development than those working in policy in London, DC, Brussels etc.

How should NGOs respond?

leftbehindFirst off let’s all recognise – this is happening whether we like it or not.  The sector is going digital, and we all need to adapt to this new reality:

I’d love it if the senior teams of all the international NGOs were to engage with this challenge – however much ICT and ICT4D skills might be improved among staff and partners, without the leaders having a good understanding of the opportunities and risks technology pose, change will be slow.

If a few NGOs can take a lead, champion the idea that the technology actors on-the-ground know best, help them develop their capacity, work with them as equals, advocate with and for them…  Who knows what we might achieve?

So my personal call to action is –

  • Read and (if you like it) share the report
  • Try to work with local partners in a more collaborative and supportive way
  • Join up with other like-minded people working at our weird junction of technology and development/social-change – start to develop a positive ICT4D community in your region
  • Working together, seek to influence those around you to do the same – within your organisation, your partners and especially your donors!

If we all work together for common goals, as part of one community, who knows what we can achieve…

The full report, Digital Development: What is the role for international NGOs? can be downloaded from Oxfam’s Policy & Practice website from Feb 23

Training = Biz Dev..?


Since getting back to the UK, I have been doing some upskilling.

I identified a couple of key areas where I felt I wanted to improve my practice (primarily related to hands-on experience of participatory facilitation techniques), signed up for a few interesting courses (a fairly corporate facilitation skills class which was better than I expected, and – more directly relevant to the development sector, an excellent 3-day workshop on Participatory Action Research with Dan Buckles and am spending a week at the start of March in India at the Praxis annual commune on participatory methods with Professor Robert Chambers, which I a quite excited about!), not to mention a few other workshops, learning meetups etc.

Now all of these were undertaken strictly for my own learning and professional development.

But I just got an email from Action Aid about some potential work.  It may or may not lead anywhere, but it that made me reflect on the fact that – from the PAR training alone, I ended up doing some work with Dan Buckles, discussing some potential future work with CRS and now Action Aid, and there were a couple other interesting conversations during the training that could lead on to work-related opportunities.

Now don’t get me wrong – I am not suggesting anyone go on training courses as a sales vehicle – it would be tacky in the extreme!

But I do feel a bit better about shelling out the money for courses knowing that, not only does it make me (hopefully!) more able to contribute in the sector, but there is a chance it may end up bringing in work to pay for itself.

Hmm, maybe I best look for some more courses! 😉