Category Archives: Development

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

Participatory Technology – Meeting Up on the South Coast (#tech4socialchange)


The Scene…

Friday September 27th 2013, a dark room above The Quadrant in Brighton, having lost my guest speaker and my MC, and experiencing the obligatory technical problems with the projector, beginning to panic a little…

(One day I plan to attend a conference of the Institute of Projector Technicians, see if *they* have the same problems as the rest of us!)

Turn my back to stare at a broken cable, and 2mins later, Robert Chambers and a supporting cast from the Institute of Development Studies are there, and about a dozen people have trickled upstairs without me noticing – considering it’s still 15mins before the posted arrival time and the last event had a total of 4 turn up, things are looking up!

IMG_2281Cut to 30mins in the future…  A crowded room, barely a spare seat, slightly too busy if anything, and definitely too dark . . .and me at the front getting smacked on the head by a roll of flipchart paper by Chambers for inadvertently introducing him as “esteemed” – rookie mistake, and odd considering it’s a word I have never used before in my life – ah the joys of my hatred of public speaking!

All-in-all I think I can safely say that the 3rd attempt at a Brighton “ICT4D Meetup” was an undoubted success.  It’s (now broadened out slightly to Technology for Social Change, to ensure people doing interesting social/tech work locally can participate and share experiences with those doing similar work overseas.  I think there was also a healthy mix of academics vs. practitioners vs. technologists – and the fact that about 20 people were still nattering away an hour after the ‘official’ end – well that’s gotta be a good thing right?

So, for those of you who couldn’t make it… What did you miss..?

  1. Introduction by Robert ChambersRobert Chambers‘ElePhants in the Room’ – always good to see Robert’s engaging style of talking, and I think this session set the tone really well for the speakers who followed – helping make sure they focused on the key topics of participation and power and not just the technology or development angles.  Nice set of Who Whose Questions to help get people thinking too…
  2. Series of Lighting Talks
    Great speakers, academics, practitioners, technology-focused projects, developmental work, local stuff.  Great mix and really inspiring stuff…Thanks to all the speakers (some of the presentations are linked below too)…

    • Mark Robinson, DfID (Making All Voices Count: Using technology to promote engagement and feedback on government service
    • Oliver Bettany, On Our Radar (Using mobile to train / support reporters from isolated and excluded communities to share news and influence policy)
    • Rachel Masika, University of Brighton (Barriers to women’s participation in mobile-phone mediated services)
    • Olivia Comberti, Anansi Digital (Mobile App and Participatory Research – helping people share their life goals and support each other in realising these)
    • Alan Jackson, Aptivate (Agile, Development, Integrity?)
    • Katharina Welle, STEPS Centre, University of Sussex (Can ICTs help to make water supply schemes in Sub-Saharan Africa more sustainable?  A proof of concept is still needed.)
    • Purna Shrestha, VSO (Using ICT for social change, increasing accountability & transparency)
    • Joe Press, Royal Holloway University (Community engagement & appraisal of participatory video in Sri Lanka)

    Particular highlights for me were Rachel, Katharina and Joe for pointing out the potential pitfalls, failures and potential negative effects of technology – something the ICT4D community often seems blind to; my colleague Alan from Aptivate for bringing together the work we do abroad and the way we live/work at home – integrity and ‘walking the walk’ being critical, and Olivia for just being so passionate, open and honest about her plans and goals – refreshing and I really hope it comes together!

  3. ‘worldPub discussions’
    Slightly less effective I have to confess was my attempt to create an informal version of World Cafe and Knowledge Cafe learning groups – slightly glibly called worldPub discussions, that focuses on networking and collaboration and not just learning.  I’d love any feedback on this, as I still think the idea works, but the venue wasn’t great for it, I didn’t introduce it that well, and didn’t have time to explain the process to the table ‘hosts’.  Ah well maybe next time!

All in all though – over 50 people, everyone seemed to enjoy it, have fun and get a lot out of it, will try to arrange another theme for November/December.  Any offers to help arrange would be much appreciated!!

Particular thanks must go to Aptivate for giving me the latitude to run with this idea, for supporting (I’d say “sponsoring” but that’s a bit too freemarket-capitalist) the event, and in particularly for offering all the attendees a free ‘Loband’ Report (to see how to make sure their websites can be seen by most people in developing countries, it probably can’t right now!)

If you didn’t make it, watch this space, join the Meetup Group, or keep tabs on the Twitter hashtag #tech4socialchange to make sure you don’t miss the next one!

ICT4D Brighton – first (highly successful) local ICT4D Meetup


So last Thursday (April 18th) was the first meetup of the fledgling ICT4D Brighton group.
http://www.meetup.com/Brighton-ICT4D-Group

I counted 21 people at the peak which, from an RSVP of 32 and a group-size of 50, I think can definitely be classed as a good turnout, and demonstrates an appetite to keep things going and look to future opportunities.

ICT4D Brighton Meetup

ICT4D Brighton Meetup

It is interesting to compare the makeup of the group to its bigger and more established elder brother the London ICT4D Meetup group (http://www.meetup.com/London-ICT4D).  Given the nature of London it is unsurprising that this group contains a lot of people working for big NGOs, industry/government groups (GSMA etc.).  Brighton on the other hand, being a relatively small City, seems to have more individual consultants, designers, creatives and techies, plus a healthy representation from the two Universities.

I hope that as the group develops, this difference could become something to explore when investigating the potential to pull both groups together in some way – whether this be for co-working opportunities or to act as some kind of ‘voice’ or whatever may develop.

So thank you everyone for coming – those I had a chance to speak to properly and the few people I only got to say a brief hello to.

The next event will be in May, I’ll circulate details soon – we are just debating the merits of a Friday (better for out-of-towners who want to combine it with a weekend in Brighton) vs. earlier in the week (less likely to get drunk so it could be more professional but perhaps less fun), and the potential of combining a drinks-networking event with an hour or two beforehand of more focused facilitated discussions for those minded to…

Suggestions on a virtual postcard please! 🙂

 

A few other random take-aways…

  • I saw at least 4-5 people effectively (and subtly) touting for work – to greater or lesser degrees of success.  This is obviously one of the many reasons a group like this comes together, so any suggestions on better ways to facilitate these kinds of discussions in between meetups would be great?
  • #ICT4DBrighton didn’t really take off…  Let’s start using it!!! 🙂
  • “Oh go on, just have one more drink” – is always a mistake.. :-S

Three events, three perspectives on community participation, one week…


This week I attended three different events – variations on the common theme of community engagement and participation:

Each event was dealing with the concept of engaging communities in development or government, but each had very different perspectives.  One was a group of mainly ICT4D practitioners, one UK based civil servants and activists, and the last primarily academics.  Given this there are of course significant differences but some surprising commonalities between all three.  Each event and some common themes are explored below, in particular focusing on some key tensions or contrasts that people at each event identified.

Citizen Voices UK (19th March 2013)

While some of this event was familiar ground, some interesting topics were discussed and debated.  The first contrast which was apparent to me was simply how valuable having academics and practitioners together can be, similarly for ICTers and Ders (techies and social development people), as the perspectives and insights are often different and give rise to helpful debates.

Contrast of Participation / Democracy
Some interesting thoughts on the tension between participatory and representative democracy, in particular the role and value of intermediaries.  How can/should they be involved, what is different about local/international intermediaries, advocates vs. representatives etc.  While bottom-up seems most desirable, there is some value to an external/top-down perspective to appreciate the bigger picture, benefit of scale and ability to step outside local power structures…

Contrast of Government non-response / Citizen non-response
Some observations that in some cases despite a responsive government, people simply don’t engage…  And some surprise at this, despite relatively clear reasoning that 10-20 years of being ignored are clearly not going to be reversed by one well-meaning ICT4D project!

Also interesting highlighting of what is actually new in new technology – pretty much just two things, the fact that everyone is potentially a creator (not needing to spend a fortune to buy a printing press) and the granularity of data…  Everything else may seem new, but has probably been done before in other technologies.

Most interesting take-aways for me, or thoughts the event gave rise to were:

Iteration across multiple programs
Iterative approaches are beginning to be recognised as preferable (e.g. Agile as discussed in my recent blarticle).  However when a community has multiple projects happening over a long time-period, perhaps with different NGOs, governments and partners, how do you ensure the benefits and learning of an iterative approach can be embedded in this complex scenario.  It’s clearly needed!

Depoliticising through participation?
While it is possible that participation can lead people to become more engaged and active and move on to bigger challenges, it is equally possible that by participating in the micro-level things they CAN control, they end up ‘satisfied’, depoliticised and stop trying to change the bigger things.  It’s hard to know which is more likely, but a look at Bolivia is interesting.  There were very high levels of participation for 10-20 years enshrined in the constitution, but fundamentally changing nothing as the government ignored the people.  Then in a short period of time, the group excluded from participation (MAS) became a major social force and were elected as a highly developmental government.  Would this have happened earlier without the ‘fake’ participation or did this galvanise groups to organise.  Given that MAS was mostly excluded from the participatory programs, it seems that the former is more likely and perhaps supporting social movements is a better alternative than establishing participatory projects that serve to depoliticise the population.  While generalising from this experience is clearly difficult and dangerous, it is nevertheless interesting food for thought.

Role of champions in government
The power of the individual was also highlighted as extremely important.  The idea of identifying and nurturing people within government who have a genuine desire to change and power to implement or influence things seems plausible, achievable and a powerful tool to increase the chances of participation being successful and empowering.

Engaging Communities & Local Government (19th March 2013)

Ironically, the highest profile (hosted at the House of Commons) event, focusing on the mature democracy of the UK, which could have been expected to have the most mature and well thought out proposals for community engagement, was actually the least interesting of the three.  There were still some useful tensions to consider however:

Cooperatives / Outsourcing, Representative vs. Participatory Democracy
One model discussed was the co-operative council model, set against the ‘Barnet’ model of government outsourcing.  They sound very different but the discussion (with Steven Reed MP and Heather Wheeler MP) betrayed surprisingly similar results.

The Co-op model talks about encouraging local communities to take ownership, while the outsourced model emphasises saving money through efficiency, but there are fundamental questions over whether either are actually giving up power in any way, or just outsourcing to slightly differently constituted non-democratic institutions.  The rhetoric may be around participatory democracy but is the reality just handing power from elected to unelected ‘community leaders’, and in such a way that it can be reclaimed at any moment..?

Having said that, a local council’s commitment to supporting, establishing and working with co-operatives can only be a good thing, it should perhaps not be confused however with any genuine and fundamental change in power and local democracy, but seen for what it is – a potentially welcome and interesting way of delivering services under the inevitable slashing of local government funding.

Localizing Development – Does participation work? (20th March 2013)

The final event was the most interesting and surprisingly lively and fun.  The main speakers ( Ghazala Mansuri and Vijayendra Rao of the World Bank) were introduced by the Sussex celebrity-academic Robert Chambers, and were followed by a lively and challenging debate.

It appears that, while there is some evidence that participatory approaches are better at targeting funds, and better for key public service delivery (health and education), this is only true when they are also accompanied by additional resources.  There is little or no evidence that participation on its own accomplishes anything, and it seems especially ineffective in highly unequal societies or where there is a corrupt/ineffective state.  While the participatory process is said to have an intrinsic value, we still don’t understand how this might work, what the theory of change underlying it is, or have any real evidence of this truth.   Many of us still think participatory approaches are a clear improvement and a better way of working, but this is not nearly so clear cut as we might like!

Some of the more interesting key tensions and learnings discussed and my own thoughts on them are summarised below:

Organic vs. Induced Participation
This seems a critical and useful distinction.  Organic participation generally happens naturally (e.g. social movements and uprisings) whereas Induced participation is generally external and funded (e.g. World Bank participatory projects).  The confusion between these very different concepts is perhaps responsible for much of the mixed feelings around participation.  An interesting suggestion is the idea that the latter should learn from and mimic the former.  Or in my view perhaps a greater role for seeding, identifying, supporting and nurturing organic participation and less focus on seeking to create it from the outside.

Government & Market Failure / Citizen Failure
The concepts of market and government failure are well known, but there appears to be a common view that citizens, communities and civil society are immune to this.  In reality they can (and often do) also “fail”, they are volatile and unpredictable and should be recognised as such not assumed to be impervious to the same problems all institutions can fall victim to.

Some other key lessons that emerged that are worth highlighting were:

Sandwiching
A need was identified to sandwich bottom-up participation with a top-down protection of the rights of the marginalised to combat corruption and elite capture.  Without this top-down state-protection, it is difficult for the local community to have any power to enforce its decisions or combat corruption and elite capture.

Long-term capacity building
Nothing new here, but yet again the idea of long-term flexible projects that seek to capacity build local people and institutions was identified as one of the critical factors behind participatory approaches being successful or not.  It remains clear that short-term pre-planned “projects” are clearly not suited for what is in effect a major transformative societal process

Participation not necessarily a route to social movements or civic capacity
Echoing the discussions in the previous event, the researchers found that in much induced participation, people did NOT increase their collective action afterwards in different areas, but actually just came together to get the project monies on offer.  This is a serious challenge to the idea that participatory projects seed new ways of communal working that might last in to the future.

Conclusion

As is often discovered, it appears that while participatory approaches may be a little better they yet again do not appear to live up to the transformative potential that is sometimes claimed for them.

Why could this still be the case?

Rather than re-hashing well-known arguments, there are a few core ideas that emerged from the events and are echoed in my own previous work, which include:

          • Local-level participation works as an addition to representative democracy and in the context of a genuinely developmental state.  In the absence of these it is not a viable alternative.  That is not to say it has no value but it is not the answer to failed states.  This raises difficult questions for the role of both participation and development in general, in such states and in both totalitarian and highly unequal regimes.
          • A key driver from the 3rd event, hinted at in the others and in previous work is the abiding importance of power and inequality.  These seem to have an enormous impact on both the transformative potential of participatory approaches, and their success as projects.  So perhaps the core goal of all participatory work should be the challenging of entrenched power structures and the reduction of inequality – not as a side-line but instead of goals around poverty, health, education etc.
          • The importance of the state and wider environment is becoming evident as critical.  Local approaches can only thrive with the support and protection of an external force from above (e.g. a mandate for inclusion of women and minorities, enforcement of anti-corruption).
          • Participation must seek to empower individuals and build capacity of communities as a core part of its purpose, otherwise they cannot take part effectively and are unlikely to continue to organise to tackle other issues beyond the limited and time-bound project.
          • Long-term, iterative and incremental development is key to ensure the flexibility to early and constantly changing needs and environments

Perhaps as a reminder we can boil this down to a not very snappy, but helpful, one-liner.  Any project that meets these needs has a much better chance of being effective than one that doesn’t, this could be a useful guideline for deciding what to support and where to direct funding:

We [project X] seek to combat inequality of power by empowering individuals, building capacity of communities with the support of government, through a long-term flexible and iterative participatory approach…

Any offers to re-word this into a snappy slogan, please get in touch!

Brighton-based ICT4Ders?


Brighton Pier

Brighton Pier (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So I have just started working with a great bunch of Agile ICT4Ders in Brighton (www.aptivate.org) and, Brighton being the kind of trendy, hippy, geeky place it is… It seems there must be a ton more ICT4D people down here – or if not ICT4D then either ICT or D or at least an interest in some kind of technology and social issues overlap…

So – getting them all together – in a pub naturally – seems the obvious next step.
A bit of networking, a glass of wine, beer, water, herbal tea…  And then see if we can all do something cool together,

Interested?  Know anyone near Brighton?  Please come along, or just promote it if you know people who might enjoy it.

April 18th

See you there!

🙂

Reflecting on Agile approaches to Development/ICT4D


English: This poster provides a good visual of...

English: This poster provides a good visual of the standard Agile Software Development methodology. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Read full ‘blarticle’ here

Recently I have been reading up on Agile project management methodologies (Extreme Programming, Scrum and a little on Rapid Application Development, EVO and Rational Unified Process).  Despite this material being focused on traditional, commercial software development and management, it struck many, quite noisy chords regarding technology development in developing countries.  In particular, the focus on starting small, not pre-planning everything from the start, and evolving software slowly through engagement with the ‘customer’, is strikingly similar to the practices recommended in various participatory approaches to development, and in socio-technical discussions around ICT4D projects.

With this in mind, I thought it would be interesting to explore these similarities and see what Agile software-development methodologies might have to offer the ICT4D community – not just in terms of developing software but in the wider development context too.

This piece is not intended to be a robust analysis of the available evidence but more a think-piece that may provide some food for thought to investigate further at a later date.  It’s too long and structured to be a simple blog but not rigorous enough to be an academic article, but falls somewhere between the two media.  So I have called it a blarticle…  Tacky I know but if it works 😉

Also it’s a bit long for a blog so have uploaded it as a PDF, so download some of my thoughts and reflections on Agile approaches to ICT4D and please do add any comments below (or email me) as it is an area I am interested in pursuing further. 🙂

A little bit of RAD…


Just a quick post today – I recently was flicking through some of my Uni essays and decided there’s a few that might be worth re-purposing.  One in particular takes a brief and high-level look at RAD (Rapid Application Development) as a socio-technical substitute for traditional approaches to ICT4D.  It’s more of an introduction to the topic than a thorough analysis, but I am starting to look into IS methodologies in development, so it seems suitable to start with this and then move on.

Read the full article here  Any suggestions for future work are welcome!

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From BRICS to BRAICS..? ALBA as a ‘Rising Power’ in Development.


Last week, I attended a seminar at the Institute for Development Studies at the University of Sussex – “How are the BRICS changing development“?

Some interesting points were raised (though typically of a lot of academic sessions, it started late, spent the first half discussing the methodology, scope, people etc. and then ran out of time actually talking about the interesting stuff – the findings!), but it got me mulling over something I hadn’t considered before…

Rising Powers?
On the surface the identification of the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) is based entirely on their recent increases in economic growth, and therefore their newfound ability to give aid and/or invest in developing countries…  However, the less immediate but more interesting reason for focusing on this group is that they are new powers, rising powers, and powers which don’t necessarily play by the same rules as the existing hegemony of US/EC donors.

A missing player – ALBA?
Seen through this prism – as a potentially new paradigm of aid… Then there is one very apparent “rising power” missing from the analysis – ALBA (the “Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas”, led primarily by Venezuela, and including Cuba, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua and many Caribbean island-countries).

Of course ALBA is a regional-grouping, not a country.  And the amount of “aid” provided through Venezuelan Oil is probably a drop in the ocean compared to the amount of money being invested by China, but in terms of rising powers and new paradigms, ALBA is far more interesting than the BRICS countries.

The most interesting point raised in the Rising Powers seminar was that, while the aid-giving approach of the BRICS countries appears at first to be based on a new paradigm; in fact it is a return to a very traditional Western approach to aid – aid tried to trade and investment, a focus on the national interest od the donor-country, a reliance on the power of the market and so on.

Genuinely new paradigms
Compared to this, aid/investment through ALBA is based around a genuinely new paradigm of mutual co-operation, bi-directional transfer of products, a recognition of the value of skills/knowledge (for example in a well-known ALBA deal, Cuba provide medical expertise in exchange for subsidised oil).

Despite this, research and writings on BRICS countries are abundant; research into ALBA is sparse to say the least.  Is this because the information is harder to find?  Is it less interesting?  Or does it pose a gehuine challenge to the status-quo and dominance of Western powers that means nobody will provide the funding for the research..?

I for one would like to see a lot more of it!  BRAICS could be the acronym for the new set of rising powers… 🙂

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Participatory technology… opportunities to experiment..?


So this may not be exactly what a blog is intended for I know, but…

For my recent dissertation I wrote about a possible guiding framework to help ensure people obtain technological empowerment and control out of ICT4D programs, through the use of participatory methods, combined with a nuanced understanding of power, technology, and how the two interact [Read full dissertation here].

I am particularly keen to find opportunities to explore this approach in practice – whether this is by obtaining funding to set up my own projects, bringing this approach into an existing organisation/program, or simply by working alongside people implementing ICT4D work in a way that lends itself to this kind of participatory approach.

Any offers? Suggestions? Recommendations? Invitations? Grants? Jobs? Ideas? I’m all ears! 🙂

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Negroponte’s latest ‘experiment’?


So Nicholas Negroponte has gone from giving XO Laptops to children, with some teacher-training… to giving Tablets to children with NO training

The experiment is really interesting, and the idea of seeing how much kids can learn unsupervised is of course interesting, BUT…

Haven’t we been here before..?  With OLPC?  With hole-in-the-wall computers..?  YES kids can learn alone…  NO it’s no substitute for a supportive learning environment with good teaching… MAYBE it will provide an alternative where good teaching isn’t available… PROBABLY the kids will just learn to play games and/or lose interest…

I’m not suggesting there is no value to the experiment, but that we have enough background knowledge now to create something far better, which targets specific gaps in our understanding, which leanrs from the MANY failures and lessons that came out of the OLPC rollouts (for more on this, see my article on the Peru OLPC Rollout, published on Hii Dunia), and could add something significant to our knowledge of learning and technology in poor environments.

Instead, unfortunately, we will probably learn – AGAIN – that just giving technology out on its own is insufficient and has some, modest, impact, but needs infrastructure, support and above all, good quality teaching, to have a significant effect.

I look forward to reading these results at the end of the multi-million-$ experiment! 🙂