Sometimes ICT Projects Fail

It is hard to admit when something doesn’t quite go as planned, especially when money and time are invested. ICT projects, for example, only succeed about 30 percent of the time. However, it is important to learn from mistakes and help the rest of the ICT4D community avoid the same errors. This is why it is important to say that you failed and discuss what went wrong. In December of 2012, Ben Taylor from Daraja gave a talk about lessons learned from an ICT project that had failed.

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In 2010, Ben and his colleagues set up a program in Tanzania that rallied citizens to put pressure on local authorities to fix broken water pumps by using mobile phones.  Local communities were asked to use SMS messages to report the state of the water supply to the authorities. They also informed local radio stations to observe any action that the water authorities were going to take in response to the text messages. This program received a lot of national attention before it was launched; however, after the launch only 53 text messages were received. This disappointed Ben and his colleagues, who were assuming that more than 3,000 text messages would be received.  When they looked into the reasons for the program’s failure they came up with 3 major problems. The first was for political reasons; since the relationship between the local communities and authorities was sensitive, the citizens did not feel comfortable reporting on their government. The second reason was gender-specific, as women and children were often the ones who were collecting the water and they did not have access to mobile phones. The third reason was that there was limited mobile network coverage and electricity in the villages. Ben and his colleagues shared the reasons for failure on the web and in leaflets in order to prevent others from making the same mistakes.

The reasons for failure in Ben’s project correlated well with the documentary that we watched in class.  For example, I do not think that sufficient research was done on the area where the project was going to be launched. The reasons for failure -politics, gender, and access- would have been noticed if time was spent researching the area. In development projects, it is common for people from the developed world to go into a country and decide what the country needs and how to do it without consulting anyone from the area. This is why many development projects fail. Without truly understanding a community, it is impossible to know what is best for them. I believe that the only way to implement a sustainable development project is to live on the ground and make yourself a part of the community. That way, you will be able to see and hear what would actually make a difference in their lives.

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