Q&A Best Practices

We were asked to write a short 2 or 3-paragraph post about one of the following questions. But of course, I didn’t follow the directions carefully and wrote a paragraph for each question. I learned more about my future involvement with ICT4D, and you got more information than you asked for. Sorry I’m not sorry.

a) What do you think are the most salient lessons to be learned in ICT4D?

The several important lessons to be learned in ICT4D are 1) Seek out what medium of information dissemination already exists in that region or sector. Only use ICTs selectively to improve the efficiency of, or expand the current information path that has already been carved out. I saw this worked with the success of Telemedicine, where the path from doctor to specialist was already forged, but technology was needed to improve diagnostic time. 2) Richard Heeks’ strategy of think back-office not the front office: improve a country or sector’s ICT capacity from the inside out. Do not introduce or update a technology if it isn’t needed. Usually it is, but you must first assess the current status of information exchange and research the appropriate technology to sustainably grow a sector. I discovered the Ministry of Health in Turkey failed to research the appropriate technology to implement a nation-wide electronic health records system in 2003, making the system more inefficient and inaccessible to nurses and doctors than before. 3) You can’t always trust an open source platform. Corruption and transparency, inaccurate or incomplete information, and the expectation of results can cause problems in achieving a truly open source online platform. I learned this in the Harassmap case study and the 9 Ethical Considerations in Participatory Digital Mapping with Communities.

b) Reflections on something specific that you have personally learned this semester that you think would/will help you as a development professional.

What I have personally learned this semester is the beneficiaries need to be involved in every step of the ICT project design. From start to finish, the information has to better their lives, as does the skill of learning a new technology. With my interest in Gender Studies, I am learning how to improve social conditions without replicating existing frameworks of patriarchal power. One information medium I have seen that is empowering for women in marginalized spaces is storytelling and preserving indigenous knowledge. If the process or stories are relevant to them, giving a voice to underrepresented information through mediums like participatory video, amateur radio, or Usnet forums, gives empowerment  to people’s life experiences. Through people taking their lives or livelihoods into their own hands, such as in Farm Radio in Africa, we have seen concrete improvements in their life conditions. Furthermore, using ICTs in empowerment processes builds confidence in using technology in general, and increases the chance of learning how to use a new technology medium in the future. Technology skill building is key for sustainable growth of ICT4D. Many ICT projects have failed because they required too much external facilitation and support, such as in Facilitated Video Instruction in Low Resources Schools. Incorporating the beneficiaries and their opinions at every stage would prevent this from happening.

c) The most useful theoretical concept or framework we’ve discussed that can be used to think about and implement ICT4D.

The most useful theoretical frameworks we have discussed to implement ICT4D are to the barriers to access and supply-driven versus demand-driven paradigm. Examples of barriers to access to seriously consider when introducing an ICT solution  are the country’s previous technological investment and/or capacity to develop the infrastructure necessary to support this new technology. Inter-generational illiteracy, cultural stigmas preventing trust of the information or technology delivering it, and the lack of ownership issues are the most challenging barriers to accessing technology for development. I have learned in other development classes that if a beneficiary does not invest something of her own other than her time, she has no incentive to keep it. Therefore, promoting ownership is especially important for ICT solutions because technology is expensive and information needs to be driven by demand, not supply. That is why the second most important framework is the top-down/supply-driven vs. bottom-up/empowerment focused framework. In Connecting the First Mile, Talyarkhan researched existing knowledge systems and created appropriate materials based on thee relevant issues and information needs for the target group. The way I see it, researching the barriers to access for participatory development could take you years, but the impact and longevity of your idea/project could last lifetimes.

I want to take this impersonal online moment to say thank you to my highly intelligent and hilarious classmates this semester. It wouldn’t have been this much fun learning about technology without you. And never last, the coolest nerd in school, and our trusted leader Jessica Ports. Best of luck on your dissertation, and thank you for all the laughs and memories. The Red Cross will be lucky to have you!

P.S. D for D!

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