The most salient lesson in ICT is to program for sustainability. In all areas of development, it is important that projects are designed to be sustainable, but this value is even more crucial in the field of ICT4D. The technological landscape is always evolving, and program implementers need to have a handle of recent developments in this arena so that their projects can be effective over time. To ensure the sustainability of ICT projects, quality training and monitoring and evaluation procedures must be put in place.
An important lesson that I learned throughout this course was the importance of considering culture in ICT related projects. Effective ICT4D programs take the culture of the communities they are trying to serve into account. There is no one size fits all approach to these projects, and different communities have different structures in place that could either help or hinder the implementation of ICT4D programs. This concept is crucial for development professionals to understand as they generate new initiatives. For example, I wrote a previous blog post this semester about a program called Maji Matone, a text based system where people could report damages to the water pumps in order to spark action by local government. This project inevitably failed because women and young girls were the ones who were getting the water for their family, and in this community primarily men had mobile phones. Understanding cultural differences and researching the culture of the communities could prevent program failure.
This being said, I believe that the bottom up approach is the most useful concept to consider when thinking about and implementing ICT4D programs. The bottom up approach Garnering the support of the local community, government and institutions and harnessing their support in development practices is essential. Exploring case studies of effective and unsuccessful ICT projects can help development professionals and students understand the factors that contribute to the favorable or unfavorable outcomes of the programs.
1. Ghana ICT4AD Policy This policy was last updated in June 2003. Ghana’s ICT4AD policy is written in English. The Ministry of Communications drafted the policy.
2. The Ministry of Communications is responsible for implementing Ghana’s ICT4AD policy.
3. The Ghana Senior Schools Connectivity Project was an initiative of USAID and The Ministry of Education and Global E-Schools and Communities Initiative (GESCI). Information about GESCI can be obtained in Ghana’s ICT for Education Policy, from November 2008. The Ghana Senior Schools Connectivity Project ran from August 2012 to July 2013.
4. National E-Strategies for Development Global Status and Perspectives 2010, International Telecommunications Union.
The PanAfrican Research Agenda on the Pedagogical Integration of ICTs, The OECD World Forum
Ghana ICT Sector Performance Review 2009/2010, Godfred Frempong. Sponsored by Research ICT Africa
The Global Information Technology Report 2012: Living in a Hyperconnected World, World Economic Forum
5. Ghanians primarily speak English; therefore, it was simple to find research on their ICT policies. While the ICT4AD policy is a little outdates at this point, further research indicates that progress has made, especially in the realm of education. A separate policy briefing (linked above) explains Ghana’s goals for ICTs in education.
Colorimetrix, a new smartphone app, could serve as a health care game changer in developing nations. The app, which was developed by researchers at the University of Cambridge, measures color based saliva or urine tests through the phone’s camera. The user takes a picture of a test strip that has been placed in the solution, and the app uses an algorithm to transmit the results into a readable number. Results can then be sent to healthcare providers or specialists for analysis in real time.
This app has the potential to transform the current means of patient screening. It provides quick, low-cost and portable diagnostics that can be transferred to medical professionals around the globe within seconds. Patients are also able to monitor chronic conditions, such as diabetes, with this app. Also, because patients are able to transmit results information so quickly, Colorimetrix may be able to slow or limit the spread of pandemic diseases by communicating with community healthcare professionals. “This app has the potential to help in the fight against HIV, tuberculosis and malaria in the developing world, bringing the concept of mobile healthcare to reality,” said Ali Yetisen, a PhD student in the Department of Chemical Engineering & Biotechnology.
There are some major strengths to this app, the main one being how quickly it can connect patient data to physicians to interpret the results. This would cut down on hospital expenses, empower patients, and allow for less waiting time in health clinics. On the other hand, systemic healthcare problems and technological capacity within many developing nations may inhibit this app from reaching its full potential. Lack of trained healthcare providers to interpret results and low bandwidth in developing countries may pose barriers to the adoption of this app.
Farm Radio International is doing productive work to exchange practical and real-time information to serve the interests of small-scale farmers to ensure food security. After researching FRI further, I learned of an initiative that has taken off under them, called Barza. Barza makes relevant and important resources like radio scripts, audio clips and advice from peers available to rural radio broadcasters through an online platform. The initiative aims to increase the extent to which rural radio helps African small-scale farmers meet their food security, farming and livelihood goals.
The word Barza is actually French and describes a place where people meet under a tree to exchange ideas, which is exactly what this initiative seeks to provide. Tools are available for the producers of farm-focused radio programming, and resources are available for farmers who potentially missed the program, or who would like supplemental information. There are interactive modules (see below) on the site that help broadcasters to produce efficient programming that would be of use to agricultural workers, listener surveys to see if the programming is effective and useful, and sample scripts to guide discussions. Listeners are able to view or download transcripts, so that they can have the facts presented in the program in a concise and centralized place.
A screenshot of one of training modules used to help producers create interesting and useful content for their listeners
There are some obvious strengths and weaknesses to this tool. First, these tools allow the producers to create content that is helpful to the constituents who listen to the programs. They are also able to receive feedback to help improve the announcements and information they relay on the program in order to better serve the needs of the community members listening. Also, it is beneficial for the listeners to have this online platform to be able to further discuss content, and exchange ideas. On the other hand, after reviewing some of the modules on my own, I found that this would be very difficult with a low bandwidth. With the goal to communicate real time information, and the lack of access that many in rural areas face, I am not sure how successful this would be. Also, after looking at the message boards, I have found that there is not a lot of participation. Barza needs to do a better job working with radio stations to make sure that their tools are being communicated and marketed in an appealing way! Also, they should do further market research to make sure that the partnering radio stations that they have have loyal listenership bases. This great tool cannot serve the need to ensure food security if the right groups of people are not participating in the online community.
Even with the best of intentions, ICT projects can fail. There are many factors that lead to their failure, and as future international development practitioners, we could stand to learn from the mistakes of others. I believe that a main factor contributing to the downfall of these projects is that they are being organized and implemented by people who are outside of the community that is supposed to eventually benefit from these projects. This concept is illustrated in the case of a Tanzanian based project, Maji Matone, or Water Pressure. This project, managed by the organization Daraja, intended to encourage citizens to put pressure on their local, municipal authorities to maintain and mend defective water pumps by using mobile phones. Local communities were asked to report on the condition of their water supply to the authorities by sending a simple SMS text message. The agencies informed the local radio stations, which were supposed to follow-up on the actions taken by the local water authorities.
In theory, this is a great idea. The program utilizes a simple, easy-to-use technology to help people make a difference in their own communities. Maji Matone builds the capacity among the local population and holds them accountable for reporting damages to their water supply. Does the program sound too good to be true? The implementation of the program was highly anticipated among both local and international audiences. But unfortunately, the program did not deliver. During its pilot phase, the program managers only received 53 text messages, when they were anticipating over 3,000. Obviously, the community did not receive the program well, and Daraja investigated why.
They drew a few conclusions in a press release announcing the disbanding of the program. First, the organization realized that the community members were reluctant to report to their government authorities. It is tough to motivate people to act on an issue, especially with the possibility of achievement being so distant. Also, there were some gender related issues. Women and children are often responsible for collecting the water for their families, but often do not have access to a mobile phone in order to report on the supply pumps. Lack of electricity and limited mobile network coverage also played a role in the continuation of this program in rural communities.
While these are all important factors to consider when implementing any ICT project, it is also admirable that Daraja openly admitted to their failures, and publicized this information so that lessons could be learned as a result. Transparency is key in any international development projects, and admitting to your failures and embracing what you have learned can be crucial to public perception and continued success as an organization.
The digital divide explains the gap in access to technology between the developed and developing worlds. While there are many barriers that contribute to this divide, a less mentioned factor is the lack of security many feel on the Internet and on their own computers. Being able to safely navigate the web, avoiding phishing scams, viruses and fraudulent sites requires a decent amount of skill and experience. The security features that make routine tasks, like browsing the web and sending e-mails, are complex and not easily navigable, which can be very overwhelming (Bridging the Digital Divide).
A study completed in Uganda, surveyed respondents’ perception on barriers to computer and Internet usage. 55% of the people surveyed noted that lack of security online factors into their ability to access the Internet. The upkeep involved in maintaining security requires consistent personnel and if there is not someone available to maintain the features protecting the computers. Beyond the psychological factors contributing to the lack of security people experience online, is the physical detriment it can cause to the technologies. The consequences of not maintaining security can cause a major inconvenience. For example, farmers using Internet access to monitor weather patterns may run into a problem if the anti-virus software hadn’t been updated, and they were in need of information regarding an upcoming storm. If they were unable to access the information, it could devastate their crops, and thus disrupt their income for that period of time. It is evident that the complex measures needed to maintain security are a barrier to access and individual’s lack of comfort with Internet safety in general contribute to the continuation of the digital divide.