Next month Catholic Relief Services’ 6th Annual ICT4D Conferencewill take place in Nairobi, Kenya. Through exhibitions, presentations, workshops, and open discussion sessions the conference aims to “provide an opportunity to listen, discuss and test innovative technology solutions with practitioners and providers who are using ICT to build the resilience of communities across Africa, Latin America and Asia”. Over and over again our textbooks and readings remind us of the importance of communication and information sharing in the Digital Age. With the plethora of technologies available now, conferences such as this one can help hone in the discussion to truly relevant issues and encourage collaboration amongst attendees. The conference explicitly reaches out to individuals, institutions, and corporations that seek to “enhance the quality and accountability of development and relief programs”. This sentence in and of itself signals an important shift in recent development strategy outlined in Richard Heek’s ICT4D Manifesto: “ICT4D 2.0” should focus more on improving the use of existing technology and measuring its effectiveness.
All past conferences, apart from the first, have been hosted by African cities (the exception being Washington DC). This signals the importance of an emerging digital market in the continent. Although Africa consistently ranks lowest on ICT indicators in terms of access, quality, frequency, and availability of various technologies it is in fact one of the fastest growing markets: “Africa is the region with the highest growth rates over the past three years and mobile-broadband penetration has increased from 2% in 2010 to 11% in 2013.” (International Telecommunications Union ICT Facts and Figures). This being the case, perhaps the conference should seek to attract actual users as opposed to solely focusing on institutional participants. Providing an opportunity for such individuals to voice their opinions and experiences could offer valuable input to the ICT4D movement as a whole. Currently the conference only offers one type of registration fee- $275 for general admission. Perhaps by offering various types of tickets the conference could attract a wider variety of participants.
This week’s class addressed the role of public forums for developing best practices and learning from project mistakes. The two biggest examples covered were the FAILFare and the Dutch Institute of Brilliant Failures. These groups provide outlets for positively critiquing projects and help facilitate the dialogue necessary for future successes.
That said, forums like FAILFaire are not exclusive to the field of international development. One such forum which has spread across the globe and appeals to a variety of fields is Pecha Kucha. The format is simple: 20 slides, 20 seconds per slide. The presentations are often humorous, the space is often a bar in order to promote “thinking and drinking”. These characteristics of Pecha Kucha combine to create a very casual setting amongst peers that allows for honest, unguarded dialogue on successes and failures.
The event can be educational in other interesting ways when you consider its unique format. The setting appeals to millennials as it is fast-paced, high-energy, and to the point. This is key, the 20 seconds per slide rule, as it keeps the presenter from beating around the bush or otherwise obfuscating his or her failures. The informality of it all, combined with its directness, is why the collaborative atmosphere can lead to real assessment and learning. I highly suggest everyone reading this blog to find out the next Pecha Kucha in their city and give it a try.
The next Pecha Kucha event scheduled for New Orleans is May 2nd; however, no official information has been made public at this time, so it may be postponed indefinitely.
UNESCO Chair Tim Unwin discusses the need for effective National ICT policies in promoting ICT for Development initiatives in his book ICT4D (2009). One reason is that, “there needs to be a forum in which civil society organisations can actively engage with governments at the national scale in determining the roll-out of ICT programmes.” (Unwin 150).
We tend to agree the expansion of ICT services can increase the quality of life for citizens, how can ICT policy and advancements increase the quality of government? How can governments benefit from creating channels of communication among citizens and to the law-making bodies?
If it is as Unwin speculates and government policies on ICT can encourage citizen input on ICT4D than can this same civil society engage with the government in other areas utilizing ICT channels?
Professor Clark Shirky from NYU gave a TED Talk in which he explores the potential of Open Source collaboration to influence the law-making process in democracies. Coders and programers are already using this technology for “cooperation without coordination.” “Legislation comes in the form of bills which are essentially patches to existing legal code”, a process familiar in open source world.
Clark asks: “why don’t we use git hub (a web-based hosting service) to show what a citizen developed bill might look like.” Several states are experimenting with e-government strategies to allow citizens to “explore some ideas around how to better facilitate the legislative process” using open source editing methods.
I must admit that some of the content of this video is above my level of understanding of ICT’s. However, it still poses some interesting questions: How could the internet transform government? How could democracies gain from utilizing the knowledge and innovations of its citizens? How could increasing internet participation and access also increase political participation?
Clay Shirky: How the Internet will (one day) transform government
Development is a field that requires interpersonal communication and collaboration. It takes people skills and intercultural understandings. Unfortunately, in my opinion, international development classes in college can get too wrapped up in theoretical frameworks to the point of losing touch with my real interest in development: making a real impact and causing real changes in the world. While a strong contextual understanding of the field will benefit a researcher in practice, I have always internalized these concepts best while experiencing them first-hand with real people and in real situations– not the classroom. I am a hands-on learner. In the sense of getting real-time experience, my information and communication technologies class has been more successful than some of my previous courses.
Dr. Laura Murphy’s class was particularly influential to my understanding of international development because it involved real-life research, people, and experiences. We explored different versions of solar panels and how their application to cell phones can have real impacts on the way rural communities live. As a class, we were challenged to explore the benefits and downfalls of using solar energy in rural Africa. This exercise helped me understand that each development project is truly context specific, and certain challenges will arise depending on who you are working with, where you are working, and when it occurs. We “met” Rose, an elderly woman in a rural village who had the double burden of caring for her large family and holding a prestigious role in her community. What cell phone technology did she specifically need in order to benefit from having a cell phone? How was she going to charge her cell phone in a village with no electricity and responsibilities that kept her from traveling to the next village to charge her phone? Issues of safety and theft arose with the technologies that were small and portable, and had to be left in the sun to charge for hours. Panels that were overly complicated and needed a hundred small pieces were cumbersome, confusing, and impractical. We began to explore how long-distance technology fits into a culture that values face-to-face interaction and the power of information passed down from each generation? How long do these technologies last? What happens when they break?
We were allowed to brainstorm solutions without hesitation about what idea is impractical. Each idea we came up with provided a foundation to our end solution, and thus acted as an influential building block to our exploration and learning. It proved to me that international development requires innovative thought, real-time action, and cooperation between eclectic people with diverse backgrounds to eventually find a sustainable solution. This class was an effective way of combining everything that we have learned thus far in our ICT class and applying it to a real problem. It helped me to better understand what exactly being a development professional entails, and how I can use what I’ve learned along with my innate talents to get me there. I think this hands-on approach should be used in more international development classes so that Tulane can produce more experienced researchers, developers, and world-changers.