In a Plan International report, Hannah Beardon outlines the general ICT policy and initiatives in Mali, highlighting its strengths and weaknesses. Mali is well below the African average in the areas of telephone lines, mobile subscribers, and internet users. Rural establishments are very dispersed, making penetration a daunting task. Lack of infrastructure in these areas, along with limited national and foreign investment make ICT development a challenge throughout the country. One thing Mali does seem to be making notable progress in, however, is child participation in ICTs. Plan’s child-oriented programs, Kids Waves and Youth Empowerment Through Arts and Media (YETAM), have become a central focus in national ICT policy.
Kids Waves is a weekly radio program that is broadcasted throughout the region. The entire show is put together and hosted by children, providing an avenue for expression and empowerment through media. Plan Mali is currently one of the big leaders with this program and has an additional radio animation training component. YETAM is a project that brings youth (12-18 yrs.) together to discuss local issues and then create art and media projects about them. This includes videos, websites, applications, and other forms of media. Such projects educate the communities on these issues and allow the children to participate in the development process. The YETAM program in Mali has proven to be very successful, and has identified and worked with problems such as forced marriage, female genital cutting, education quality, and water access. These projects are published on the project’s youtube channel for the world to see.
In this past week’s class discussions and readings we have looked at different sectors in the developing world for which ICTs have been introduced as a tool for development growth. My sector, Education, which I closely explored and analyzed the use of ICTs in that field has left me with some interesting questions about how to correctly use information communication technologies. Fortunately one of the readings assigned this week gave me a clear outline of how to correctly see if ICTs can be successful in a developing country, for a target population, and a specific sector.
The report ICT Enabled Development: Using ICT strategically to support Plan’s work written by Hannah Beardon is part of an ongoing process directed and supported by Plan Finland and USA to support offices located in a variety of African countries in an effort to promote ways to apply ICTs in a more resourceful and strategic way. While the organization Plan’s work details a variety of priorities in different countries they are however all founded on the principles of rights- based approaches with a focus on capacity building and participation awareness. They attempt to reinforce people’s “access to information and opportunities to participate in decision making” (Beardon 5). While their projects do involve the learning of children it doesn’t solely focus on the education sector. However in this report they introduce a checklist developed to thoroughly suggest key steps that are involved when enabling and implementing an ICT program in development. I found this checklist very crucial and extremely beneficial to looking at projects in the education sector.
The first point of the checklist looks at the Context Analysis, which really focuses on what is happening with ICT4D in the country or region of choice. Thus if I am looking at Uganda I will have to gather information about existing ICT projects in the education sector as well as current stakeholders and potential collaborators as well as current conditions (policy or market) in the city or country itself. The next point on the checklist focuses on Defining the Need, which emphasizes what problems can ICT help overcome as well as what kind of opportunities ICTs can introduce. When using this point for the education sector I would have to consider all of the underlying causes of poverty and the effects it has on schools and students. I then have to look into the needs of the stakeholders and see how ICTs can help with development opportunities. The next point on Plan’s checklist is Choosing a Strategy and looking at what kind of ICT4D is needed (direct, internal or strategic). In the case of education I will have to look at what kind of technical and training support is needed in the target schools as well as how to give equal opportunities and reduce inequalities between the rural and urban students. The fourth claim involves Undertaking a Participatory Communications Assessment, which further examines who will benefit most from this introduction of the ICT. This point is very important as ICT for development is used as a tool to reduce poverty and inequalities and in education children in rural areas are the hardest to reach. It is important to thoroughly pick a right form of technology that can help build the capacity needs of the target students. The fifth checkpoint on this checklist emphasizes the importance of Choosing the Technology. Technologies can already exist within a sector and a region however when creating an ICT development project you will need to assess which technology tool will be most useful to improve the quality life. In education, computers are by far as of today the most useful technology however there come some problems affiliated with using computers such as illiteracy (language barriers) as well as knowledge of how to use the computer itself. The sixth point again relates to Adjusting the Content, which in term relates again to language barriers. In most developing countries children have yet to see or use computers thus when they are introduced into classrooms they need to be guided into how to use the computer and understand the content. Teachers as well need to be taught the skills and content necessary in a language they comprehend. Number 7 on this list looks at Building and Using Capacity which further emphasizes the skills teachers and students will need to keep a project sustainable. The eighth point on the checklist involves Monitoring the Process. A crucial aspect of all development projects involves a Monitoring and Evaluation plan for which they measure the positive and negative affects of the project or in this case the ICT that is being implemented. For example in education testing and enrollment rates aren’t the only outcomes that should be measured, they should measure quality of teaching via ICTs. If the introduction of an ICT has no positive effect than it is important to reconsider how the project is being implemented. The final two points of this checklist focus on Keeping the Project Going (Sustainability) and Learning From Each Other and coincide with each other. By learning from each other, previous projects and the community, one can overcome the challenges and risks that may interfere with your ICT project. Thus it is important to continuously learn and adjust factors of the project to keep it sustainable.
This checklist created by Plan if followed correctly has the potential to help any organization or individual create and implement an ICT4D project correctly and sustainability. This checklist does not solely apply to the education sector as it is a guideline to overall programs and I believe should be used when trying to implement a project.
Plan International’s four strategies for ICT enabled development are useful when predicting the future and implementation for ICT devices in specific areas. The blog Will the Ubuntu Phone Rock the African Software Development Market? published on ICTworks.org tries to predict the future of the Ubuntu phone in Africa. The Ubuntu phone is similar to typical mobiles in the U.S. because they have computer capabilities. The phone is comparable to Apple’s iPhone and other Samsung phones. Using the following four Plan International ICT strategies allows us to gain better insight into Ubuntu’s possible success or failure:
1)Understanding the Context for ICT Work
2)Finding a Match Between Priorities and Possibilities
3)Planning and Implementing Concrete Initiatives
4)Building a Culture of Systematic, Sustained and Strategic ICT Use
Understanding the context for ICT work (strategy 1) in Africa is extremely important. Mobile phone ownership is on the rise as well as access to the Internet. There is a growing market for mobiles and an increase in competition in the mobile phone field in Africa. However the cost of mobiles vary and the Ubuntu phone is more expensive than most. If consumers are also interested in the phone component, viewing access to calls as a priority, then they will likely buy the cheaper phone (strategy 2). However if consumers find the dual capabilities important they may go for the Ubuntu phone. According to the blog, “smartphone penetration is swinging up and may actually outpace mobile. Having the ability to write not only apps but full-blown applications may be where African software developers finally get traction.” This is a great incentive for Ubuntu that gives them a leg up on the competition. Both strategy 3 and 4 are more applicable to the ICT environment and less on the specifics such as the Ubuntu phone.
Overall, the future of the Ubuntu phone in Africa is unknown until shipping begins in October 2013.
For this post I will be outlining and highlighting the main points of Plan International’s ICT report on Senegal. I will be going to Senegal in the fall, so I thought it would be apt. The report can be found on pages 63-65 of the Plan article read for class.
ICT penetration is Senegal is above average for the region across the board. The rate of telephone connections and mobile phone users is about twice as high as the regional average. A similar trend holds for internet usage. Telephone and Internet providers exist within the ICT4$ realm in Senegal, with 3 main telephone companies and 6 primary ISPs. The government is making efforts to increase ICT access in rural areas by establishing community multimedia centers with help from UNESCO. National ICT policy in Senegal is a rough balance between several stakeholders, but the objectives include “harnessing ICTs to reduce unemployment and poverty, increase literacy and access to the healthcare, improve competitiveness and efficiency in government and private sector institutions” (PLAN 64).
There is a specific focus on ICTs in education, mostly spearheaded by NGO’s. The projects outlined in the report focus on computer and internet training in schools or after-school programs as well as programs targeted at women.
So, after reading both articles and Paige Wolff’s Blog post Checking the Check List I began to see Plan’s ICT usage planning system as just one of many methods for applying ICTs in developing countries based on the motives of the organization that is attempting to apply them. This was emphasized by Rahul Tongia and Eswaran Subrahmanian’s section entitled “Trickle Down, Watered Down, Upside Down” which directly contradicts the checklist by saying, in short, that sometimes it is appropriate to work top-down and sometimes it is appropriate to work bottom-up. They use the example of Microsoft’s Windows Starter Edition which was used on lower end systems to reduce the cost and features provided. In this case, they took a product that already existed and looked for places where it could be applied and do the most good, effectively flipping the checklist upside-down and putting step 5 first.
So this may be stating the abundantly obvious, but the method for determining ICT’s applicability is directly related to the type of organization performing the evaluation. ICT4D is approached from many perspectives, but the two most important are those approaching ICT from the perspective of a technology firm (think OLPC) and those approaching from the perspective of an aid organization (more like Plan International). In general, firms coming from the same perspective may be able to use the same checklist, but as Paige pointed out, no checklist is perfect for every situation even for a single organization. If you are confused as to the best method to pre-determine ICT usage, well, so am I. Thankfully, ICT effectiveness monitoring programs keep these programs in line.
Plan International’s checklist for ICT usage in development programs and projects is as follows:
- Analyze Context
- Define Need
- Choose Strategy
- Assess Beneficiary Profiles (Undertake Participatory Communications Assessment)
- Choose Technology
- Adjust Content
- Build & Use Capacity
- Monitor Progress
- Maintain Sustainability
- Learn From Others’ Experiences & Disseminate Acquired Knowledge
While I agree that all of the steps are vital to the success of a program or project, I question their given sequence. Typically, a need is identified before its context is understood. (After Hurricane Katrina, I’m quite sure that the founders of lowernine identified the need for home reconstruction before anyone fully understood the context in which that would take place.)
Secondly, is it wise to decide on a strategy before assessing the way in which it may impact the community? While the text does note that the assessment may, indeed, occur earlier in the process, I would find it illogical and inefficient to do it as step #4.
Lastly, why is learning from the experiences of others placed at the bottom of the list?! Should that not be one of the preliminary steps? One of the greatest issues with ICT4D projects and programs is that collaboration between projects and programs is so limited that inefficiency–and sometimes harm–is incurred in the process.
In short, my greatest issue with the checklist is the apparent lack of planning before implementation. Call me crazy but I think it’s ridiculous to pick a place on the map –> learn all about the area –> figure out some issue –> come up with a plan of attack before considering intended impact –> consider intended impact –> throw in some technology –> decide whether or not that technology is actually helpful –> grow capacity –> see how things are going –> ensure that the project or program is maintained –> check out what others are doing in the field & let them know what you’ve been up to!