discussion

Using Technology to Power the Thomas Food Project: An Interview with James Lazarre
James Lazarre is project mJamesLazarreanager for the Thomas Food Project (TFP), in Thomas, Haiti. A minister with a degree in computer science, James oversees the day-to-day logistics for TFP and manages the school’s new computer center. TFP is supported by The United Methodist Church-California-Nevada Annual Conference, United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM) and United Methodist Communications (UMCom). 

Q: What is your role with the Thomas Food Project, and what does the project do?

A: I am the project manager for the Thomas Food Project, which provides an educational environment and a hot lunch program to feed kids in the Thomas community. We have a computer lab that just opened in June. We are using the computers to transform from a chalkboard-based learning environment to one that uses technology to improve education in the school.Our goal with the computer center is to build computer skills in the community. When we started, only about 20% of the tChildreneachers in Thomas knew how to use a computer. So we trained the teachers to be able to use computers as part of their teaching. We also have classes to teach school children. And after 12:30, when school ends, we open the computer center to other members of the community.

Q: What kinds of classes does the computer center offer?

A: We offer several classes, including specific classes for girls, and for women looking to build skills that can help them earn money. We have ten computers right now, and we have different sessions throughout the day with ten to twenty people in each session. The whole community can get information and learn something.

Q:  What kinds of technology is the Thomas Food Project using?

A: First, we’re using a solar system so that we don’t have to buy fuel every day to run a generator. This powers the entire school, including the computer center. In our church, we used to spend money every day just to buy fuel. With the solar panels we don’t have to do that.

Second we are using low power computers. This means we can keep the computer center open and work all day. This saves us money, which means we can offer more and more services.

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Ethics in the Use of ICT in Development Projects: An Interview with Jennifer Chan

JenniferChanJennifer Chan, MD/MPH, is an Associate Faculty Member of the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI) and Lead Instructor for Humanitarian Technologies at the Humanitarian Academy at Harvard University. She is also an Assistant Professor and Director of Global Emergency Medicine at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. Her recent activities have focused on humanitarian technologies and crisis mapping with a focus on field operations. As a consultant, she helps evaluate open source technology organizations such as Ushahidi, trains emerging practitioners in humanitarian technologies, and researches the interface between humanitarian agencies and volunteer & technical communities.

Q: Can you tell us a bit about your work at the intersection of technology and humanitarian assistance?

A: The area of work I’ve focused on over the past couple of years is commonly referred to as crisis mapping in the field of humanitarian technology. Humanitarian technology refers to the application of technology to address humanitarian issues, including both acute onset disasters and complex ongoing humanitarian emergencies.

I’ve worked in high-tech, low-tech and near no-tech settings, and this has pushed me to continually think about and re-explore the relationship between information, privacy, security, and ethics. As a researcher and consultant I’ve worked with NGOs and other agencies to help them strategically and programmatically integrate ICT into complex humanitarian situations, including disasters, conflict settings, and drought prone regions. This work has included work on when [the use of technology] is appropriate, and how it is safe to use.

Q: From an ethics perspective, what do groups designing development projects with a technology component need to keep in mind?

A: A key ethical perspective to keep in mind is the  “do no harm” principle. Codes of conduct, when revised and applied to crisis mapping projects, provide very important guidance but this is still a work in progress. A concise, practical, and widely accepted set of ethical guidelines, and best practices that take into account principles, standards or guidelines, have yet to be developed.

ICT projects have potential for faster, more accurate and wider inclusion of information, but they also present vulnerabilities that can cause risk and potential harm. Information shared using technology can be accidentally misrepresented or interpreted, carelessly distributed without consent, and even intentionally manipulated for a multitude of purposes that are not in line with the good intentions of the ICT project. And there are additional vulnerabilities that lie within the technology itself. But the flip side is that these types of obstacles are frequently surmountable with a good framework for learning, iteration, and revisions embedded in the project.

Working with technology, it is helpful to recognize and accept the tenet that access to information is related in many ways to power. Understanding that first is key. Beyond thinking about how technology can influence the design of a project, organizations should seek to understand the existing information ecosystem by asking:  What decisions would be made, or how would behavior change, on the basis of the information gathered with technology? Where are the vulnerabilities of information collection, sharing and communication that exist with the intended users and beneficiaries of the project, and with the technology itself?

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Building Human-­Centered Design into ICT4D Projects: An Interview with Danny Alexander and Sean Hewens of IDEO.org

seanhewensSean Hewens is knowledge manager and in-house counsel at IDEO.org. He oversees IDEO.org’s mission to spread human-centered design throughout the social sector. In his role as Knowledge Manager, Sean has helped document and tell stories about every aspect of the IDEO.org design process. Previously, Sean worked at a law firm and then ran a non-profit building computer labs in Kenya and Tanzania.

dannyDanny Alexander is a Senior Designer at IDEO.org. Prior to IDEO.org he worked in industrial and product design, and  has been a partner in several start-ups. He works with IDEO.org’s clients and partners to explore new frontiers in design, with a focus on the intersection of design and social good.Q: What is human-centered design?

Q: What is human-centered design?

A: [Sean]: Human-­‐centered design is a problem-solving process that puts humans at the very center. There are three key tenets.

First, immerse yourself within the community as much as possible [to understand the problem]. You can start very specific with folks in the community. Learn from them as much as possible.

Second, you focus on brainstorming and prototyping rapidly. The idea with brainstorming is to go as broad as you can with ideas. Use what you learned from the community and ideate.

Third, you get those ideas back out to the community to get feedback from real users as quickly as possible in the form of prototypes. Our early prototypes often fail, but in a way that allows us to iterate and refine our ideas based upon feedback from real users.

Q: Why is human-centered design important in the social sector, and is the social sector lagging behind the private sector in this regard?

A: [Sean]: Human-centered design started with IDEO in the 1980s designing the computer mouse and the folding design for the laptop computer. As IDEO expanded its process, it began working with the social sector and found human-centered design to be very effective.

There are a couple of reasons for this. In the social sector you have funders and beneficiaries. Frequently you find donor-driven programs and solutions that aren’t based on the real world needs of actual users, or the communities that are supposed to be benefitted. Human-centered design is an effective tool that designs programs and solutions based on real user needs.

[Danny]: There are a lot of missing feedback loops in social sector implementations. The private sector has a feedback loop, although it may be one-dimensional: do people buy a product, yes or no? But in international development you have projects being implemented thousands of miles away from where decisions are made. Frequently, there’s no feedback loop so it’s hard to say: Is it working, and are people choosing to use this? In these instances you have programs that are not at all sustainable and not having real impact, and yet donors continue to think they’re successful and promote them just because they have been implemented. Human-centered design helps give voice to the community, and ensures design is built around user needs and is sustainable.

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Using Technology for Development Project Monitoring & Evaluation: An Interview with Linda Raftree

lindaraftreeLinda Raftree is Senior Advisor for Innovation, Transparency and Strategic Change at Plan International USA; Special Advisor on ICT and Monitoring & Evaluation at the Rockefeller Foundation; and Co-Founder of the independent consulting firm, Kurante. She also manages the New York City Technology Salons, is on the board of the kiwanja Foundation, and is part of the Regarding Humanity project. An anthropologist by training, she has worked at the intersection of community development, participatory media, rights-based approaches, and new information and communication technologies for nearly 20 years.

Why is monitoring and evaluation, or M&E, important to development work and when do those designing development projects need to start thinking about building M&E into their work?

If you’re talking about monitoring and evaluation for an ICT project, it’s helpful to think about it in two ways. First, how will you measure the performance of your program? And, second, how might ICT be used to support that M&E plan? These are two separate pieces, and it’s important to address them individually.

The systematic monitoring and evaluating of ICT-enabled development projects is still relatively new. Monitoring is important because it can go a long way to helping you figure out what’s working and what’s not working. Monitoring can help you establish a framework through which you ask: What is my program trying to achieve, and what are the small steps I’ll measure along the way to ensure I’m on the road to achieving my project goal?

A lot of what we know about ICT4D projects is anecdotal. We don’t have a lot of good research about what makes projects work and what makes projects fail. So evaluation can be useful both to the project manager, and to the wider field so that other people can learn from you and avoid your mistakes.

Finally, it’s really important to think about M&E at the beginning of the project. If you don’t know where you’re starting from, it’s hard to measure where you’ve gotten to. If your project has already been underway without an M&E component, be reflective on what you’re already done and where you are: all that learning is really important. It becomes more difficult to do M&E midstream, but there are techniques that professional evaluators can use. It’s never too late to start.

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Using SMS to Strengthen Community Communications in the Democratic Republic of the Congo [VIDEO]

Screen Shot 2013-06-27 at 12.12.21 PMBetty Musau of The United Methodist Church talks about how cellphone technology is strengthening communications and transforming communities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where she is a UMC conference communicator.

“Instead of waiting for Sunday or Wednesday for an announcement in Church, now we use SMS to tell people” about urgent news using FrontlineSMS, Betty says.

What happens as a result of increased community communications via SMS? “People are changing their behavior,” such as by boiling water during a cholera outbreak, or using bednets to prevent malaria.

“Cellphones are the only means of communication that are effective because people don’t have access to the internet,” Betty says.

What’s her vision for the future? “If every woman can have access to a cellphone, it will save lives & transform the community.”

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Five Steps toward Designing Context Appropriate ICT4D Projects: An Interview with Kristin Peterson, CEO of Inveneo

KristinKristin Peterson is Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Inveneo, a nonprofit social enterprise that delivers sustainable computing and broadband in the developing world. With the goal of transforming lives through better education, healthcare, economic opportunities and emergency relief, Inveneo and its partners have delivered projects in over 25 countries and impacted the lives of over 3 million people in some of the poorest and most challenging regions in the developing world. Kristin was named Schwab Foundation Social Entrepreneur of the Year in 2013, and honored in 2011 with the ITU World Telecommunication and Information Society Award for her work connecting rural areas.

Q: What factors do development practitioners need to keep in mind when designing ICT products and projects?

A:  In the design phase, there are a number of key principles that need attention aside from the technology. It’s not just about the use case but, also the users of the technology. You have to understand the needs of the organization you’re working with, but also those of the community and the individuals you want to serve.

Here are five things to keep in mind in designing an ICT4D project:

#1: Needs Assessment

The first step is to start with a needs assessment. Engage with the project participants who will use the technology, and with the community that will be served. Learn their issues and their needs so that you can design a technology solution that fits.

For example, if you’re a local church in the States looking to start up an ICT4D program abroad, start by working with your peers in that location to understand what the profile and needs of that community are. Is this community agricultural or urban? If you’re working with a peer church in rural Nigeria where 90% of the community members are farmers, then you’ll probably want to build a program that addresses how to get out better information for farmers.

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The Role of Mobile in Development: An Interview with Priya Jaisinghani, Mobile Solutions Director at USAID

PriyaPriya Jaisinghani serves as Senior Advisor to the Administrator and the Director of Mobile Solutions for the U.S. Agency for International Development. She has previously served as Program Officer at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation launching a $1 billion Global Development Program, and as Development Officer in the South Asia Program of the UN Foundation. Priya received a BA in Commerce from the University of Virginia and received an MA in International Relations from Johns Hopkins University’s SAIS.

Q:  What is your role at USAID, and what does your office do?

A: I’m the director of mobile solutions for USAID, we’re part of an independent office that reports directly to [USAID Administrator] Raj [Shah]. People are working on technology issues across the agency: in health, in agriculture, and in education, to name a few. My team is helping to coordinate ICT activities across these areas, and pushing the agency on issues that are crosscutting, such as financial inclusion, mobile data solutions, and mobile access.

Q:  Can you tell us more about one of these crosscutting areas, like mobile data solutions?

A:  Everyone is talking about big data, but in this case we’re looking at small, project-based data. USAID has a programs budget of over $20 billion per year, which is largely focused in humanitarian assistance, agriculture and health. We have an opportunity to use technology, including mobile technology, to collect real-time or near real-time data on the progress and performance of these programs. And [we’re using technology] to hear directly from the communities we serve about whether and how programs are fulfilling their needs and wants.

In Afghanistan, for example, we’re using mobile [phones] to survey teachers about how they’re currently getting paid, and if they’d prefer to be paid in a different way. So far we have about USAID600 people surveyed, and the results are showing that there’s a strong preference to be paid by mobile or by card instead of being paid in cash, which is how most teachers in Afghanistan are paid today. Having this kind of information gives us the impetus to work with our partners, [including the government,] to pay civil servants through electronic means.

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10 Tips for Successful ICT4D Interventions: An Interview with ICT4D Pioneer Ken Banks

Ken-Banks-kiwanja-High-ResKen Banks, founder of kiwanja.net and FrontlineSMS, devotes himself to the application of mobile technology for positive social and environmental change in the developing world. He has worked at the intersection of technology, anthropology, conservation and development for the past twenty years and, during that time, has lived and worked across the African continent. He is a Pop!Tech Fellow, a Tech Awards Laureate, an Ashoka Fellow and a National Geographic Emerging Explorer. His latest project, Means of Exchange, is looking at how everyday technologies can be used to democratize opportunities for economic self-sufficiency, rebuild local community and promote a return to local resource use.

Q:  You’ve been working in this field for some time – is it surprising to you that there is no “best practice” guide for ICT4D, or is this to be expected in a field that is being transformed so rapidly by changes in technology?

A:  A lot of people have opinions on what works in ICT4D and what doesn’t. Just because a particular tool or lesson might apply in one place doesn’t mean it will work everywhere. This oversimplifies the issue of replication, scale and getting things to work in what are often very different environments. The idea of “best practices” almost assumes that there are commonalities that you can apply globally. This may be true in some cases, but it won’t be true in all.

Q:  What about your experience in creating and growing FrontlineSMS – what factors have you found to be important in building a successful ICT4D project?

A:  There are a handful of important factors – I can list off my top 10, in no particular order.

  • Build for what people already have in their hands. It’s critical to understand the hardware and device landscape, particularly which technologies your users have access to and ownership of. Many projects still have this problem – looking at smart phones or other top-of-the-range technologies that don’t work for the people they’re trying to help.

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