6 tips for better ICT4D use

Jennifer Kedge, a member of the Royal Navy holds up her tablet to children in the island of Binuluanguan in the Philippines, where the U.K. is helping in post-Haiyan humanitarian efforts. Mobile devices such as tablets and cellphones can help development. Photo by: Royal Navy / CC BY-NC

In the Philippines, the texting capital of the world, Devex reported a month ago how a 15-year old kid used his mobile phone to spread disaster information in his community a week before Typhoon Haiyan struck. The result? Zero casualties in their hometown.

That story is just one of many examples of how technology — if used in the right way — can not only save lives but also improve them and ultimately lead to sustainable development.  

Yet, despite globalization and the rise of information technology, comprehensive discussions about using information and communication technologies for development remain few and far between — something a faith-based aid group thinks should be addressed for ICT4D to play a much more important role in development programs.

“Innovations in communications technology, and the proliferation of mobile telecom networks and devices can be a powerful way to bridge the divide in access to essential information and services for those at the base of the economic pyramid,” notes a new report on using technology for social good released on Thursday by United Methodist Communications.

According to the paper, proof of how ICT4D is shaping development is everywhere. It connects more people, provides better information, informs policy decisions as well as transform the development process into a more collaborative and engaging activity — making it more effective and, to an extent, efficient.

But how do you make sure this technology is used effectively and efficiently for development? Here are 6 best practices compiled by the UMCom report:

1. Put people first

“Development projects, almost without exception, are geared toward improving the human condition,” the NGO explained. Development is increasingly becoming an activity with the people, not just for the people. It is providing programs and initiatives that not only makes people’s lives better but actually making them active agents of their development efforts — simultaneously building their capacities and making the programs sustainable. “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,” the report quoted Kristin Peterson, CEO of technology firm Inveneo.

2. Understand the local landscape

The success of development programs depends not just on the expected outcome or how the programs will be carried out, it also largely depend on whether these programs are tailored to the local target community. “[Using technology for development programs] includes not just understanding the desires and needs of the people involved, but also their capacity with the tools you want to employ,” noted the report. This way, an emphasis on using simple, replicable technology and tools can be crucial for the sustainability and effectiveness of the program. Without people understanding the aim and how to use the technology, it can be rendered useless in the long-run.

3. Design using appropriate tools for sustainability and scale

One of the most important components of delivering development programs is procurement. It is crucial especially in scaling up development programs that are largely technology or innovation-based particularly in areas where materials are limited, like Africa. “This should consider factors such as the physical environment, power supply, affordability, and long-term maintenance,” the report said, adding that the goal is to ultimately make people the owner of their development progress.

4. Prototype, fail, try again and succeed

An ongoing debate within the development community is failure, and how to deal with it. A number of development programs have not been achieving their intended outcomes and are tagged as “underachieving,” but we should also start looking at failure as a learning experience from start to finish. “Failure is increasingly being recognized as an important learning opportunity that should be shared,” said the authors of the report. “Failures provide an opportunity to learn and advance the field.”

5. Build in monitoring and evaluation through feedback and community engagement

A direct consequence of failure, if addressed right, should be improvements, to be followed by evaluation and monitoring: “Evaluation is both useful both to project managers and the wider field so that other people can learn from you and avoid your mistakes.” The report added that “capturing how a community is responding to access to information or services ... can be not only an important component of periodic monitoring and evaluation assessments, but also a means of continually refining a product or a project over time,” and community engagement “can provide a technical and support mechanism that can contribute to project sustainability.”

6. Be sensitive and don’t lose sight of the bigger picture

At the end of the day, technological advances are still considered tools and as in any other tool, the effect — whether good or bad — depends largely on how one use them. “ICT also present vulnerabilities that can cause risk and potential harm,” Jennifer Chan, assistant professor and director of Global Emergency Medicine in Northwestern University, said in the report. “Information shared using technology can be accidentally misinterpreted … carelessly distributed without consent, and even intentionally manipulated for a multitude of purposes.”

UMCom concluded that technology is not the end but a means to improve development efforts and that it “should always be placed in context as one tool among many that can help address a development problem.”

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About the author

  • Lean Alfred Santos

    Lean Alfred Santos is a former Devex development reporter focusing on the development community in Asia-Pacific, including major players such as the Asian Development Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. He previously covered Philippine and international business and economic news, sports and politics.