Building bridges between tech and development at Sahara Sparks
On May 13th - 14th, 2016; I represented Making All Voices Count in the Sahara Sparks Conference, the largest ICT event in Tanzania.
The conference aims to bring together ICT stakeholders and lead decision makers to discuss the impact of ICT on local communities and how technology can be used as a tool to improve people’s lives in every aspect of development.
We as Making All Voices Count led the discussion around the successes and challenges that we’ve seen in trying to use ICT as a bridge between the government and the ordinary citizens; we tried to have our panelists and the audience answer the following key question “What makes tech successful in bringing citizens and government together?”
Many of these lessons were more than familiar to people in the room, but I had a strong sense that we also need to focus on bridging the technology and development communities – and to do that, we need to keep discussing our lessons, and finding the balance between how our different communities work.
The three most commonly discussed points across our sessions were:
1) Take advantage of the tech people are already using
Or, to put it another way, innovate with the tools that are out there, don’t invent something new just for the sake of it (something our friends at the Engine Room and Network Society Lab have been keen to point out in their ‘6 rules of thumb’ for organisations choosing tech tools in transparency and accountability initiatives)
2) Idea vs Issue: ‘I have an idea for an app – I wonder what it could be used for?’ vs ‘I see an issue – can I design something to solve it?’
Sahara Sparks is a great place for meeting people with great ideas, spotting the new start-ups, and connecting with potential investors. At this kind of event, the ICT4D players can seem quite new, and there are certainly differences in language and approaches between the tech, government and the development actors. One of the biggest gaps in understanding was around this initial approach to a project, and seeing who starts with an idea vs who starts with an issue. If we’re going to work together, we need to start finding a common approach to projects.
3) ICT4D, and particularly ICT4Gov involves a new set of end users for most techies – government.
As tech companies, we’re pretty good at understanding how things operate; we try, we adapt and we create a tool that does what we want. But – and especially when it comes to ICTs for development – we’re less good at looking at the whole range of audiences we want to get using our tool, especially when there’s very little research on how individual government departments actually work (something which itself changes all the time as staff come and go).
This leads to one of the key areas where ICT organisations and development organisations can, and should be putting our heads together right and the start… getting to know that key audience: government.
Takeaways for the entrepreneurs at Sahara Sparks - and beyond
Tech entrepreneurs should take full advantage of the aforementioned three steps before burning the midnight oil and coming up with solutions that only repeat mistakes we've seen in the past.
For any successful initiative that uses technology, the technology only contributes 10% of the success, the other 90% percent is people who use the technology i.e. in the tech and governance space, it is the citizens and the government. Tech entrepreneurs should really put this percentage ratio into consideration on their efforts of developing solutions.
About the authorGregory Omondi is Innovation Engagement Officer at Ushahidi
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