The Indian city of Hyderabad was venue for the ninth international conference on the use of ICT for development (ICT4D). Eight hundred participants from over 300 organisations in 76 countries assembled for presentations, discussions and panels on how international development organisations use ICT solutions in their work, and how big data can revolutionise decision-making.
This year’s conference focused on how to use data to accelerate achievement of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals – creating a healthy, prosperous and just world, harnessing the power of data to accelerate progress towards achievements of the SDGs, and increase the impact of programmes.
Presentations at the conference showcased numerous examples of initiatives working towards putting the tools for a digital economy into the hands of the world's poor, in health, education, agriculture and disaster management. These included
- m-health systems improving healthcare for the poor by enabling organizations to use mobile solutions for case follow up or maternal care; emergency delivery of drugs in remote areas by drones; or creating affordable 3D printed prostheses out of plastic waste.
- mobile solutions can be used to monitor schools to increase accountability, academic supervision and ensure quality education
- data-driven decision-making for farmers, based on information about weather forecasts, statistically analysed best seeding times and market prizes
Transparency International Kenya was able to present its collaborative, digital solutions for empowering citizens against corruption, in the form of two complaints referral systems, Uwajibikaji Pamoja and Sema!Piga Ripoti! Our focus was on the advantage of partnerships and collaborative solutions for increasing the reach of our work and creating synergies for empower citizens to access information and demand accountability. TI-Kenya shared the experiences and recommendations it generated through practitioner research on Uwajibikaji Pamoja funded by a grant from Making All Voices Count. Our experiences met with much interest; most questions were about how we had managed to reach rural areas, and how we ensured the political will for participation by government partners.
What were some of the take-aways from the conference?
Partnerships and collaboration with the beneficiary in mind
Many ICT projects shared lessons about a strong need for partnerships and collaboration in order to synergise our resources but also to reach a wider public and generate more innovative and creative ideas. At the same time, a human-centered design, putting beneficiaries into the focus of creation of a tech solution is paramount for successful implementation.
Innovations in data visualisation and analytics can answer the notorious lack of scientific information in real time. In many cases, this improves the quality of research, monitoring and evaluation. The easier use of maps helps with ‘seeing is believing’, improving advocacy activities - for example through visualised time lapses for geological change or developments of cities. Thus, ICT can be useful for digital M&E, building global development indicators from grassroots communities.
Enablers and barriers to open data sharing
The conference highlighted that while digital companies are obsessed with big data as one of the most valuable assets in the world, the NGO sector has only now started keeping up and using big data for development. While big data describes the large volume of data – both structured and unstructured – it’s not the amount of data that’s important. It’s what organizations do with the data that matters. To be useful, big data must be analysed for insights that lead to better decisions and strategic moves.
Preparing for tech implementation
Before being able to jump on the fast-moving tech-development-train, organisations need to ask themselves - what does it mean to be tech ready? Implementing tech is not easy and is not a standalone activity. Tech is a tool. If it is not being used, it is useless. Organisations need to create ICT strategies and invest in staff IT literacy. As a support strategy to enable organizations to close the knowledge gap, 9 Digital Principles (www.digitalprinciples.org) were developed, capturing the most important lessons-learned by the development community in the implementation of technology-enabled programs. They serve as a set of guidelines that inform the design of technology-enabled development programs.
Under the stewardship of DIAL, the principles can be endorsed by organizations to help the digital ecosystem to become more efficient and effective. They are: design with the user; understand the existing ecosystem; design for scale; build for sustainability; be data driven; use open standards, open data, open source and open innovation; re-use and improve; address privacy and security; be collaborative.
Data for evidence-based decision making
As a conclusion of the conference I took away the message that NGOs need to stop re-inventing the wheel and falling into the trap of 'pilotitis' where each organisation creating its own solutions to common problems and pilots them in different regions or areas.
We should all first of all look to each other, openly share our achievements and information, use the immense richness of data that is out there by enabling and strengthening a culture of data use and of the use of data for evidence-based decision making. Last but not least we should synergise by working together, and learn from the nine principles.
About the authorLaeticia Klein is the Knowledge Management Specialist at Transparency International Kenya and played an important role in planning the action research on the use of tech solutions to improve complaints referral and increase accountability.
PROJECT | June 23, 2016
Improving complaints referral mechanisms for greater transparency and accountability
EVENT | March 31, 2017
ICT4D Conference 2017
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