Chief Technology Strategist, Advisor Digital Societies, ICT4D Advisor, Innovation Manager – these are just some of the job descriptions on the business cards I collected during the ICT4D conference. The conference that my colleague Sandrine and I attended in Kampala from 30 April to 2 May 2019 had a clear message: Technology will play an increasingly important role in humanitarian interventions and development cooperation. Technology will change both the way aid is delivered and how development organizations organize themselves. It already does, looking at the tools presented at the conference. But acknowledging that fact does not necessarily imply that international development NGOs all have to become IT companies. Building in-house expertise is only one possible path, but might not even be the most sustainable one. A better alternative in most cases is to establish more partnerships with the private sector where tech expertise is more available. Hence conferences like the ICT4D, where 800+ participants got to meet and exchange.
A study presented by Jennifer Poidatz from Catholic Relief Services found that 72% of all “ICT4D” tools are used by organization’s staff, while only a small share are used by the beneficiary communities (will link full study here as soon as it becomes available online). Our software WebMo is an example of these internal tools. It uses a decentralized approach to collect and share data related to monitoring and evaluation and knowledge management. To me it makes sense first understand and learn to appreciate the power of technology ourselves, before we can promote it in a prudent way in beneficiary communities. Personally, I definitely had to use WebMo first myself, before I was comfortable selling it to others and convincing them of its benefits. Some tools are only patches solving a small problem; others fundamentally change the way we work, communicate, produce and share knowledge. This is no small task and neither is the price tag that comes with it, so we must choose wisely.
ICT is not a trend that will disappear any time soon. On the contrary. With Artificial Intelligence on the move, the possibilities are becoming more and more diverse and also complex. A necessary consequence of the advance of technology is that it also becomes harder to keep up and fully understand the possibilities and risks. Hence, there is definitely a need to advise organizations on questions like: How do we develop a tool? How to introduce it and make sure its use is sustainable? What about privacy? What about inclusion? How will this change and transform the users? For better or worse?
We heard from Christopher Burns from USAID that he is a “digital believer”. I doubt that many of the organizations I work with would agree with that exact term. But the enormous potential of technology must not be ignored. While it is definitely a good idea to approach innovation with healthy skepticism, we must not be scared of the inevitable changes that are coming. The only way to use or appropriately judge a tool is understanding the technical capabilities and the dynamics of innovation better. I hope that we at energypedia consult can contribute to helping people make better informed decisions about tech for Monitoring and Evaluation, through our webinars and trainings, consulting services and our software WebMo. Let us know if we can help your organizations as well.