5 ways ICT can support the Millennium Development Goals

Published on: Dec 27 2010 by Linda Raftree

I’ve been putting together my thoughts around girls, child rights, information and communication technologies and the Millennium Development Goals. The angle I’m taking is not from the large donor, top down, huge institutional program side, but instead, looking at examples from the work I’ve been closest to over the past few years at the community and district level, mostly focused on child and youth participation in the development process. Check my MDGs through a child rights lens post for more background.

My last post (3 ways to integrate ICTs into your development organization) uses Hannah Beardon’s framework to discuss how organizations can integrate ICTs into their work. Hannah suggests that ICTs can be integrated directly(providing access to ICTs), strategically (using ICTs as tools to support development processes) and indirectly (using ICTs to improve efficiency and communication within the organization).

To complete that post, I’m listing below 5 ways that ICTs can facilitate accountability and transparency, citizen engagement, and public debate, all of which are necessary to bring about development improvements and achieve the MDGs. Obviously these are not the only ways ICTs can support the MDGs, but this post would have been miles long if I’d listed all the initiatives that are out there.


Editing video to promote social change

1. Engaging children and youth in the development process

An engaged and active population is a key ingredient for good development programs. Children and youth have much to offer, are directly targeted in the MDGs and many other development initiatives, offer valuable ideas and energy, and make up around half the population in many of the countries that are lagging in reaching the MDGs. ICTs can help children and youth engage in the development process and bring their ideas, opinions and voices alive at the community, district, national and global level.

Using new technology, new media, children and youth can claim a space that they didn’t have before. They can influence certain things, advocate on particular issues that are important to them, take ownership in communities and in leadership. ICTs excite them and encourage them to be more involved and engaged.’ Anthony Njoroge, Plan Kenya Community ICT Manager.

ICTs empower young people with skills that make them more confident and more involved at the community level.

Using ICTs, children and youth have become more responsible because they are not waiting for adults to come in with something. Now they are designing it themselves, they are creating space for themselves and bringing their agenda to adult meetings instead of waiting to be invited in or having to work within the agenda of the adults. It used to be that you’d start working with 20 youth, you’d invite them into a community meeting. You’d see the number go down to 10, to 4, to 3, because they didn’t see any relation to themselves in the topics and the goings on.

With integration of technology and the arts however, youth have a high level of interest. It’s really bringing in their opinions, their thoughts and ideas to join their voices with parents. Now they use arts and media to promote communication, dialogue on their issues and look for ways to resolve them. Before they were totally missing from the discussion, but now they are here.’ Judith Nkie, Plan Cameroon Youth Empowerment through Arts and Media Project Coordinator.

Arts and ICTs were used in the above-mentioned project as tools for youth engagement, mapping and prioritizing, research and community dialog. The media produced with the ICT tools was shared first within the community and then outside at the district, national and global levels as a way of engaging decision makers and the public in the youths’ agenda.

For more on how arts and ICTs are being used in the above-mentioned project, see this post. Watch 100 videos made by youth in 6 African countries on topics they are passionate about.


Designing a mobile mapping system

2. Identifying resources and mapping patterns for better decision making

Tracking and visualizing information is an excellent way to improve decision making capacity. The advent of simpler and open source participatory digital mapping tools allows community members to map their communities digitally and to have more ownership of the information. Mapping helps identify patterns that may not have been visible before. Local maps shared on-line allow local people to provide their own information from their own perspective, and that information serves multiple purposes at the local level and beyond.

Digital mapping can be helpful when governments decentralize. Municipalities are mapping resources as well as projects and interventions. District authorities can track their own initiatives and those by local and international organizations to avoid duplication of efforts and wasted resources. When maps are public, the population can better demand answers about where resources are being allocated and why.

Maps can help with disaster risk reduction and tools such asUshahidi can help during emergency response. Mapping information is also useful for holding up a mirror to the population to ask them questions about themselves and their behaviors and for showing the direct consequences of actions; for example in a Community Total Led Sanitation mapping project, the community faces its realities about where their own waste is entering food and water sources.

Map Kibera is a good example of participatory digital mapping. mGEOS is a mobile mapping tool developed to help Plan Kenya staff to gather and share data needed for their daily work. Map Kibera and Plan Kenya are collaborating in Kwale on youth and governance work, and in Mathare to work on Community Total Led Sanitation using digital mapping tools (see July 27th entry). In this video, a district youth officer in Kenya talks about why digital mapping is useful for his community.


GPS work in Kwale, Kenya

3. Pulling in quick information to guide further investigation, response, or advocacy; pushing out information for targeted actions

ICTs can be used to gather quick information from a broad population. This can be useful in a variety of situations and themes, including those outlined in the MDGs. For example, SMS are being used to report on whether teachers are showing up at school, where violence against children and women is happening, where help is needed in the aftermath of a disaster, and for tracking endangered wildlife. Crowd sourced information can help governments and agencies get preliminary information so that further investigation and support can be provided in a particular area.

Another example is the use of mobiles in different health initiatives, including: child-birth care; HIV and AIDS prevention and treatment programs; support for volunteer community healthcare workers; and bed net treatment reminders. Most of the ICT and development world is also already familiar with the work of two organizations: Ushahidi and FrontlineSMS who have been combining SMS with digital mapping.

A program that I’m closely involved with is SMS reporting of violence against children in Benin, where local communities, government agencies and NGOs are collaborating to improve the child protection system. This type of program shows promise if heed is paid to the pros and cons of collecting information by SMS, and if those implementing are clear about the type of information that will be gathered, privacy implications, and how the system will complement existing systems. (Here is one document that outlines some considerations).

Increasing controls by governments and mobile phone companies, including SIM card registry and Mozambique’s recent government shut down of SMS services during the bread riots are good examples of how quickly the ICT landscape can change, and how flexible and agile those working in the area of ICTs need to be.


Checking info on constituency development fund

4. Supporting accountability and transparency

ICTs are useful to support accountability and transparency, necessary for attempts to track and ensure good use of funding for different efforts, including those related to the MDGs and other aid and development programs. Making information more available to the public by mobile is one such way. SODNET’s budget tracking tool, for example, informs Kenyans of how much funding is allocated by the Constituency Development Fund to different municipalities in different categories.

Combined with mapping, as outlined in this post, the budget information can help constituents to track where their funds are actually being spent. Other interesting examples of how ICTs can be used for transparency and accountability can be found at TacticalTech’s Info Activism site and at Technology for Transparency.


Paper forms will soon be digitized

5. Improving municipal services and information management

Civil registration documents, especially a birth certificate, are a precursor to demanding any number of rights or accessing a wide array of services. Without a birth certificate a child may not be able to sit for school exams, receive immunizations or free health care or claim rights to inheritance or legal protection in courts of law. Proof of age is critical in successfully prosecuting perpetrators of crimes against children such as child trafficking, sexual offences, early recruit ment into the armed forces, child marriage and child labor. ICTs are being used to digitize civil registry in Kenya, for example. Not only are records being digitized, but mobile phones are used to make it more convenient for the population to know when their documents are ready. This saves people time and money and means that more parents will register their children.

But wait, there’s more!

These are only a few examples of ways that ICTs are being used at the grassroots level to improve participation, transparency, accountability, debate and ownership of the development process. The MDGs are lofty, but informed local community participation and ownership is key in efforts to reach them and in ensuring that marginalized populations can also be included.

Please add your examples of ways that ICTs can support development and ICTs in the comments section!

Originally published as 5 ways ICTs can support the MDGs


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I work as the Senior ICT4D Advisor for Plan International USA and blog at Wait... What?
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