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The Continuing Need for Infomediaries in Digital Development

By Wayan Vota on May 17, 2017

When we advocate for investments in new digital development solutions, we often make the case for them to be dead simple to use, expecting our constituents to be able to adopt and utilize them effectively by themselves.

Join us at ICTforAg to learn more about infomediaries in agriculture

However, this assumption has four flaws that often lead to failure:

1. Basic Literacy: In many countries, the majority of adults cannot read even simple text messages. There is no way they are able to read your fancy app pages, especially your consent forms.

2. Digital Literacy: Mobile phones may seem simple for youth, yet adults can find them bewildering. You may need to train constituents on how to use a phone, less you actually impoverish them through mobile phone ownership.

3. Intrinsic Motivation:  Kentaro Toyama makes a great point in his book, Geek Heresy, with the “Law of Amplification,” that says technology’s primary effect is to amplify human forces. If your farmer doesn’t want to adopt new ideas to improve his farm, you will not succeed.

4. Trust: Would you change years of socially reinforced practice based on what a fancy app says? Probably not. So don’t expect constituents to abandon their activities based on what some random apps tells them.

All four of these issues can be overcome by engaging infomediaries – trusted agents that can help constituents understand and incorporate new tools into their existing decisions and expectations. Infomediaries can help read texts, can decipher fancy phone menus, engage teachers with the technology, and build trust between your tool and their lives.

The use of intermediaries in agriculture, education, and health is widespread – we call them extension agents, librarians, teachers, and community health workers. Yes, they are often woefully understaffed, underpaid, and undersupported, and yet they are key to our success.

Might it be time to fully recognize their role in every ICT4D intervention we try?

Filed Under: Agriculture
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Wayan Vota is a digital development entrepreneur and the co-founder of ICTworks. He also co-founded ICT4Djobs, ICT4Drinks, Technology Salon, JadedAid, MERL Tech, ICTforAg, Kurante, OLPC News and a few other things.
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4 Comments to “The Continuing Need for Infomediaries in Digital Development”

  1. Ari Katz says:

    We also call them ‘librarians’, Wayan.

  2. Grace says:

    In Kigali Rwanda, as i withdrew money from the ATM, and elderly lady approached me to assist her to withdraw money having been issued with an ATM card. I was not very surprised when I proceeded to painfully slowly take her through the steps even how to enter her pin no. This issue is amplified further when it comes to rural women.

    Many a times I have used city cyber cafes usually manned by a young male (usually early 20s) and have to watch in many cases their impatience in teaching the women on how to use the computer. Many times, if we ask for help, one is approached with a patronizing attitude in the cyber cafes. I can only imagine how it is for the rural and especially illiterate women.

    My proposal is in ICT4D interventions be sensitive especially to women and use more gender sensitive approaches to this issue including using women/girls, having women only training sessions etc

  3. Adwoa Sey says:

    I run a small NGO which has the aim of helping teachers and students in an under-served urban area and with huge enrolment (sometimes 80 students in a class) to use more ICT in teaching and learning, to combat the issues of big class sizes and the spiralling costs of books, to cite only two problems in basic education. . Students are very receptive, teachers less so. I would be interested in hearing about any similar projects. We work in Accra, Ghana

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