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8 ICT4D Recommendations for iNGOs Working in Eastern Africa

By Matt Haikin on February 27, 2017

Transformative successes have been achieved by those harnessing information and communication technologies (ICT) for development (ICT4D), and yet many people still lack access to ICT, and there is a sense that more needs to be done to understand how technology can best support humanitarian and development initiatives.

In January 2016, Oxfam commissioned research to explore these issues in the Horn, East and Central Africa (HECA) region, where there is a burgeoning technology scene and numerous development projects incorporating ICT.

The objectives of the research were: to explore what actors in the region consider good and bad practice; to ask where they see the most interesting opportunities in the future; and to bring this together in a form that informs the role of iNGOs using ICT4D, especially in the HECA region.

Digital Development: What is the role of international NGOs? provides the analysis and key lessons from this research, including recommendations for Oxfam and other iNGOs on the use of ICT.

8 Key Lessons

Many of the lessons from this research in the HECA region echo common ICT4D themes (such as those raised in the Principles for Digital Development). The report recommendations include the implementation of principles which are not necessarily acted upon, while others are new or specific to the HECA region:

  1. Build on what works and don’t re-invent the wheel: Most things have been tried before, yet there can be an instinct to develop new tools from scratch. Where appropriate tools are already available, programmes should instead adopt a policy of ‘buy or adapt by default’.
  2. Think local to engage with users and develop local capacity: Local relevance and local production of content is critical to engaging end-users. Models which have been tried demonstrate lessons about dissemination and about supporting local organisations.
  3. Design iterative programmes involving real end-users: Such approaches produce better results for the development sector—a truth almost universally acknowledged. However, there appear to be skill gaps and structural factors limiting the take-up of these ways of working.
  4. Scaling is hard, but a common understanding helps: Scaling up from pilot projects is difficult, as is sustainability at scale. A common understanding of concepts between actors would help—as would funding specifically aimed at the scaling phase.
  5. Combat survey fatigue by collaborating on monitoring and evaluation: The ease with which ICT can be used for monitoring and evaluation has in some instances contributed to ‘survey fatigue’. Collaborating across projects, programmes and even organisational boundaries can help counter this.
  6. Open development can create opportunities and reduce waste: There is widespread confusion over the concept of ‘openness’ in ICT4D (open source, open data, etc.), leading to missed opportunities to share resources, reduce costs and improve results.
  7. Understand how different private sector actors can integrate with NGOs’ duty of care: For long-term success, local and international private sector actors are critical. A more nuanced understanding of how INGOs can work with these stakeholders is needed.
  8. Don’t forget about connectivity: Access and connectivity are still significant barriers to participation, despite an increasing perception to the contrary. NGOs have a role to play in advocating for innovative last-mile connectivity solutions.

3 roles and opportunities for iNGOs

There were three key ICT4D roles for iNGOs that emerged from the research:

  • Act as conveners to improve the use of ICT across the region: There is an unfulfilled role for a convener of different actors across different sectors to help them work together, share best practice and develop capacity, particularly in the civil society and start-up sectors.
  • Collaborate with NGOs, civil society and other actors: Local networks and long- term relationships could enable Oxfam or other iNGOs to take on this role, or to be part of a network brokering connections and knowledge sharing between tech organisations, NGOs, funders/donors and civil society partners.
  • Advocate at all levels: iNGOs’ important relationships with delivery partners and global and national funders allow them to play a valuable advocacy role, seeking to ensure that best practice is mainstreamed in funding and partnerships.

Recommendations for iNGOs like Oxfam

Finally, the report focuses on what the findings mean for iNGOs like Oxfam with operations in the HECA region and beyond. Oxfam should make digital literacy—and knowledge of how to apply technology to development problems—core competencies for delivery staff and senior management. This would help maximise the potential of ICT in Oxfam’s future work.

It is also recommended that Oxfam should hire or train more business analysts, and increase its in-country ‘ICT in Programme’ staff. This should be done in a way that ensures a level of global consistency and quality, perhaps using a matrix management approach. While some of these recommendations are specific to Oxfam’s activities and structure, many were echoed by the wider community and reflect opportunities and challenges for other iNGOs working in the region.

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Written by
Matt Haikin is an ICT4D practitioner, researcher, evaluator and consultant specialising in participatory approaches to technology. He has managed software development for NGOs and governments in the global South, conducted primary research into the role of technology in participatory budgeting in Brazil, and the impact of digital technologies on the role of international NGOs in Africa.
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