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8 Recommendations for Successful Development and Technology Organization Partnerships

By Anahi Ayala Iacucci on July 25, 2014

Mali FM Radio

In the ICT4D world we all talk often about working with the private sector, collaboration and partnership with technology companies. The truth is that beside the willingness to work together, we need to understand that collaboration and partnerships needs to be build on a common language and common visions.

For a media development organization, and in general for development organizations, to work with technology companies is not an easy task. While a tech company produces a specific product, development works on processes. While they speak in terms of requirements and infrastructure, we speak in terms of dynamics and ecosystems. While they speak in terms of business models, we speak in terms of sustainability.

Moving ahead, development organizations will work more and more with technology companies, as development organizations should not be creating their own software. There is a need to understand each other differences and each other languages and challenges.

internews-souktel

For this reason Souktel and Internews decided to write the “Leveraging Mobile to Empower Communities in Mali: Learning from Practice,” report to share the successes and challenges of our radio and SMS/IVR project in Mali which, while enabling Malian citizens to contribute more actively to a national discourse on key topics, also contributed to both organizations’ understanding of what are best practices and lessons learned from an NGO- software company partnership.

Recommendations

  1. Clear communication about human resource needs at local media outlets can help ensure that enough staff are available on the ground–and that they’re able to devote time to learning (and managing) mobile software components.
  2. The telecoms sector changes quickly: One month’s status quo may be the next month’s old news. Pricing evolves rapidly, and agreements between carriers don’t last long. Regularly checking and testing the latest state of SMS & audio connectivity helps ensure service continuity and leads to fewer surprises.
  3. In mobile outreach campaigns, targeted or focused audience questions generate higher response rates than general/open-ended questions: When local partners changed question phrasing from “What do you think of the show?” to “What is your opinion of food insecurity in Mali, and what are ways we can address this issue?” incoming SMS responses jumped significantly in a single week.
  4. The greater the number of partners on a project, the more often all partners should communicate. Especially when stakeholders are in multiple countries, regular updates–either through teleconferences, online chats, or basic email summaries–can ensure that all parties are on the same page.
  5. Development work and technology do not always have the same requirements and the same timelines. It is fundamental to make sure that when organizations collaborate, all information about requirements, timelines and expectations is exchanged and clarified in advance.
  6. When it comes to the use of specific technologies in specific context, it does not matter how “easy” the technology is. User interfaces, technology capacity, familiarity with tools and systems have a huge impact on the use of tools. In this context training is never enough, and longer one-on-one mentoring is necessary to make sure that a tool will be used in the long term efficiently.
  7. A user centered design approach to ICT4D projects should always be used when possible, both in the design of the technology and in the design of the overall project. The involvement of the beneficiaries and users of the project into the design may cost more in terms of time and money in the beginning, but it becomes a long-term investment that is worth the effort and the cost.
  8. Every ICT tool needs to be seen as an integral part of the already existing Information Ecosystem. A tool does not lie in a vacuum; it has effects on–and is affected by–where it is implemented, how it is used, and who is using it. It’s also influenced by the infrastructure, the culture of users, and the entire project it is inserted into. A holistic approach to applications and uses of mobile technology helps in making projects sustainable, scalable and robust.

Looking ahead, the challenges related to launching mobile media services in a transitional country like Mali remain clear–but so too does the potential for this technology to empower citizens at scale. We would also like to invite anyone that had similar experiences in this field to contribute with their own experience and lessons learned.

Photo credit to Gérard Nzohabona

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