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9 Lessons Learned From Failed ICTforAg Interventions

By Wayan Vota on June 6, 2018

failure in ICTforAg
The potential for ICTs in agricultural development is almost endless and numerous applications are being developed and deployed. However, whilst everyone would like to share their success stories, very few have the confidence to share their failures.

Join us for ICTforAg on June 14th to learn from your peers’ insights and actions.

There should be no shame in experimenting and failing, especially with new communication technologies. Hence, CTA launched a call for papers on failed ICT4Ag initiatives – projects that showed early promise and received third-party support from governments, donor agencies or private sector investors, but did not reach fruition.

The resulting Lessons for Sustainability: Failing to scale ICT4Ag-enabled services, highlights nine case studies from Côte d’Ivoire, DR Congo, Ghana, Trinidad and Tobago, Uganda, Zambia, and Kenya.

Based these case studies and on other sources, the following nine lessons learned highlight the main failure points to avoid when designing, introducing and scaling-up ICT4Ag projects.

1. Involve all the potential users when assessing demand

Too often, developers look at whether an information and communication technology (ICT) application is suitable for agricultural use without first assessing the demand. No project design should begin without detailed consultations with the intended users, such as farmers, traders and extension workers.

Consultations should first aim to identify their agricultural needs and, only after this has been done, should project developers consider whether these needs could be met successfully by ICTs. Further, both demand and impact need to be assessed on an ongoing basis through rigorous monitoring and evaluation.

2. Keep it simple

There is often a tendency to want to provide all the information and assistance that farmers could possibly need. This can lead to complex, costly, unworkable and unsustainable designs. For example, projects aiming to supply extension information sometimes run into difficulties in sourcing appropriate content. A better approach is to start by providing limited information to address a core problem, with the intention to upgrade and scale-up services if the pilot is successful.

3. Be open to all ICT solution possibilities

The need for the relatively new ICTs (such as mobile phones, the web, etc.) should not be assumed as, in some cases, they may not represent the best solution to farmers’ problems. To address some problems, more traditional ICTs, such as radios, may be the answer.

In yet other cases, a mixture of new and traditional ICTs may be the best approach. Whichever solution is proposed, it is essential that this is based on cost-effectiveness and sustainability and not just on the fact that it is desirable and technically possible.

4. Address literacy, gender and social issues from the outset

The use of mobile phones and the internet often runs up against problems of both illiteracy and the ability of the target beneficiaries to use the technology. Providing services in languages understood by most people is essential. Beware that women are sometimes denied access to technology, even though they are frequently able to make better use of the information provided than men.

Communities may have strong traditional information and knowledge-sharing approaches, as well as trust-based marketing relationships with traders, and ICT4Ags should promote the continuation of such traditional practices.

5. Consider the project cost

Externally funded projects are invariably too costly to be supported by governments once donor funds have run out. Donors need to rigorously examine the capacity of the hosting organisation to continue implementing activities after the project. They should design projects with sustainability in mind rather than because they have a certain budget to spend.

Governments need to say no to donor support if they feel they cannot guarantee sustainability. Exit strategies must also address who will replace consulting firms that may have done much of the initial work in implementing a project.

6. Work with existing service providers

It is essential that extension staff do not feel threatened by ICT introduction. Increased availability of information requires qualified staff able to help farmers to use it. ICTs for extension purposes should not be designed to replace traditional extension methods but to supplement them and help the extension service staff in both the field and headquarters to function more effectively.

7. Develop a viable business model

Technology specialists who decide to develop ICT4Ag applications are often not very business-minded. They may need to seek specialist advice that can assess the profit potential of their ICTs before too much money is invested.

  • How ICT services expect to generate revenue
  • If constituents will pay for information and how much they’ll pay
  • The opportunities for external contributions
  • How to control costs so that they are in line with the revenue

Similarly, government and donor projects also need a business model in order to assess the potential for sustainability.

8. Focus on training, promotion and information requirements

Project budgets invariably underestimate or ignore the training requirements needed for an ICT service to work. Training is required at all levels, from those supervising the service to the farmer receiving the information, and this can involve considerable costs, including travel costs. Similarly, promotion of a service is essential for people to know that it is available, but promotion is also sometimes unbudgeted.

9. Resolve responsibilities to implement the service

Project developers sometimes design a system while paying little heed to who will actually be required to implement it. It is essential that all management and operational issues are resolved from the outset and that a new service is both confident of the competence of the planned implementers and has the full support of management. Governments also need to provide consistent support for project implementation.

Now don’t fail to learn! Join us for ICTforAg on June 14th

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Written by
Wayan Vota co-founded ICTworks and is the Digital Health Director at IntraHealth International. He also co-founded Technology Salon, MERL Tech, ICTforAg, ICT4Djobs, ICT4Drinks, JadedAid, Kurante, OLPC News and a few other things. Opinions expressed here are his own and do not reflect the position of IntraHealth International or other ICTWorks sponsors.
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