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Your Current ICT4D Skills Should Be Obsolete in Five Years

By Wayan Vota on November 16, 2017

ICT4D professional

What is the role of ICT4D professionals within an international development organization? I was recently asked this question by three large USAID implementing partners. Each organization was wondering if ICT4D should be mainstreamed or side-streamed.

I made the case that they should invest in ICT4D professionals who could do both: operate in ICT4D teams that are side-streamed, and constantly transfer ICT4D skills to program staff who can mainstream them into projects.

ICT4D Professionals Are Change Agents

The best ICT4D professionals are always on the cutting edge of how we can use technology to improve international development outcomes. They are looking at the newest technologies, constantly testing them against real world situations, and learning from their failures.

This means that today they are looking at Blockchain, chatbots, and Big Data to see if they have any real impact on our constituents. Tomorrow, who knows what technologies they will find and test?

Because they are agents of change, they should be side-streamed – kept in a separate unit from program staff and allowed to freely innovate and fail as they learn.

ICT4D Professionals Are Teachers

At the same time, ICT4D professionals are investing in the winning technologies, making them easier and more user-friendly, so program staff can operate the technologies without learning complex software programming languages or hiring a team of outside consultants just to make the technology work.

They are also educating their peers on what works and not, making sure that program staff know how to use new technologies to deliver their objectives, without getting distracted with technology that’s immature or inappropriate. The end result should be program staff who can take over full design and implementation of technologies once they are mature enough to work in developing world contexts.

Because ICT4D professionals are teachers, their efforts do become mainstreamed over time – adopted by program staff who can now use those technologies themselves.

The Perfect Example: Mobile Data Collection

Ten years ago, the technology for mobile data collection was in its infancy.  Only a few early ICT4D innovators in side-streamed teams, like FHI 360’s Tech Lab, were using Palm Pilots to collect constituent data. Program staff still relied on paper for data collection.

Then in 2008, intrepid developers started Open Data Kit, sensing a need for standardized reporting on mobile phones. By 2010, ICT4D professionals had developed so many convenient mobile data collection tools in a desire to make it easier for program staff, choice was the real challenge.

In early 2015, USAID developed an online course in mobile data collection to further the technology skills transfer from ICT4D professionals to program staff, and by 2017, if program staff were still collecting data on paper, they were wasting everyone’s time.

Today, an ICT4D professional should not be designing mobile data collection forms for program staff – it is now so mainstream that they can easily do that on their own. ICT4D professionals should be working on the next developing innovation, to surprise and delight the constituents and programs staff of tomorrow.

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Written by
Wayan Vota co-founded ICTworks. 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 his employer, any of its entities, or any ICTWorks sponsor.
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