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Global Digital Development Forum Was a 2,600 Participant Success! What Did We Learn?

By Wayan Vota on May 21, 2020

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On May 6th, we hosted the inaugural Global Digital Development Forum that engaged over 2,600 participants during 16-hours of nonstop sessions from 4:00 GMT to 20:00 GMT.

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We had 154 sessions including 6 keynote presentations, 37 lightning talks, 72 breakout and workshop sessions, and 39 technology demos in English with a French language track for select sessions. Each event had an average of 112 people, and there were a few highlights including:

Keynote Sessions with over 1,000 participants

  • USAID Digital Strategy – A Vision for Development in the Digital Age
  • The Great Equalizer: What Silicon Valley Learned from Sierra Leone in COVID-19

Lightning Talks with over 300 participants

  • en Francais Singapour: De solides bases législatives pour une gestion de crise efficace
  • Frontier Insights – User Perceptions of Trust and Privacy on the Internet
  • Moving Beyond ICT4D: Afrofeminist Futures

Breakout Sessions with over 150 participants

  • Can the Host Country Afford your Tech Solution Once Donor Funding Ends?
  • Context Really Matters: The Importance of Understanding Digital Ecosystems
  • Digital Development Advisors: Building Local Capacity
  • Remote Working Playbook: How We Can Work Better Under Lockdown

Participants Loved the Event

Our overall goal was to create a truly inclusive event where we could share our experiences, learn from others, and advance our collective ability to effect change, using technology. In this, we believe we succeeded.

We admitted 3,666 participants to the event and 2,634 were active at some point during the day. That’s a whopping 72% attendance for a free and online event. Attendees engaged with an average of 9 events over the conference, or more than two hours’ attendance on average. This is in line with our expectations – only a crazy few stayed with us for the full 16 hours.

Attendees were not just passively absorbing the sessions. During their time at the conference, participants were collectively awarded 236,907 GDDF Points for exploring content, posting in discussion threads, and attending events.

Our post-event feedback has 90% of conference participants rating the event as awesome or great – above the 85% average for in-person events on similar topics, including kudos like:

I had more “Ah-ha” moments than I can name during a variety of sessions, but the BIGGEST one came from taking in the conference as a whole. The fact that the digital development community can come together and make something like this happen gave me goosebumps and provided inspiration for what can be accomplished in the future – especially during these challenging times. – Conference Participant

Participation Was Truly Global

Our goal was to create a virtual experience where the participants led the majority of the sessions, and over 400 presenters showcased ideas and engaged with participants well beyond scripted sessions, including lively debates in discussion threads, chat services, networking games, even a virtual world!

There are legitimate barriers to connecting online, but the possibilities for inclusion are real. Participants came from 127 countries and represented over 1,179 different organizations. We had over 500 participants join us who lived on the African continent and almost 500 from South and East Asia.

That inclusion would not have been possible with a face-to-face conference. In fact, the top ten most active participants were also from Global South countries, spawning feedback like:

The conference really accomplished 90% of what an in-person conference could do, and did so without excluding those who couldn’t afford airfares, get visas on time, etc. – Conference Participant

It was amazing to see all this come together and to realize many who are unable to travel long distances for certain events can still come together, share and learn in such an interactive manner. – Conference Participant

I was amazed to see folks from so many different continents speaking the same jargon and experiencing similar issues. We’re truly living in an unprecedented, globally connected world, for better or for worse, and we don’t need to spend so much money traveling to conferences to meet and learn from people! – Conference Participant

Participation Continues with Session Content

Our final goal was to create a learning experience that continued after the conference ended, unlike so many in-person events.

Global Digital Development Forum participation did not end on May 6th. We have over 1,500 additional post-event participants who joined the original 3,666 participants, and are continuing to engage with the conference content – even today!

You too can watch our keynotes, lightning talks, breakouts, workshops and tech demos. The conference website will be open for at least 3 months for your exploration and reference.

Register Now for automatic access to GDDF content!

Wondering which session you should engage with? Well, here are five recommendations directly from conference participants’ feedback on the sessions they enjoyed the most:

Eastern Americas Keynote: USAID Digital Strategy.

I have kept track of USAID’s latest developments and their digital agenda/strategy but their keynote really delivered a lot of encouragement to me, my organisation, and surely many more. I was encouraged to have such a crucial and powerful player moving ahead, leading by example, while being highly innovative, and not shying away from new approaches and ways of thinking. – Conference Participant

Pacific Americas Keynote: Responsible Data Collection Must Be Inclusive.

This session was incredibly well done and addressed the topic of diversity and inclusion, as well as accessibility for all ability types. In an age where we have been catapulted forward into the digital landscape, it’s more important than ever to ensure that our tools and environments are truly designed for equal participation and representation. Diversity and inclusion is a mindset, an ethos, a lifestyle. It can be infused into everything that you do. – Conference Participant

Breakout Session: USSD Rails Should be More Open.

I watched so many attended so many sessions but there was something about the USSD topic. I have never taken USSD seriously and clicking the joining button I told myself ,”Let’s see what is being discussed in this room over here.“ The panelists were very engaging. With every slide we had a quick Q&A sort of quiz, which made it quite interactive and interesting, kind of like playing for the ultimate prize of getting insights on what it is, how it really works, and why it should be open to the public. – Conference Participant

Breakout Session: Digital Solutions to Address the Education Equity Gap.

The session revealed how digital solutions support education systems in addressing the inevitable and growing education equity gap, this is very important for education and child protection, especially vulnerable children from remote and poor families. It showcased technology that can be used for learning now, during lockdown, and applied to post COVID-19 environments. – Conference Participant

Workshop: Co-Creating in Humanitarian Settings: Methodologies for Inclusivity

The engagement in this workshop was amazing due to using breakout rooms. Fruitful resources and information were shared on how to engage young people with disabilities in new ways when conducting research or even baseline-end line surveys. I got the chance to speak with the moderators and attendees as if it was a face-to-face workshop, despite the physical distance. This workshop was directly related to my work and I shared workshop resources with the inclusive team I work with directly after the event. – Conference Participant

Success in Seven Weeks

Our success is even more surprising when we look at the event timeline. Back in late February, digital development conferences were getting canceled everywhere, and an ICTworks post on March 5th asked if we should organize a virtual ICT4D event.

A flurry of emails later, Nick Martin, John O’Bryan, and Wayan Vota took a vision to a core set of organizers and announced our idea on March 30th. From April 1 all the way through the event itself on May 6th, we were madly coordinating participants, sessions, and technology approaches to create the Global Digital Development Forum.

Thank you again to everyone who made it a success – presenters, participants, and all the co-organizers at USAID, Chemonics, Save the Children, TechChange, IntraHealth International, CRS and the ICT4D Conference, and the Digital Impact Alliance for supporting this transformative event.

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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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