It was with feeling of satisfaction that I read Eric Smallberg’s recent post titled “Thankfully, ICT4D is Now About Strategy and Implementations, Not Technovelty” where brings up the lessons from failure and the shift in emphasis of technology based development projects and social enterprises.
Richard Heeks wrote about the early history of these changes in a paper entitled The ICT4D 2.0 Manifesto. Mr. Heeks explained the difference in earlier attitude between the first programs, and the projects in the field today. Early programs relied upon “technovelty” and focused more on spreading access as quickly as possible instead of on thoughtful implementation. He generalizes the outcome of those early projects into a few words: “failure…and anecdote[s].” Often programs would return with great stories about how technology had changed one individual’s life, without analysis to the larger effects. Past the promotional materials, positive impact became difficult to assess, which in turn led to many projects today being framed by sustainability, scalability, and evaluation.
Reading through, I can honestly say that this applies to all technological innovations aimed at the rural African, the base of that pyramid or for social impact. For most of 2012, I’ve been involved in assessing the current status of a social enterprise in East Africa, and these points from the article resonate:
As speakers talked about their projects, and the effect they had, they all listed off their lessons learned, including:
- “Building trust and credibility is crucial”
- “Research tech context before strategizing”
- “Technology should serve the goal, not be the goal”
- “Try to find out if there is an alternative to technology”
- “Use the technology that is already in place to limit training needs”
Sounds amazingly like basic advice for user driven innovation, minus the jargon, from the frugal engineer’s point of view (#5 Why reinvent the wheel when first prototypes abound?)
I hope this shift in thinking, as observed among the ICT4D practice, finds a way to influence the startups and social enterprises in more basic services such as cooking, lighting, defecating et al.