At the Technology Salon on “How to Incorporate ICT into Proposals”, we discussed some of the challenges and solutions for proposal writers when they try to incorporate information and communication technologies into future program design.
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Problems with Incorporating ICT into Proposals
Essentially, short time frames for preparing proposals doesn’t allow for participation and end-user involvement and feedback during development of technology solutions. Yet donors often want details about a technological solution within a proposal; however, in order to define details, more knowledge of local context, a participatory local communications assessment, end-user testing and more need to be done.
This causes proposal writers to sometimes put unrealistic goals in proposals in order to secure funding or because they don’t have information about the local context and actual feasibility of a proposed technology solution; implementers may find later that they are unable to deliver.
The issue is compounded by the real lack of organizational buy-in to allow for testing and iterating, for trial and error, and even failure, in organizations and within projects to learn what works and what can be scaled up through proposals and donor funding.
Solutions to Including ICT in Proposals
Overall, organizations that want to integrate ICTs in their work need to plan ahead, strengthen their staff capacity on the ground, and have a clear understanding of the steps to follow when integrating ICTs into proposals. And rather than detailing an exact tech solution into a proposal, the proposal writer could offer a few options, say that “a solution could be” or “might look something like this”, or be clear when negotiating with the donor that an idea will be tested but may change along the way when participatory work is conducted with end users, and as it is tested and adapted to the local context.
This can help remind donors that digital technology is only one way to innovate, and technology needs to be seen as one tool in the information and communication toolbox. For example, SMS might be just one communication channel among many options that are laid out in a project or program, and the most appropriate channels (which might also include face-to-face, paper, community bulletin board, phone calls, etc.) need to be chosen based on a local situation analysis and end-user input.
For staff, integrating ICTs as smaller aspects in programs can offer opportunities for small trial and error and learning; eg., using SMS as one channel of communication in an education or health program and comparing results with a program that didn’t use SMS could allow an organization to test small ICT efforts and slowly learn, modify and integrate those that work. (See How Plan Kwale has been using ICT in their programs since 2003)
When staff experiment with and experience ICTs in one program, they may be more likely to innovate with technology in another program. As ICTs become more commonly used in communities and by local development practitioners, space for innovations grows because innovation can happen right there, closer to the ground rather than being designed in an office in DC and parachuted into communities in other places.
Experimentation with youth programs are a good place to start with tech innovations because youth tend to be more literate (if they are school going youth) and they pick up technology skills easily in many cases. Adults need not be left out however, but the learning methodology may need to be different. Engaging the community in detailing potential protection and privacy risks in data collection is key to finding ways to ensure risks are minimized. (See 8 Elements for a Positively Brilliant ICT4D Workshop)
The Plan Example
Plan Finland with support from Plan USA commissioned the ICT Enabled Development guide (PDF) to better understand and document the ICT4D context in several of the countries where Plan is working in Africa. Country offices wanted to strengthen their capacities to strategically incorporate ICTs into their work and to ensure that any fund-raising efforts for ICTs were stemming from real needs and interest from the ground. Plan offices were also in the process of updating their long-term strategic plans and wanted to think through how and where they could incorporate ICTs in their work internally and with communities.
The report process included 2-day workshops with staff in 5 countries, based on a set of ICT distance learning materials and discussion questions. The idea was to combine background and situational research, learning about ICT4D, and further input from Country Office colleagues into this process to come up with a realistic guide on how and where Plan could begin integrating ICTs into its work directly, strategically and indirectly (See 3 ways to integrate ICTs into development work).
The report team worked by Skype and email with a point person in each office who planned and carried out the workshop, developed the multi-media training pack with materials that the point persons used to support the workshop, and compiled the ICT-Enabled Development guide based on the experience.
From the report and this experience, Plan produced a 10-step process for integrating ICTs into development initiatives:
- Context Analysis: what is happening with ICT (for development) in the country or region?
- Defining the need: what problems can ICT help overcome? what opportunities can it create?
- Choosing a strategy: what kind of ICT4D is needed? direct? internal? strategic?
- Undertaking a participatory communications assessment: who will benefit from this use of ICT and how?
- Choosing the technology: what ICTs/applications are available to meet this need or goal?
- Adjusting the content: can people understand and use the information provided for and by the ICTs?
- Building and using capacity: what kind of support will people need to use and benefit from the ICT, and to innovate around it?
- Monitoring progress: how do you know if the ICT is helping meet the development goal or need?
- Keeping it going: how can you manage risks and keep up with changes?
- Learning from each other: what has been done before, and what have you learned that others could use