Technology Salon

Washington DC

Sponsored by

a discussion at the intersection of technology and development

How to Implement ICT4D in Fragile, Violent, and Conflict-Affected Regions

ICT4d in FCV

Currently, over two billion people worldwide live in fragile, violent and conflict-affected (FCV) environments. Furthermore, according to the World Bank, the share of the extreme poor living in conflict-affected situations is expected to rise above 50% by 2030.

FCV environments dramatically impact development outcomes as conflicts drive 80% of all humanitarian needs – yet it is very difficult to operate within these contexts.

At the recent Technology Salon on “How to Implement ICT4D in Fragile, Violent, and Conflict-Affected Regions?” we explored how digital tools and solutions can be used to successfully operate within and impact these environments. We had a lively discussion, informed by four lead discussants with experience in the democracy, conflict, and research fields:

Our Responsibility to Do No Harm

Of course, the first topic which comes to mind when implementing digital solutions (or any programmatic activity) in FCV environments is to do no harm. Yet, as our conversation progressed, the balance between intent and actual outcome is hard to discern. Where does our responsibility lie when we don’t understand the full array of potential unintended consequences of the digital platforms and tools that are used?

Furthermore, are our organizations and individuals equipped with the right skills to address potential risks? For instance, although there are commonly-accepted standards to data collection, data protection over the long term is a concern. Once third-party solution providers enter the picture (e.g., Facebook, WhatsApp), the division of responsibilities become even more complex.

The Question of Agency

As related to the above, best practices include the anonymization of the data we collect. Despite the public nature of social media posts, it’s recognized that these can cause unintended consequences if tied to specific identifying information (e.g., geographical location). That is straightforward.

Yet, questions arose on whether individuals even understand that their public data is being culled or if they know how to regulate their privacy settings – or even what their phone is capable of technologically. With emerging technologies such as satellite imagery, privacy and consent pose even more concern.

Besides an individual’s agency in managing their data and privacy, their ability to critically question or discern misinformation can be uncertain. This extends to their ability to spread that information. A great example was given where an individual was able to have their phone read the text aloud and then forward the information as they saw fit. This proves that literacy may not serve as an impediment.

Holistic Approach

At times, digital technology can be an add-on component or forced to fit within a project. This approach can cause issues as it may not consider the existing landscape, local context, or even question if a digital intervention is needed.

A holistic approach is needed both programmatically and in terms of data security. The relationship between offline and online worlds – and their implications – must be considered. Furthermore, digital security is a part of physical security and must be addressed. Certain methods, such as cloud storage can be used, but they also come with their own potential security risks.

As one participant stated, if you put all your eggs in one basket, that’s a very tempting basket to get into.

More Questions than Answers

Ultimately, there we more questions than answers throughout our session. Certain topics that are a given across the ICT4D field can be more nuanced or less straightforward when operating in FCV environments. For instance, should we even attempt to work on sustainability given the ever-changing landscape?

Other questions circled on navigating Internet and telecoms shutdowns or redefining what constitutes as “good” data (one participant said usefulness, practicality, timeliness, and speed). Redefining expectations and common assumptions seemed key to successful execution.

Ultimately, through our morning, a few areas of potential collaboration or investment were identified:

  • Data marketplace: numerous organizations are collecting data that already exists. Is there a way to share data across organizations, specifically for FCV environments? Perhaps databases like the Humanitarian Data Exchange can be leveraged.
  • Standard guidelines and best practices: multiple sources exist on best practices or guidelines, but they are typically organizationally specific. Is there an opportunity to coordinate or consolidate across this area?
  • Drawing on lessons from older media: Radio and other older forms of media have been around for quite some time. There many be lessons learned from these types of interventions that could be applied to more recent and emerging technological solutions.
  • Complementary investments: pervasive across many fields, competing investments by donors contributes to recreating the wheel and limiting impact. The Principles of Donor Alignment for Digital Health show an example of increased coordination from a tangential industry that may be able to be leveraged as well.

Funding for FCV Interventions

Don’t forget to check out the Creating Hope in Conflict Humanitarian Grand Challenge. Perhaps this may be a way for us to fill these gaps or further help develop and deploy groundbreaking solutions to improve the lives of vulnerable people affected by conflict.

By Cathryn Meurn, Director, Client Services at Vital Wave

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