Three conversations and a conclusion

Me alongside Henry of Ushahidi

Me + Henry of Ushahidi

So much has happened in the last few weeks, I’ll have to retro-blog a bit. I’ll be sharing stories from my time at clinics in Bushenyi, Uganda, soon – but I wanted to post quick thoughts on a particular discussion thread at the recent W3C workshop, “Africa Perspective on the Role of Mobile Technologies in Fostering Social and Economic Development.”

More often than I expected, a very simple question arose, “What should we be talking about?” The easiest response is that it depends – on who “we” are and what we’re doing. I heard three broad options, each of which is tied to different factions I’ve encountered throughout my brief but focused mobile tech sprint, of late:

  1. Talk about what works, right NOW. This is what interests NGOs and clinics working on the ground. They want to know what they can do, today, to impact operations and better serve beneficiaries (e.g. treat patients and support community health workers). For the most part, this group doesn’t know exactly what tech’s available, and they doubt they can afford it. I’ve heard from numerous clinics, “We knew mobile technology initiatives existed, but we never expected them to come – or work – here.”
  2. Talk about where the technology is going, and what it’s going to take to get there. I turn to others for this information. Tech junkies rule this domain, and rightly so. They should be the ones leading the charge to construct and control tech advancements (e.g. WiMAX). This conversation excites and is clearly best suited for techies. End users are less interested.
  3. Talk about theory and long-term convergence of best practices and competing technologies. Tech experts and NGOs with case studies can offer bits and pieces, but this conversation lends itself to policy experts, economists, and fortune tellers. If we can find technology and implementation strategies that scale horizontally, outputs of these conversations may be less prescriptive and more descriptive – with organizations choosing and mixing available technologies at their liking. Erik Hersman of White African and Ushahidi wrote about this idea a little while ago.

Obviously, there’s some crossover. But it may be useful to keep in mind how we fit into these discussions.

Those who know me will understand why I’m most passionate about the first discussion. We don’t have great means by which to connect “on-the-grounders” with tools they can use. The clinics and service providers I talk to certainly feel disconnected from what they perceive to be immense, unattainable opportunity to utilize mobile tools. Their perception of value may be accurate and real, but the barriers to entry need not be.

Posted: April 10th, 2009
Categories: Other posts, Technology
Tags: , , ,
Comments: 6 Comments.
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