How Can ICT4D Work with Local Governments? A Twitter Chat Synopsis
Last Friday, the third monthly #ICT4D Twitter Chat brought together 30 of the field's thought leaders (follow them all) to focus on and discuss ways that ICT4D can and does work with local governments, especially in situations like the recent disaster in Haiti.
Four questions guided the conversation (full transcript) which once again was a fast, free-flowing exchange of ideas:
- Do you work with local governments or bypass them? Why?
- What are the keys to project success with local governments?
- How can you work with compromised governments, like Haiti?
- What lessons for ICT have been learned so far in the Haiti relief effort?
Keys to success with local governments
One of the critical success factors identified collectively by the group was the importance of having a strategic personal relationship with a "project champion" in either a local government or other community leadership role. Because ICT4D projects by their very nature are long-term investments in the future, this local connection brings a strategic perspective and focus, as well as providing an opportunity to ensure the work is based on real, expressed needs of people in the area being served -- not just those of donors and interest groups "back home".
An interesting discussion during the event turned on the question of assigning credit for successful ICT4D implementations. While the group believed in the importance to position the local government or community champion as the driving force behind such projects, it's also important not to lose your own individual or organizational identity. Making sure people remember who helped make a solution possible will prevent costly searches for expertise in the future.
Learning from ICT deployments in Haiti
Working in a time-critical disaster relief context, like has been happening in Haiti in the past few weeks, brings some unique issues. Participants generally believed that when peoples' lives are on the line, it's important to "do" first, and inform others later. Waiting to get approvals from a local government in shambles is often not the best course of action.
However, major functions of ICT4D-focused relief groups should be focused on quickly identifying local "hubs" of knowledge and communication in the community, and helping rebuild communication infrastructure for these governments as well as major NGO's. Without these critical links in place, a coordinated relief effort just is not possible, resulting in wasted resources and delays in response.
In a situation like Haiti, with at least 150,000 known dead at the time of writing this article, lack of interoperability and cooperation between groups has undoubtedly cost an untold number of lives. The ICT4D community can learn from this, however, and take steps to proactively coordinate resources (e.g., local disaster contingency plans by organizations based in the community, and open standards for ICT response systems). This coordination in advance will help make the response more timely and effective in the critical hours after a disaster strikes. It's our responsibility as ICT4D professionals to work toward that end today to save lives tomorrow.
Recommended NGO's in Haiti
Finally, we asked participants to suggest some of their favorite relief organizations using ICT in Haiti. Here's a list of those shared:
- Partners In Health
- Sahana Foundation
- Plan International
- Hands and Feet Project
- Doctors Without Borders
Michael Downey is a graduate student in human-computer interaction and ICT4D at Indiana University School of Informatics, and is a contributor to the University's Indiana Development Informatics Group (IDIG) and OpenMRS programs.