3 Lessons Learned in Creating Digital Development Tools

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ICT has the power to propel development forward, but before you jump in head first with a new ICT tool, there are a few critical questions to consider, like:

  • What is the benefit to the user and who ultimately benefits the most?
  • Can the tool continue to have a positive impact after the life of a project?
  • Who are the decision-makers on the use of data and the owners of the data collected and used through the technology?
  • What are the opportunity costs of developing and rolling out a new tool?

Over the past year, Pact has been developing three distinct ICT tools to empower local communities and organizations to own their future. Here’s what we learned from each case:
Lesson 1: Make Sure Developers Understand the Use Cases
Most village banks record transactions by hand in ledgers. This paper-based system is time-consuming and increases the likelihood of errors, raising the opportunity cost of participation. Pact is developing the MyWORTH app to shift this activity to digital accounting and drastically reduce transaction and opportunity costs. Through a partnership with Hewlett Packard Enterprises (HPE), Pact is working with application development experts to create the mobile ledgers.
We anticipated technology limitations would be our greatest software development hurdle, but found that imparting finance and accounting principles to the software developers was as much a barrier as the capacity of a user’s mobile phone. We invested a lot of time into helping the developers understand how women would use the app, how their village savings and loan bookkeeping system operated, and what was necessary to ensure their mobile ledger balanced.
After a couple of fits and starts, we ultimately made it to our destination. We are rolling out the ledgers on mobile phones in a pilot in March, and the fully developed, pilot-tested app will be in place by early summer 2017.
 Lesson 2: Build With the User, Not For Them
People working in the low-technology, labor-intensive artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) sector make up 90% of the global mining workforce. Despite its key role in the global mineral economy, ASM’s scale and impact is difficult to accurately quantify. Many organizations are collecting data, but it is often inaccessible and difficult to cross-reference or compare. Pact and the World Bank are establishing DELVE, a global ASM database that will link disparate sources of information and data collection on one central platform with shared ASM data metrics.
Our main focus initially was on engaging stakeholders to participate in the database development. Through the development process, we talked a lot about functionality and types of data, but we came to see that human collaboration with the intended users is vital to success. Pact is currently building partnerships with key stakeholders to inform database development and establish data-sharing agreements.
Lesson 3: Ongoing Feedback is Critical to Digital Products
The international development community has long recognized capacity development as a key to sustainable progress, yet the data that is collected to measure and evaluate this process has thus far been inconsistent, localized, and only available to top decision-makers in international organizations.
Pact developed the Capacity Solutions Platform (CSP) to collect, analyze and report on capacity development indicators in an easy-to-use online platform to help local organizations learn from their data and own their ongoing capacity development.
When we rolled out the CSP in 2014, our users found the tools that did exist on the platform helpful but they wanted more. Our testing group also found all of the hidden bugs in the system and asked for easier ways to report challenges they faced. Learning from that, we expanded the platform to collect and analyze additional data and a more intuitive ticketing system to respond to user feedback.
We’ve deployed a multi-pronged approach to make sure users can submit questions automatically on the platform via a ticketing system, have a clear point of contact within Pact whose responses are friendly and timely, and solicit ongoing feedback at the informal individual and institutionalized bi-yearly survey level. This ongoing communication has made the technology useful and integral to the work of our teams at every level.
Sarah Ellison is a Senior Specialist Capacity Development at Pact.