ICT Innovation Corps: Teaching Digital Principles to Non-Techie Staff

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One challenge with the Principles of Digital Development is explaining them to non-techie staff, who often make many decision that affect how ICT tools are deployed in field programs. At the Digital Development: From Principles to Practice Forum, I had the privilege of sharing one solution to this problem: DAI’s ICT Innovation Corps.
The ICT Innovation Corps is an intensive internal staff-training program DAI developed with two main objectives:

  • To equip non-ICT4D staff with the approaches, tools and understanding to identify opportunities for ICT interventions in their own work;
  • To ensure non-ICT4D staff has a basic understanding of key Digital Principles such as user-centered design, ecosystem awareness and designing for sustainability.

The Innovation Corps came out of a persistent challenge that those of us on DAI’s ICT team faced: we were overbooked and disheartened. Traveling around the world supporting projects and in-country teams, the team was exhausted and mindful that rarely do the best ICT4D interventions come out of such fly-in/fly-out situations.
By empowering both home office and project staff with the knowledge and skills to identify ICT opportunities, we could begin the process of decentralizing the organizational ICT “braintrust” and build out higher quality, more locally-driven, user-centered initiatives, with the ultimate goal of providing better results for both the client and the end user. At least, that was the theory – we still had to test it.
Building the ICT Innovation Corps
The team conducted an initial application-only ICT Innovation Corps with 24 home office staff to pilot out the initiative. It went well – even better than we could have hoped for. Participants immediately started identifying ICT4D opportunities in their project portfolios, engaged in (and even led!) events in the wider ICT4D community, and, most importantly, came away from the course knowledgeable about ICT4D, confident in their ability to think critically about it, and passionate to advocate for ICT usage in their work. Our theory proved correct – investing in training on ICT4D and the digital principles at an organizational level was worth it.
The Global Deployment
Based on these successes, we then went out and delivered compressed versions of the course to both projects and partners, from Cambodia and Jordan to Europe and Liberia. This expansion was challenging in new ways, like:

  • How do you explain ‘scale’ in rural Liberia?
  • Is interoperability better explained through a use-case or a term definition to someone who is brand new to ICT?

After additional investment to figure out these questions and many more, as well as customize trainings to each specific context and audience, these sessions too were successful, as local staff were able to ‘see’ the value of ICT immediately in their direct project work. Who better than a Jordanian to understand and identify what would be an appropriate and value-add ICT initiative for a Jordanian audience?
The Results
The ICT team is still here to coach, advise and engage with projects as they identify opportunities – the transition from idea to actual implementation can be challenging and we extensively support that process – but more and more those initial ideas are coming to us from the field, where a passionate individual who has gone through our training course is championing ICT4D on his/her project.   Our business has grown – we are more in the air than ever – but unlike before, we couldn’t be happier about it.