This question has been sitting at the back of my mind over the last week as Ive been working with Panos and D-Net in Dhaka, developing an assessment and design tool to help people figure out how mobile phones can help development projects.
The idea behind the tool was to respond to issue underlying Kens question. In our experience too often development practitioners recognise that mobile technologies could help their programmes, but they dont have the technical expertise. Similarly, well meaning technologists often get frustrated because they dont have a clear sense of what the problem is, and we have all seen sophisticated solutions that don’t receive rapturous reception from development practitioners – leading to wasted efforts. As a result technologists feel frustrated by the lack of interest from the development community in new ways of approaching old problems.
So how to realise the potential that mobile technologies have for addressing intractable development problems? What came through so strongly in Dhaka was that ideas flowed best when both development practitioners and mobile technologists worked together. The trick was to recognise that both had different but equally important roles. Wayan’s Venn diagram outlines this well, showing how the two sectors can find common ground:
The role of the development specialist was to identify and keep focus on what the problem was, and what needed to change (and the tool we developed specifically identifies needs in a way that technology and communication specialists can engage with). It was also very helpful to give the technologists ideas a reality check and stress test their practicality.
It was an incredibly rich experience, with mutual learning and collaborative design at the heart of the process. Key to its success was technologists respect for the insights of the development specialists, and to recognise that they knew best what would work in a specific context. On the development practitioners side, being open minded to new ideas and tools was critical to fruitful discussion.
And at the end of it came a really simple yet potentially effective way of addressing a chronic problem in Bangladesh’s health care sector (which Ill share in detail once its up and running!