Rooftops in Fez, Morocco, crowded with satellite dishes

Technology and development: a handy framework

22 June 2015
Author: Mayur Paul

The breadth of the work that NGOs are doing around digital and development is quite vast and hard to capture in a short blog. So when I was asked to join the Department for International Development's (DFID's) #Digi4Dev week, I approached Bond’s Technology for Development group and crowdsourced a 4-pronged framework - a frame fork if you will - to use when looking at digital development projects:

1. Technology

Whether it be a tablet, radio or a mobile, is the technology appropriate for the users? What if they cannot read or write? What if they are older or disabled and cannot interact with small buttons or text? Is it inclusive?

2. Energy

How is the technology powered? Is it sustainable? Will it work where there are power surges? Will it work in the aftermath of a disaster if the power goes out?

3. Access

How is it connected to the world? Mobile internet? SMS? What’s the cost of access? Is it affordable and available?

4. Respect

Respect for digital rights and best-practice:

  • Does this project respect net neutrality i.e. the concept of treating all internet traffic equally?
  • Does it respect user privacy and protect their data?
  • Is it open-source or proprietary? The former allowing others to build upon original work and take projects to scale.

With this "frame fork" in mind, the place where NGOs tend to add real value is not the familiar last mile but the last centimetre.

The intersection of people and digital technologies in some of the poorest parts of the world can be tricky ground. Technology developed for the first world rarely works in other contexts as it is. It often needs to be adapted and organisations need to work with communities to encourage adoption.

We’ve seen some great examples of this including:

  • The ZubaBox by Computer Aid International in Nigeria - a solar powered computer lab in a container that the community accepts and looks after.
  • Tech4Trade’s 3D printing of waste material in Kenya - non-food items for distribution in Mandera, Northern Kenya, being 3D printed from the waste in Nairobi.
  • People’s Assembly in South Africa by MySociety

To share other examples of great NGO digital projects or indeed any failures to learn from reply below (MyBond sign-in needed) or tweet me @mayurpaul.

The Bond Technology for Development Group includes over a hundred Bond members looking at intersections of technology with transparency, privacy, monitoring and evaluation, and other areas of international development. Log in to MyBond to join.

About the author

Mayur Paul
CARE International UK

Mayur Paul is head of communications and campaigns at CARE International