Experiences from ICT4Rural Development Conference- Part 1

by | November 15, 2011
Category: Blog
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November 1-3, Eric Couper, AfSIS’ ICT and Agriculture Coordinator, participated in an ICT4Rural Development conference hosted in Johannesburg, South Africa by SANGONeT. We’ve included some notes here for those who couldn’t make it. In a follow-up post, we will highlight some of the most exciting projects featured at ICT4RD and offer a few thoughts on why they are worth your consideration.

Categorizing Existing Projects/Tools
To start the conference off, SANGONET and Dalberg provided a framework for considering the role that different projects and tools play. Given the focus of the conference, they highlighted the education, agriculture, health, and governance sectors. They divided work in those sectors by their purpose (data collection, information/promotion, training & diagnostic support, service delivery, reminder/behavior change support, and financial services). The majority of AfSIS’ ICT4Ag work to date would fall in the Agriculture/Data Collection square, with some of our navigation work falling into Service Delivery.

Their introductory document (download as pdf) includes this framework (on page 5) and a lot of other interesting analysis.

Common Themes/Ideas
Charging for Services. The majority of individuals participating in the agriculture sector discussions agreed that agriculture services should not be given away. The participants want to reach scale with their services. They noted that this is particularly possible in the agriculture sector because it is reasonable to request some payment for services that either increase a farmer’s income or save her money.

Behavior Change Communications (BCC). Whatever the medium of information delivery, many ICT4RD projects hope to influence and/or change the behavior of rural Africans. While this was not always explicitly discussed, it was an undercurrent of almost every conversation. Within BCC, we noticed that initiatives operate somewhere along a spectrum. On one end, projects directly advocate specific changes (Farmer, you should do X!), and on the other, projects advocate for behavior change with more nuance via information (Farmer, did you know X? Perhaps that might influence your decisions?…) Regardless of the approach, nearly everyone was interested in the best approaches for communicating with farmers and influencing their behaviors.

AfSIS Contributions
We had the opportunity give two presentations at the conference. Both presentations seemed to be well received. If you were present and have feedback, please let us know in the comments below or email Eric at eric.couper (at) gmail (dot) com

Both sessions dealt with streamlining operations (saving time and money) rather than changing paradigms.  In the first presentation we discussed our use of Open Data Kit. The presentation was a condensed version of our writings here with an additional twenty minutes set aside for a hands-on demonstration on how to use ODK. The demonstration helped the participants realize that ODK is not as complex as it initially seems. At least one organization left the presentation thinking seriously about adopting ODK for their work.

The second presentation discussed our use of Locus and Open Street Maps. The content was very similar to what we discussed in this post. We walked through the tools that AfSIS has been using, and together we brainstormed ways to improve our organizations’ transportation systems. For example, one person recounted a famous pink building that her organization has used for years as a landmark. The building was recently painted another color, and she spent hours trying to find the route! In the future, that organization will not abandon landmarks completely, but they are considering more technical approaches as a supplement.


Special thanks to Bart Sullivan of Farm Radio International for recommending the conference and helping us get presentation time on short notice.

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