As we head into “event season”—albeit remotely—I’ve been thinking about how we share knowledge about what we do in the ICT4D space.
In doing some recent research and sector mapping, I noted how different the levels of ICT4D development are amongst various sectors. In digital agriculture, it is generally accepted that there are numerous innovations out there and a plethora of pilot projects, but many are struggling to bring these innovations to scale. Many programs might be integrating digital as a pilot here and there, but struggling to identify what works and how they can reach the program goals. There are a huge number of initiatives seeking to share lessons within sectors, but how many are taking lessons from sector to sector?
The similarities and differences between the challenges we face are obvious to those of us working in ICT4D, but perhaps not for those working in discrete sectors. We can all unite in our common challenges and learn from each other: how to scale pilots, how to overcome connectivity challenges in remote locations, how to be inclusive of those with lower digital skills, how to ensure we are protecting the privacy and security of users?
Instead of thinking about what works in ICT for a sector, we can also be asking what works in this context? A health program could be speaking to an education program about uptake of digital tools within the same country. Humanitarian workers can learn from solutions to connectivity barriers in other fragile states.
Event Season is Here
It is great that we have so many opportunities to engage with others in ICT4D. Although we cannot bump into new colleagues in the hall or chat over our slightly too-warm sandwiches, there are some benefits to the “new normal” way of conducting events. Going digital has allowed these events to be more inclusive—welcoming participants across the globe and including those who may not have been able to afford hefty entrance fees. This, hopefully, opens up opportunities to speak to a wider variety of development implementers and thinkers who are working across sectors.
These events may be online for now, but this makes it even more important to make an effort to engage. Come prepared to have your camera on, join the after-conference chats, speak up in those webinars, follow up on the connections you make.
It is also on organisers to make the events engaging. It is becoming increasingly clear that sitting and listening to panels can only get us so far, hence the development of events such as the Tech Salons where participants can chat about the challenges they face or best practice they’ve learned in small and unassuming groups. ICTforAg2020, for example, developed a series of videos attendees could watch between sessions that featured panellists from around the world discussing their favourite rice dishes and methods for preparing their morning coffee or tea. These video interludes also included interviews with various agriculture market system actors who walked attendees through their daily activities and discussed how their lives have changed since COVID-19. With enough planning, similar multimedia content can offer attendees as close to an immersive experience as possible now that it is not possible to travel to different countries for these conferences.
Time to Get Reading
For some of us, the past year has taken away the time we would have spent in the pub and given us some valued time to get reading. And for others, reading—where we can squeeze it in—may have been a nice escape. Working in such a fast-moving sector, we often forget the plethora of nonfiction books out there that can inform the way we think about technology.
But it isn’t just the heavy literature. Are you one of those people who have subscribed to a load of blog alerts that you never get around to reading? Do you have that one colleague who is forever sending you articles? Maybe it is time to get going on those!
Carve Out Time to Chat
I don’t know about you, but some the best meetings I have are when our team gets together and chats about a topic—whether it be our thoughts on cybersecurity, misinformation, or the role of EdTech in the “new normal.” Whilst many of us hate having lots of meetings, in my opinion, it is always a great idea to get together with your team and hash out ideas, particularly if you all have different backgrounds or are working in a variety of sectors. Get those creative juices flowing!
The ICT4D sector does a pretty good job of engaging—at least I feel like we do! But it is worth remembering that we can learn from those working outside of the sector, in different geographies, or on related topics. So open up those blog posts, dust off your books, and put on that shirt (formal trousers: optional), and get ready for some online events!