In recent years there have been quite a few big changes in mobile technologies in humanitarian aid. Among the reasons were surely the Haiti Earthqake in 2010 and the 2015/2016 European migration crisis, which along with others had a big influence on how aid organizations act and communicate. In november 2016, during a seminar in Paris, I came in contact with Milena Haykowska, another student in our Master Program “Communication for Development” (edu.mah.se/sv/Program/HACFD). She works for Human International Network (www.hni.org) since 2014 and told me about her background as an IT consultant (Business analyst, Quality assurance management). She is Swedish, located in Marocko at the moment and sometimes in Madagaskar, when she isn´t in Sweden in the meanwhile. I was interested in her role with ICT4D, as I know she has lots of knowledge in this field so I decided to interview her. She is responsible for the data collection online product datawinner.com, but has moved on to work on customer driven projects. The main focus of the organisation is data collection using mobile technology, as well as data visualization and information access. They provide tools for decision making, for individuals, development organizations and governments.
What are your tasks with ICT4D and ICT in your organization?
I am responsible for understanding the client and user needs of a software solution, or to be more precise – even to understand the projects for our solutions to better meet the needs of our clients. IT development is what we do but in my role the big task is to understand the core problem that the client needs help with rather than focus directly on technology. Most of the time part of the solution is an ICT solution but often its not what the client wanted in the first place. I try to discuss realities of the project, understand the users, context, work flows etc to suggest an ICT solution where it can create the biggest value. Of course ideally there are no boundaries, but often times the needs are already somehow funded and decided upon, so it requires some creativity and dialog with the client to find a best way forward.
The organization which you work for, what are they trying to do with mobile technology?
Most of our services are based on moblie technology. We use platforms for data collection (surveys) through mobile technology (SMS as well as Web), and we also provide tools where organisations can define content and allow anyone can call in and listen to messages. The content can be around education, health, family planning, agriculture. For example its often used to provide information on how to treat common health issues among children, how to get clean water, where the closest clinic is. During Ebola outbreak it was used to inform people on what symptoms to look for and what to do if someone is affected. Some projects use it even for collecting ideas and comments from citizens around public money spending or other governance related issues, the implementation allows anyone to call in and express an opinion by leaving a message.
Are there any risks with ICT4D within aid work and development?
Of course, some projects might be contra productive, an ICT implementation that is not thought through or not working properly can create suspicion among population towards the NGO/Project, can distort balance in a community, can be culturally imposing or destructive, can be used overly optimistic and lead to wrong assumptions or decisions. Just like any technology, but maybe ICT has a greater impact and also it can be used for propaganda and surveillance by governments.
How can ICTS and mobile technology take place and support aid workers in crisis management?
ICT can help to get overview of the crisis area, collect data and show alerts, track people and resources, help with communication in remote areas.
What do you think for the future and the role with ICT4D in NGO´s and the expansion of digitalism?
Like anything, if used wisely it can be a great support. But it has to bee seen as a tool and not as the goal it self. It all depends how its used. I think we need to zoom out and make sure we are looking at the needs and problems first and then see if ICT can be of help, not the other way around. ICT can not be the driver, then it might do more harm than good. I think the business and commercial clients have matured over the years realizing as well that the problem statement needs to come first and then the solution, it might not even always be ICT. So the same should reach the development world, to see that digital solution is not always the solution. And be able to analyse what are the side effects or risk with a ICT solution to weight the pros and cons and other alternatives against each other. The funding of a project could propose ICT but it seems now like often it HAS to have some digital /ICT aspect to even be considered for funding from the big donors.
However, its hard to deny people around the world access to information and communication tools. I think it has to happen but maybe gradually, with the development of the other sectors as well. It is strange to give people smartphones with internet access and think it will solve it all, before they have access to education, healthcare, etc.
The interview was made via email.