Holistic development and multi-stakeholder engagement with a pinch of systems theory; a recipe for acknowledging complexity

 

A day like today 10 years ago I decided to quit my job in IBM. I no longer wanted to wake up every morning and work 10 hours to make someone in the US richer and richer. I had volunteered in Peru and Mozambique during the summer holidays and I knew I wanted to work in development. I had however witnessed how private companies can influence policies, move governments and transform the lives of people in developed and developing countries, and it was that sweet spot between development and the private sector that was most appealing to me.

Luckily for me, the development industry has undergone a profound change over the last decade and has moved closer to that sweet spot. Old funding models and narrow focused interventions are no longer the norm. Donors are increasingly requesting Public Private Partnerships where private companies need to provide co-funding for the implementation of a program. Nowadays development objectives (including a theory of change) and business model design (including pricing) are two sections of the same project proposal. An agricultural program now needs to put women equity at its heart, focus on nutrition and food security while achieving economic, social, technological and environmental sustainability. This holistic approach can promote transformational and long lasting change, but it is also much more complex to develop, manage and evaluate than “old school” donor funded programs.

Having managed a small component of a multi-country (14) multi-million (24) multi-partner (40) program that aimed to integrate agriculture and nutrition goals using mobile phones, while attempting to demonstrate ‘impacts at scale’ and value for money, I can tell you: getting to the end goal is not a walk in the park. While I was still involved in the program I was approached by a researcher from Ottawa University, interested in analyzing this complex program using a systems approach to understand the relationship between its numerous sub-components and its different development goals. The result was an academic paper that has recently been published in Food Security (Springer), which will hopefully influence donors and academia to revisit their approach to complex development programs and to ensure that the sweet spot between development and businesses becomes sweeter in the years to come.

 

Here I leave you the abstract and a link to the paper.

International development programming is increasingly integrating agriculture and nutrition goals, while attempting to demonstrate ‘impacts at scale’ and value for money. These multiple goals create complexities, both from a conceptual viewpoint and a more operational perspective. This article uses systems theory to examine the mobile Nutrition program (mNutrition), which aims to improve nutrition, food security and livelihoods for rural women and children, through mobile phone-based information services.  The paper specifically uses mNutrition’s work in Malawi as a case study. The systems approach reveals that, as a complex system with numerous sub-components and tensions among different goals, the mNutrition program tended to minimize connections between its sub-systems (such as content development and mobile service development processes) in order to speed up movement towards the global planned outcomes. We argue that this is likely to have multiple impacts on outcomes, including on overall effectiveness and the relevance and sustainability of the mobile message content.

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Holistic development and multi-stakeholder engagement with a pinch of systems theory; a recipe for acknowledging complexity
was published on 27.02.2018 by Alvaro Valverde. It files under global, sub saharan africa
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Digital Education in Ghana

Margarete Grimus’s work over the past years was hosted by the official TU Graz blog. Her engagement as a lecturer and expert in mobile learning and the success of the project in Ghana is summarized. She recently graduated with a PhD from the TU Graz and the university proudly shares her work in one of their blog posts. Her efforts is therefore highly recognized and it is stunning to see the impact and results of her work. We are very proud to have her as a member, but see yourself and read the blog post in English language here or German language here.

Margarete in Ghana

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Digital Education in Ghana
was published on 07.12.2017 by Paul Spiesberger. It files under sub saharan africa
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Django Girls Ho Workshop 2017

Programming is a skill you can use all around the globe to empower anyone to do almost anything. Noah, our youngest member is more than aware of opportunity and he is deeply engaged in empowering his female colleges in web programming courses. Django Girls Ho was the first ever IT workshop that involved ladies from Ho Volta Region and its environs in Ghana.

He is part of the organizing team and was so kind to invite Margarte Grimus and me for a call during the event. Margarete shared her expertise in mobile learning and underlined the importance of self learning. I was sharing my past as a programmer, why am I am a programmer, why I think that this skill is future proof and can change the world – if used for the common good. We were both stunned by the motivation of these young women and can only congratulate Noah and his team. You can read more about the event here and support is always welcome.

I would say that the beautiful Key Takeaways summarize best the mindset of the event:

  1. You should never stop learning, because to be a programmer, you need to be dedicated.
  2. Opportunities are endless when you’re good at programming.
  3. You should use the knowledge you have acquired here to help other people.
  4. You should always work in groups. That’s what make great programmers.

Django Girls

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Django Girls Ho Workshop 2017
was published on 02.11.2017 by Paul Spiesberger. It files under sub saharan africa
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Consequences of Mobile ICT4D Constraints

A Research Study on Information and Communication Technologies for Development: Mobile Phones & Empowerment

The past two years I worked on my Master’s Thesis which was part of our ICT4DMZ project in Mozambique. I had the pleasure to work with local students and develop an Android application with them. FindUEM is an application which helps students to find PIOs (Point of Interest) at their campus, you can download it from the Play Store. During my stay I conducted my research on if this Android application is usable by the students. Not in terms of usability, but rather if they have access to the technology. So I conducted a survey regarding students’ mobile hardware and on how they use their phones. Back then, only one third was capable of using the Android application regarding hardware and Internet connectivity. So I started to develop a concept of a SMS based FindUEM, which grants access to everyone in possession of a mobile phone. During my research SMSSync was published, which does similar a things and underlines the importance of my research. Out of 451 students, only one did not have a mobile phone. This shows once again the exceptional potential of mobile hardware in the field of ICT4D. My work got recently published as a book and you can buy it here. If you want to know me about this topic, then do not hesitate to drop me a mail or comment below.

The abstract

This book analyses and challenges the fast and dynamic movement of new mobile technologies, particularly in developing countries like Mozambique. The work places itself in the research field of Information and Communication Technologies for Development. The focus lies in the context of mobile technologies in developing countries and on how people can access information on these devices properly. An Android prototype application designed to navigate people around the campus was developed in a lecture with Mozambican students at the Maputo Universidade Eduardo Mondlane. A survey carried out as part of the research indicated that the Android application is not accessible to certain students due to a lack of technology and connectivity. Therefore, an alternative SMS based interface is introduced to meet the criteria of Human Computer Interaction for Development and Universal Design. The new solution uses already existing and cheap infrastructure, focuses on low-end hardware, works along with future-proof alternatives and does, in comparison with the Android application, not exclude potential users.

 

Book Cover - Consequences of Mobile ICT4D Constraints – a Case Study of Mozambique

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Consequences of Mobile ICT4D Constraints
was published on 25.03.2017 by Paul Spiesberger. It files under east africa, sub saharan africa
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What is the link between mobile value-added services and unpaid care work?

picture-from-rct

In 2016 nearly 70% of the bottom fifth of the population in developing countries owned a mobile phone, meaning that the poorest households are more likely to have access to mobiles than toilets or even clean water[1]. This breathtaking reality offers a clear opportunity to use available technologies to increase the outreach and efficiency of specific development interventions. Both donors and civil society organisations (CSOs) are wary of the opportunities and challenges associated with using ICTs in a development context, and much effort has been placed on developing commercially viable and sustainable mobile services for agriculture, health and nutrition over the last few years. However, ICTs are only one piece in a bigger system and sometimes we need to step back a bit to discover how a programme is having an unexpected negative impact in the very same people it is trying to benefit.

My name is Alvaro Valverde and until recently I was working with Oxfam as Private Sector Adviser (ICTs). My work included leading two programmes that used mobile phones to advance Oxfam’s work on livelihoods and women empowerment. One of the programmes was mNutrition, which aims to improve nutrition, food security and livelihoods for people living in poverty in 13 countries, especially women and children, through increased scale and sustainability of mobile based nutrition-sensitive information services on health (mHealth) and agriculture (mAgri). The second programme was Women’s Economic Empowerment and Care (WE-Care), my role focused on the use of ICTs for building evidence for influencing change on unpaid care work (e.g. cooking, cleaning and taking care of the children) in Malawi.

The mNutrition programme in Malawi developed SMS and IVR services for agriculture and health in collaboration with Airtel, the government of Malawi and local content partners. The service arm concentrated on creating commercially viable services, while the content arm focused on developing scientific based behavioural change information and messages. In parallel, the WE-Care programme implemented three research methodologies to gather evidence on the current distribution of unpaid care work in Malawi and on the impact that access to mNutrition services and content had in the re-distribution and reduction of unpaid care work for women smallholder farmers in the country.

Through participatory action research the WE-Care programme identified the current challenges and unequal distribution of care related activities at the household level in Malawi. This research was followed by a household survey, where detailed data was gathered using mobile phones from almost 600 households. The findings from both methodologies supported the idea that women in Malawi have an extremely busy daily schedule, as they carry out the vast majority of care related activities within their households, apart from also engaging in income generating activities.

The third methodology was a Randomised Control Trial (RCT), which aimed to understand the impact that access to mNutrition services had on the allocation of time to unpaid care work. Participants in the treatment group received a total of 24 SMS on their mobile phones (health, agriculture and food preparation messages) while those in the control group received a total of 12 messages containing interesting facts and seasonal greetings. The findings from the RCT revealed that the mNutrition programme was having an unexpected impact on the lives of the participants: users of the services prioritized the application of those messages directly related to income-generating activities during the first two months of receiving the information, to the detriment of messages directly linked to health and food practices; this increase in the time allocated to productive work also resulted in a reduction of sleep hours and time dedicated to personal care, as well as a higher perception of the occurrence of domestic violence by participants in the treatment group.

While it is worth taking into account the short period of time in which the RCT took place, these results point to higher calorie consumption by the participants (more time spent in the field and less sleep hours) and no increase in calorie intake, which could result in a potential reduction of the nutrition levels of the beneficiaries in the short term. This would directly challenge the overall goal of the mNutrition programme and even its sustainability in the long term. These findings were used to create a set of recommendations for the redesign of the mNutrition programme and also to inform the development of future ICT4D programmes that target poor women living in developing countries. Read the complete research and recommendations here.

There are three main things I have learned from this experience: women in developing countries have an extremely busy daily schedule and successful behaviour change can only happen if women’s time constraints are taken into account from the onset of a programme; more research is needed to better understand what works and what doesn’t when using ICTs in a developing context, particularly for mobile based information services that aim to promote behavioural change; and ICT4D programmes should not be developed in isolation, but rather linked to ongoing development interventions and existing sources of information.

 

[1] http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/896971468194972881/pdf/102725-PUB-Replacement-PUBLIC.pdf

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What is the link between mobile value-added services and unpaid care work?
was published on 07.12.2016 by Alvaro Valverde. It files under sub saharan africa
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OurMoz wins World Bank’s #APPS4MAPUTO

We are proud to announce that two of our former student who worked with us in our last ICT4DMZ project were part of the OurMoz (Mauro Banze, Alfredo Muchanga and Félix Barros) team which won the World Bank’s #APPS4MAPUTO contest in Mozambique. Mauro and Alfredo gained in our lecture at the Universidade Eduardo Mondlane (UEM) a better understanding for mobile software development and design. Mauro said that in our courses he learned a lot about software design which also partly enabled their success. He describes their work as a

crowdsourcing Android app that would allow citizens to report problems in their communities and share relevant information with others.

They worked together with the Associação Fraunhofer Portugal Research (Fraunhofer Portugal) and they describe their cooperative output as follows:

The Android App developed within the scope of this competition allows the community supervisors to report situations detected on the field more rapidly; to consult geotagged events, according to a specific category or location; to validate the information submitted by citizens, as well as to give feedback about each situation’s resolution status, assuring that all information is integrated with participatory monitoring platform ntxuv.

The Application’s stability and usability, the reliability of the information communication, the App’s positive response to the needs of the Participatory Urban Service Monitoring for Maputo Municipality, as well as its capacity to motivate the supervisory workers, were among the qualities acknowledged to the group of young research students Mauro Banze, Félix Barros e Alfredo Muchanga, from the OurMoz team. Moreover, these were the evaluation criteria applied to all solutions submitted to the contest and assessed by judges a panel, which comprehended representatives from several major organizations, such as the World Bank, the Swedish Embassy in Maputo, the mobile communications company mCel, the startup Ideario, and the company UX.

We are very happy and wish them all the best for their future. Keep up your awesome work!

OurMoz Team

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OurMoz wins World Bank’s #APPS4MAPUTO
was published on 06.09.2015 by Paul Spiesberger. It files under sub saharan africa
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The Drone has landed!

A few months ago we supported Noah from the Keta Senior High Technical School to finance his drone project. We are happy to announce that the project was a success and the drone arrived at the school. Noah and his colleagues are already experimenting with their new flying technology, check out the pictures below!

But they are not stopping there. A new research project has started a few days ago and they need your support! They will use the drone to create a documentary on salt mining. Once again we support their awesome idea and call for your funding!

Check out their project here:
https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/educational-research-on-salt-mining#/story

 

 

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The Drone has landed!
was published on 29.06.2015 by Paul Spiesberger. It files under sub saharan africa
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Educational Research On Salt Mining

Due to our Digital media training for teachers in Ghana project in Keta we are in close contact to the Keta Senior High School. Local students want to start a new research project on salt mining the area and they are looking for your support!

“Our mission is to discover how salt mining is done over there and to listen to the various views of the people concerning the challenges they face in their effort to develop their salt mining.

We would learn about how salt is mine locally and develop ways to solve the challenges the miners face in other to enhance their work. Another aim is to discover some of the resource they have and to come up with a way to utilize them.”

Check it out:
https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/educational-research-on-salt-mining#/story

 

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Educational Research On Salt Mining
was published on 22.06.2015 by Paul Spiesberger. It files under sub saharan africa
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Promising Offspring of our Keta Project

To find clever students at the Keta Senior High Technical School is not that hard, but what Noah does is simply amazing. He is one of the most talented kids at his school and continues to work on our project in Ghana (with Margarete’s online support). Voluntarily engaging and working with his colleagues is naturally for him. They founded a “Mobile Learning Society” at the school, are experimenting with robotics (see photo) and most important: approximately half of the group are girls, which is not so common in other schools. Within his new project he and the the “Mobile Learning Society” publish Wikipedia articles and contribute with their work to the free online encyclopedia.

Currently he is collecting money for a drone to give people all over the world an insight to his work, life and great projects. With the drone they can get a better view from above. One of their first filming projects will be a report about salt evaporation in Ghana. Their experiments will be documented in a blog. All together it is a big step forward with the regard to STEM developments launched currently all over the world.

If you are stunned like us, the please consider to donate a small amount of money to his awesome project:
https://life.indiegogo.com/fundraisers/1147763?fb_action_ids=923653717678744&fb_action_types=og.shares

If you can’t, then please share his vision to reach as many people as possible!

We would like to say thank you and wish Noah all the best

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Promising Offspring of our Keta Project
was published on 09.03.2015 by Paul Spiesberger. It files under sub saharan africa
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Modern software development workshops at the UEM Maptuo

The ICT4DMZ project is now running quite a while and after three amazing weeks in Maputo we are one big step further to reach our goals. Philipp and I (Paul Spiesberger) tried to bring the students of the Universidade Eduardo Mondlane (UEM) in Maputo on the right track.

In more than eight workshops we gave them the tools and the knowledge to start programming for their projects. At the beginning we tried to find out on which level their skills are and what we can expect. From that point on we knew that we will have to give them a short introduction to modern software development in a team as well. Up to that day the students were exchanging code with Dropbox and they had almost no structure or/and organisation for their teamwork. At that time we were glad that Florian and Anders did great work a few months ago. They helped them with team roles and project documentation a lot. So it was not necessary to cover that important part too. In order to give them an easy tool to handle their code and the organisation of their projects, we introduced them to GIT and Bitbucket. The students were impressed by the GIT workshop and we were happy to see over the next days that some of them were porting their “Dropbox projects” to their new GIT repositories. Working with Bitbucket-Issues was not that successful at the beginning, but we are sure that this will change over time. From that point on we were ready for programming and we split up the group by the two projects:

Complaint Center

The goal of this project is to create a website which can handle complaints about a company or a product. It should gather information or feedback and help to improve their services. Philipp started with a short tutorial about the PlayFramework and helped to set everything up. After that he assisted with his expertise as much as he could.

Philipp with students

FindUEM

The other group is working on an Android app for students to find POI like lecture rooms, Wifi hotspots or public power plugs at the UEM campus. I started to teach them the basics of Android programming and helped them to set up the project. Since Java programming and developing for Android are quite different, it took a little bit longer to write the first line of code. I tried to explain step by step the important parts and assisted as much as I could.

Paul with students

In total we worked about 27 hours in three weeks with the students. We had some troubles finding the right time slots for all students, since they had different time schedules during their weeks. Especially at the beginning we did some workshops twice, so no one missed the introductions to the technologies. After that, not all students attended to our workshops all the time, but we were never alone.

From now on, we will assist via Skype and e-mail remotely from Austria. We have a good feeling for the outgoing of the projects and hopefully the students keep engaged in the next months as they were during our workshops.

Group picture UEM

During our stay we also helped the UEM to use Moodle for a first test run. We hope that in the future this modern way of IT supported teaching will be expanded to other lectures and faculties to strengthen the teaching abilities at the UEM.

In addition Philipp and I were working hard on our master thesis. Philipp is doing research on big data for emerging countries and for that he conducted some expert interviews. I am interested in user interface design for mobile devices in emerging countries like Mozambique. So I did a survey with students to find out their mobile phone usage and habits.

Of course we also found time to travel and to take a look at this beautiful country. When you talk to people in Mozambique, experience the beautiful landscape and take the time to look behind the curtain, then you get the feeling that this country is moving fast forward. The question is in which direction. The currently discovered massive resources (minerals, oil, gas) can have a positive or a negative impact to the society. There is also a new party growing really fast and it is gaining more and more influence. In the last few months the country was almost slipping into a new civil war. But one week before we arrived, they managed to find a compromise and elections are going to happen in the future. But I think that despite the fact of great poverty, corruption and the lack of education, Mozambique has the ability to find the way to a great and rich future.

3 women

Last but not least I would like to say thank you to Emilio Mosse and Andrei Shindyapin. We are lucky to have this partner and friends in Maputo, who are willing to share their valuable time and love with us. Also a big thank you to the students for their great effort and time!

Philipp and I are excited to continue the work and we are looking forward to meeting our friends in Maputo again.

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Modern software development workshops at the UEM Maptuo
was published on 03.03.2014 by Paul Spiesberger. It files under sub saharan africa
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