Concern, like most organisations, is constantly looking for ways to improve internal communications. In the middle of 2015, I walked out of a departmental meeting with an unusual task – to record and share useful knowledge for our organisation about how we use technology.
Luckily, we have just the vehicle for this; ‘Knowledge Matters’ is a quarterly publication, now in its third year, which seeks to identify and share higher learning from our work. Our team formulated a plan to ever so politely hijack an edition and dedicate it to “all things IT” at Concern.
Previous issues of Knowledge Matters have focused on big topics such as addressing urban poverty, disaster risk reduction and gender equality, and as we are admittedly not trained writers, we on the IT team were initially a little daunted. Our challenge was to produce a selection of articles that would be relevant to staff and interesting to read but not too technical. Once we began brainstorming, we realised how much we had to write about, and reached out to other departments, country programmes and external experts for their contributions as well.
A few months, numerous drafts, editorial reviews and many thousand words later we felt we had something worth sharing – ten articles that reflect learning from our work and some of the big trends we see emerging in our industry, such as the importance of data.
We have learned a lot about collecting data from our established Digital Data Gathering (DDG) programme. In “How Digital Data Gathering can improve Monitoring and Evaluation Practice,” (pg. 4), DDG Project Leader Ciaran Walsh and colleagues explain how we reached the important jumping off point that we are at today.
Digital data allows us to make better decisions in real time. In “The role of Digital Data in building Resilient Communities,” (pg. 34), Dom Hunt from our Emergency team describes why his method for measuring community resilience will rely on accurate and timely data. This sentiment is echoed by NetHope CEO Lauren Woodman in “Why Technology Matters for NGOs,” (pg. 9), where she explains that, along with engagement, technology integration and network effects, “data matters” for NGOs now more than ever before.
In addition to establishing good quality data collection methods, our ICT4D team has been working on new ways to visualize, share and present programme results using Geographic Information Systems (GIS). Jenny DiMiceli and Herby Cyprien from our Haiti team write about the benefits of using GIS and how it has added value to our Return to Neighbourhoods programme in “Putting GIS on the Map” (pg. 31).
Data is now a second currency in the NGO space and is quickly becoming as important as money. But money itself is something Concern recognises as a vital tool in our programming, and it was great to get our Social Protection Advisor Jenny Swatton and Head of IT Systems Bernard Gaughan to look back on what we have learned from experiences using mobile money transfers in “What have we learned about mobile money?” (pg. 20). Later in the edition, Kai Matturi, Concern Knowledge and Learning Advisor, provides more evidence for the effectiveness of mobile money and technology-enabled social protection programming using a case study from Malawi.
As Concern projects and IT support staff move into more fragile, disconnected states to reach target populations, we have found ourselves seeking off-grid solutions to power our technology and meet basic human needs for electricity in emergencies. Our success in working with a private-sector solar power company to create an all-purpose solar solution in 2011 has been a shining example of where collaboration and innovation yield great results. You can read more in “Shining a Light on Developing Countries,” (pg. 12), an article co-written with Nicole Malik from NRS International. This project was also featured on DevEx.
Like power, connectivity can present a huge challenge in development work. On page 28, Barry Roche takes a step back from his role running IT Operations at Concern to consider the digital divide. Roche hashes through some grim statistics showing how much work is left to do to stream inequalities and ensure worldwide access to advances in technology.
As the release of this publication coincides with the end of our current five-year strategic plan, the timing provided a great opportunity to review both successes and challenges of the work we set out to do in 2010 and to prepare for our next planning stage. In “Reflecting on Concern’s ICT4D journey,” (pg. 16), I consider the journey we have taken with our small team and some of the vital lessons I have learned about taking risks to find out what works, and adapting project management approaches for best outcomes.
Our CIO Vincent Richardson concludes the publication with a holistic perspective and thoughts on the future of the landscape we are working in. Projected technology trends for 2016 are also shared on page 24 by Fiona Savage, IT Applications Support.
As a department and throughout Concern, we recognise that IT moves fast, and while we strive to keep pace with these changes, our main focus must always be on our colleagues, partners and ultimately the people that we work to serve worldwide. While producing the publication was more work (and more fun) than anticipated, I fully recommend the process of reviewing and writing about your own work as a way to reinforce and reinvigorate this focus.
Ellen Ward is the ICT4D Coordinator at Concern Worldwide.
To get in touch, email ICT4D@Concern.net or call the Dublin office at 00353 1417 7700.