16 June 2010

Developmental Spiral

The many interactions and connections we foster with scientists from within Africa and abroad, facilitated through our uniquely connected rural African environment, result in an interesting phenomenon; A scenario unfolds in which (pre)understanding of our rural African context is being refined, based upon the continuous flow of information. This availability of data leads to new interpretations of the environment and its challenges. Consecutively innovative approaches emerge, gently leading towards appropriate and progress-bringing interventions. This scenario appears to me as a developmental spiral.

The presentation of scientific paper on Internet performance at Macha, yesterday at NSDR10 in San Francisco, resulted in valuable interactions with leading scientists and practitioners. Obviously it is all about the interpretation of what we witness. And due to our enshrined culturally diversity, I postulate that both the facts being witnessed, and the observers witnessing it are being challenged. This iterative process hones existing models and lead to new insights.

I wrote earlier about the influence of preunderstanding. It is quite clear that facts reported from our environment do also work inside the recipient, in this case scientists. Preunderstanding in individual scientists and their collective is changing. Interestingly, querying the (same) data with this changed preunderstanding can further, possibly new, insights: enhanced understanding emerges. This is a spiral, not a circle, as it is a progressive and constructive process. Although the environment or context are not changing necessarily, as a result of studying and interacting with the information, over time, observers grow their ability to understand this environment and context in a new way.

Thus study and research is facilitatory in assuring that we spiral in the right direction. As the Macha Works Model is both subject of scrutiny and a facilitator of the same, research findings are bound to interact, refine and improve its tangible results.

09 June 2010

Lessons Learned

While thinking about the effectiveness of our formal training activities in the field of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) – or perhaps for any activity one focuses on - I seem to observe that in our rural African environment a formal way of teaching seems less effective then an informal way of educating. This observation is being strengthened by observing the informal interaction of local talent on Social Networks on the Internet, for instance on Facebook or specific Twitter hashtags like #mwedu.

I see technicians at LinkNet acquiring ICT skills and growing in stature at breath taking speed in line with the Macha Works Model in the predominantly informal setting of Macha Works, while they are considerably slowing down and lose drive when going through - often costly and time consuming – formal, on western thinking based, training classes. Obviously, even acquisition of ICT skills in rural Africa can utilize the often well honed observation capabilities of people.

After reading a number of scientific papers, I was triggered to assess the phenomenon of writing as a representation of speech. As this is an oral culture, it is obvious that communications through writing is often ineffective, possibly because it basically is an abstract representation of reality. I have learned that in the rural African environment thinking and conceptualizing takes place in an existentialistic way. This is quite different that the essentialistic thought patterns enshrined in the West. In our environment, comprehension does not come through deconstruction of the matter at hand in layers of reality. Comprehension comes through an assessment of the whole, and then foremost in reviewing its relevance, and integration, and effect for groups of people in the community.

Thus it seems that practical skills are not necessarily acquired through imparting and absorption of abstract concepts. Actually, it seems that comprehension of such abstract facts are more related to foreign concepts of certification and individual remuneration, while observational and participatory interaction seem to relate to skills development for actions resulting in betterments in the local community.

Technological realities are now predominantly communicated through writings and deconstruction of various components that build the whole. Of course, it is not an issue of either this or that. However, it appears crucial that a complementary, humanized expression of technology is being developed. Real sustainability of technology can be witnessed in practice when an all encompassing description is recognized, described, and enshrined in the local language.

08 June 2010

Visionary Drive

Engaging with people and institutions in resource limited environments is engaging with groups of people in their collective decision making process. It is in the group interactions, equally on the local, regional, national, international, and various institutional levels, where the authorities, rights vested on the individual or a group of people, and formulation and application of policies are being expressed and tested. Thus the necessity to spend significant amount of time to understand the environment and its drivers resulting in a rationale for behavior, and understanding of existing practices of governance.

To be able to sustainably interact, participate, and ultimately collaborate in resource limited environments, one has to show one's colors, one's character. Of course, such is only possible in an atmosphere of respect for vested interests that are, while considering existing engagement processes, members and actors as the most appropriate setting under existing circumstances.

In my strive for sustainable progress, I recognize that one's vision - the clear, distinctive and specific view on the future usually connected with advances in technology or social arrangements - is important input in the engagement process. It is this vision that can transmit from one mind to another through speech, writing, behavior, or other imitable phenomena. Taking the concept of memes, the units of cultural ideas thus transmitted are the devices utilized to expedite and affect favorable support in the collective decision making.

Of course, this process can be tough and sometimes disheartening, especially in cross cultural settings. However, when all done in a humble, vulnerable way, is is not difficult be inspired by expressions and interactions that are true, are honorable, beautiful, and of value.