23 December 2010

Strengthen Those That Drive Progress

The 20/60/20-rule talks about performance. This rule-of-thumb predicts that within a community 20% of people will show strong performance, 60% perform on average, and 20% of the persons will show weak performance. Thus 20% drive forward, 60% coast, and 20% slow down progress.

As technology in essence amplifies human intent and capacity, it is imperative to focus on the first 20% group: empowering those whom drive progress. Hence our focus on Local Talent, whom almost per definition roam that category. By supporting such persons one anticipates that the environment change to 30/60/10, as average performers get inspired and energized, and weak performers improve.

Thus, when resources are limited, non-discriminatory role out of technology, including Information and Communications Technology is not the way to go. One needs to carefully look which communities show healthy and positive intentions, vision and real collaboration, with capable persons committed to their environment, and support that local vision with technology. In Macha it has been shown that such contributes to rural communities and its people reaching their collective and individual potential.

22 December 2010

Scientific Proof

From following conferences through Twitter Hashtags, with ICT possible while nested in my rural African habitat, I notice many, sometimes rather desperate, calls for scientific proof for the impact of ICT implementations in (rural) Africa. Consensus seems to grow that it is not simple to proof impact of complex intervention as bringing (ICT) infrastructure into new frontiers, but there is little guidance on how to do it.

It is a matter of the realm within which one wants to define/proof impact. In a Western mindset scientist mostly aim to contribute to comprehensive mathematical models, preferably with conclusions in the realm of economics. Implicitly, those models focus on short-term effects, and give clear guidance on risks. They do not necessary cater for long-term effects, nor give clear guidance on uncertainties. Those models have proven track record, working well under standard circumstances.

As there is still much less known of (rural) African realities, for modeling purposes these circumstances cannot yet be defined as standard. Effects of enshrined cultural focus on history, communities of people and inclusiveness, effects of infectious deceases, and dominance of closed societies, are most significant for long-term effects. Thus, necessarily, proof of impact in Africa starts with assessing long-term significance.

We witness changed lives, spurs in local innovation, and inspired communities and people that emerge as players prone to have long term effect in the(ir) world. How does one proof that? I suggest by registering and study of facts and stories of communities and individuals concerning the intervention, evaluating their social consequences seen from various stakeholders' distinct historical and society perspectives, and possibly, when circumstances can thus be modeled, in economic terms.

I consider myself privileged to work with many scientists and students in multiple disciplines, from Africa and the rest of the world, whom dare to go in these uncharted, deep waters. Although we have come a long way, it feels like we are just starting. No wonder! Long-term assessments can take long! And as we aim for scientific proof in these varied cultural contexts, is is good take take time in assessing the results then to rely on elevator pitches only.

14 December 2010

Being Together

The notion of technology being external, and of limited relevance, of one's personality is shifting. For instance, one's interaction through technology on Social Networks is becoming recognized as part one's (perceived) identity. Deprived of technology, one is not able to build such identity, and thus one exists partially. Facebook's recent picture depicting friendships worldwide is a striking example of showing those that exist.

Reasoning from radical African communalism, one could provide a new answer to the dominant rational view on identity, that, for instance, an internet search (or services like Gist) of a person now shows. As an antidote to the thus growing distance between individuals stands the African traditional view that 'reality of the communal world takes preference over the reality of the individual life'. Many might heed to such, hence, I guess, growth of building communities on the Web.

In my view, researching technology within the realm of traditional African thought could open new ways as how we perceive, and thus develop, technology. For instance, African social-ethical ideals might provide answers to technology development that otherwise focuses quite singularly on empowering the individual at the expense of the collective. Of course, such research is to be conducted in a different manner, using inclusive, collaborative methods, with open source and non-competitive approaches.

Seeing the difficulties that ensue with the prevailing Western view, I would like to encourage that technology could aim to unite people among themselves to facilitate Being Together.