An accidental ICT4D practitioner

Sometimes I need to explain where I fit on the spectrum of ICT4D (Information and Communication Technology for Development). The most accurate description is that I'm an "accidental ICT4D practitioner". With hindsight I can describe my work in a tidy "CV" kind of a way, although in reality it's been chaotic and emergent (and is unpaid so not full-time or neatly labelled). It's grown from doing things to help my friends, and has increasingly taken over my life.

Here's one possible tidy version:

  • 2001-2004 acting director of Oke-Ogun Community Agenda 2000 plus - an ICT based African Welfare and Development project in SW Nigeria, initiated by the late Peter Adetunji Oyawale.

Unusual because I didn't intend to do this. It just happened, because Peter had died, and people in Oke-Ogun knew I'd been helping him, and decided I knew the direction things should  be going

The main benefit I brought was that I knew that I knew nothing (beyond Peter's big vision). I had to direct from a distance, so it had to be light touch, and went the way circumstances dictated. We couldn't have done it at all without the Internet. I learned about rural realities and working at a distance.

The project is still continuing in a small, local, independent way, and I remain in contact with some of the people involved.

  • 2004-2008 designer, presenter and director of Teachers Talking a training programme to introduce rural teachers to ICT at the request of John Dada of Fantsuam Foundation North Central Nigeria.

Unusual because when I agreed to do it in 2004, I realised it was about a quarter of a century since I'd done anything similar, so I turned to my contacts on the Internet for help.

Thus began an amazing experience of online collaboration. It took off rapidly, in the first couple of week, with a flurry of contributions from a dozen people scattered across four continents. It had around 70 members at its peak. What I learned from bringing together the TT participants (those from rural schools and those online) affected all my subsequent work.

  • 2009-2012 director of dadamac network - an online experiment to harvest and present information from Fantsuam Foundation and to improve connections and knowledge flows between UK and Africa (see dadamac.net website entries from that period for some examples) 

This was very practical. We managed various inter-related projects with positive outcomes. I went down lots of blind alleys on the way, all full of rich learning experiences.

There were various cross-cultural collaborations at a distance, some short term, some long term, no two the same. These included group work, and also many one-to-one sessions at a distance with a variety of people and ICT platforms. All of it was building new skills and and challenging my assumptions. I couldn't find anyone doing anything like our dadamac work, so I had to go to many different sources and silos for theory and insights, as well as just getting on and doing it. This gave me different perspectives, and the opportunity to see patterns emerging. I was surprised to find that the lessons I was learning seemed to be widely applicable.

  • 2013 to the present - emphasis on online and UK elements of Dadamac - including support for John Dada, the First Thursday group, Dadamac Foundation (mostly still behind the scenes and yet to be written up) and the GlobalNet21 and Africa group.

The last year or so has seen a change of emphasis. In "ICT4D speak" you could say that I'd finished my pilot projects and was looking for ways to scale. In "human-speak" you could say I had exhausted my own resources and had to make some serious choices. I could give up completely (which John and others didn't want me to do) or continue in a reduced way (which I didn't want to do) or find some support and do more for John and others. The last option seemed the best way forward - so it's what I'm working on.

  • 2000 to the present - non-formal study of ICT4D and of ICT for education and wider patterns of change through a mixture of "field work", reflection and discussion, not all focussed on Africa (the main ICT UK-Africa work is covered above).

To me the most useful aspect of my work since the turn of the century isn't "what I've been doing" it's "what I've been learning by doing it". I've written about it in various places, mostly scattered around the Internet, but with a few contibutions to books too, including a rare collaboration with academia in Teaching and Learning Online: New Models of Learning for a Connected World. Volume 2.

Ideally in future I'll be able to hand over more of the practical work involved in the "doing" and give more time to the learning, and sharing what I'm learning. I've been fortunate in the number of different perspective I've had through belonging on the edges of things. This isn't just about ICT4D. It's about inter-related aspects of learning, livelihoods and lifestyles in the 21st century. It's local and global and is about deep systemic change. 

Connecting academia and practice

Returning the focus to ICT4D. I've long believed (selfishly perhaps) that academic brain power and related resources should be applied to ICT4D issues that I'm working on in practice.

This seems like a no-brainer to me:

  • I'm doing stuff related to ICT and Development and would like to do it better.
  • People in academia are doing ICT4D research.
  • If I go to academia then that should be the place where I can find examples of good practice and additional background information and all kinds of stuff that I haven't got time to research for myself.

Not only that. The ICT4D academics can benefit too. If I'm doing practical work in their discipline then the academics and I (along with people in my network) can work together. I can give researchers easy access to real, live, on-the-ground, development work for the "development" side of their research, and they can use all the systems we've set up over the years for effective collaboration. As for the ICT bit, well, none of my work over the past 13 years would have been possible without ICT. Everyone I've worked with in Africa has been an ICT early adopter of some kind. No-one can stay active in my network without ICT (except some of the Londoners). Dadamac is a living, breathing, ICT4D programme in action.

So, in my mind (as a non-academic) there are many mutual advantages if ICT4D researchers collaborate with me and the "Dadmac network". At least that's what I thought when I first discovered that there was a discipline called ICT4D. However, as I wrote in "Death of ICT4D" - Tony Roberts, Ken Banks and me part of my learning has been that things look different from the perspective of academia. That's been another useful lesson which is helping me to understand aspects of 21st century learning, livelihoods and lifestyles.