Trends in technology for development unveiled at conference

Recently, representatives from development organizations, government agencies, private technology companies and the media gathered to share and learn at the 5th Annual Information and Communications Technologies for Development (ICT4D) Conference held by Catholic Relief Services in Accra, Ghana. The conference — which was co-sponsored by FHI 360 through the Fostering Agriculture Competitiveness Employing Information Communication Technologies (FACET) project, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) — focused on “Mobile Services that Empower Vulnerable Communities.” While mobile services have been used for a while in the development world, the meeting showcased some exciting new ideas and provided those in attendance with the opportunity to learn about what other organizations are doing and where ICT4D is headed. Below are some of the noteworthy presentations.

Knowledge+ App: Agricultural information through mobile phones

The Knowledge+ App, a new agricultural information application scheduled for release this summer from the Ghanaian firm Esoko, will enable farmers and extension workers to receive agricultural tips and watch extension videos over their mobile phones. Until recently, development organizations had to send staff and computers to communities to share multimedia content. Now, they can share content directly, greatly increasing reach and lowering costs. The Knowledge+ App takes advantage of the proliferation of smartphones and better mobile access to target rural populations.

CommCare Exchange: Mobile app and data collection sharing

Dimagi has created a collaborative and open-licensed app store, CommCare Exchange, which will allow organizations to freely share mobile apps and data collection forms from a range of sectors, including health, education and agriculture. This represents one of the first open-licensed app stores to primarily target development practitioners and their work. The app has the potential to lower barriers to using mobile phones for monitoring and evaluation activities. Although still not appropriate in all cases, mobile data collection significantly reduces costs and the time needed to collect and analyze data. Data can now be collected in the field and accessed by colleagues in another country almost instantly. As using mobile data collection tools becomes easier, it will lead to more accessible data and more acute decision making based on that data.

Virtual Training Institute: Video production and dissemination

Digital Green introduced their Virtual Training Institute that will include training videos from master trainers on video production and dissemination techniques. These videos will be a welcome addition to tools already available for low-cost outreach and training. Videos will complement manuals, such as Integrating Low-cost Video into Agricultural Development Projects: A Toolkit for Practitioners from USAID and FHI 360. The Virtual Training Institute presentation was particularly interesting, because FHI 360 led two classes at the conference on low-cost filmmaking and community empowerment.

These three technology developments point to an undeniable trend: increased bandwidth and greater access to mobile phones will continue to have a significant impact on how information is shared with remote communities and how development work is conducted. As technology becomes more accessible in developing countries, collaboration among practitioners in the field of ICT4D will unlock the potential for more efficient and empowering programs.

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