Of the top 10 issues, #2 got my attention:
- Establishing a partnership between IT leadership and institutional leadership to develop a collective understanding of what information technology can deliver.
Whether in the international arena or closer to home, the use of Information and communications technologies (ICTs) in the design and delivery of a program or project, can have a significant impact on its sustainability. The ‘wins’ are often talked about: reach more people with less money; increase access and affordability; leverage and repurpose existing content across multiple stakeholders and platforms.
Getting there, is another matter. Today’s ICTs, mobile apps and cloud technologies are an updated, albeit far more powerful version of yesterdays CD-ROMs, and desktop systems. The hype is all about the technology - and utilizing, the latest and greatest.
- Online programs generate huge revenues at low cost.
- Google, Twitter, Facebook, and other consumer applications are free, so providing these kinds of services for the institution will be easy and will cost little or nothing.
- Technology will always allow us to do more for less.
- "Cloud" services cost less, work better, and reduce local staffing needs.
Too often, effective project management focuses on the work to be done - to meet specific funding requirements - and sustainability comes as a deliverable at the end of the project. That’s just way too late.
The article suggests that IT leaders be included in the strategic planning process - and share timely information about costs, delivery and impact with business / academic leaders.
That’s great advice, but this often requires an huge cultural shift in the organization, and it might take years for this focus to get down to the granularity of job descriptions and work responsibilities and accountabilities. In other words, it may never make it to the project level.
Based on our years of experience working with ICTs to support programming for marginalized and at-risk populations, sustainability and ongoing stakeholder / partner engagement should be part of the program design and implementation
The Litmus Test is - without our partners….
- Would these technologies be available for use?
- What mechanisms are in place to engage and incentivize diverse stakeholders (internal and external) to ‘own’ the project - and provide their value-add?
As sustainability becomes a critical input to the project with its downstream impact on the overall scalable nature of the project, one can expect these answers to be addressed.
It’s important, in selecting any technology, that it is readily available to the users. IFor instance, in Pakistan Mobilink partnered with UNESCO and a local NGO to provide rural girls with mobile phones to receive instruction aimed at reinforcing their basic literacy skills. Through SMS texting and phone calls, girls were able to significantly improve their literacy levels. (GSMA, 2014)
Sometimes, 2nd or 3rd generation technology is best, to ensure that the devices are available and affordable, and that people know how to use the system. Another issue is the repair of the devices - which can possibly lead to sources of income generation, not the usual emphasis put on the procurement of the technology.
Another important factor of sustainability is putting together a broad range of partners from private sector, government and community service organizations. One project in India brought together a telecommunications company, a university, the government and volunteers to provide farmers with state of the art advice relating to various crops. Farmers were able to use their own phones and communicate in their own language. The programme includes short SMS information pieces each week and a toll-free number to call an expert (Venkataram, 2014)
GSMA-Cherie Blaire Foundation for Women-Vital Wave Consulting , (2014), Women & Mobile: A Global Opportunity, GSMA. Accessed at http://www.gsma.com/mobilefordevelopment/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/GSMA_Women_and_Mobile-A_Global_Opportunity.pdf
(Venkataraman, B. and Prabhakar, T.V. (2014), Changing Tunes from Bollywood’s to Rural Livelihoods - Mobile Telephone Advisory Services to Small and Marginal Farmers in India: A Case Study in ‘Increasing Access through Mobile Learning’, Ed., Ally, M. and Tsinakos, A., Commonwealth of Learning).