Social media – a community of practice!!

The 9th ICT4D (Information and Communications Technologies for Development) Conference kicked off in Hyderabad, India with more than 800 attendees from 40 plus countries representing private, public and civil society organisations from across the humanitarian and international development community. Hyderabad was the right spot to be picked for the conference as they lead the digital India initiative, a campaign launched by the Government of India. The state of Telangana (Hyderabad is the capital city of the state) also launched its Open Data Policy on the first day of the conference itself and this shows that they are pretty serious about being open on data. It was also particularly motivating to note that the Government of Telangana plans to connect every household with a broadband service in few years’ time. Considering the scale of development and investment it would be interesting to see what returns they are planning for and what impact it would on the lives of the under served.

Every year, the conference focuses on a particular theme and this year the focus was on sustainable development goals (SDGs) and how we can harness the power of data to accelerate progress toward the SDGs and increase the impact of our programmes.

For most of us who were representing non-profit sector (Practical Action, Mercy Corps, Oxfam, World Vision, Catholic Relief Services to name a few) the focus seemed to be in understanding interventions that have worked for others and the enabling environments that triggered success. It was overwhelming to see the number of inspiring ICT based technologies being used/piloted all around the world. Many of them succeeded but the general problem was scaling them up. As the concentration was mostly on data so, most of the sessions that I attended were on data based decision making and how it helped better planning and implementing interventions.

One very interesting session that I attended and want to talk about was “Social media for agricultural extension and advisory services” which highlighted a case study of six people who started a Facebook group which in few years’ time went on to become a space for more than 99,000 farmers, practitioners and service providers to collaborate. This is a great example of how social media could help us disseminate right information to huge number of people in a short span of time. Just imagine if you want to make everyone aware of spreading swine flu in a particular area. In a traditional way you could only let the local authorities know about it and hope that they take the matter urgently to the farmers (which could take a day or more). With the use of groups like these, you can spread the word to almost all the stakeholders in a matter of minutes which might help them take preventive measures and save their livestock. The example also highlights the importance of locally relevant contents which are produced by local experts, farmers and other stakeholders.

Pic: Dr. Saravanan Raj presenting the case study.

You can imagine the complexity of managing the social group as there would be many irrelevant posts and the need to audit the posts continuously but it was reported that there have been very few posts that needed deleting and the ones that needed curation were done by multiple group admins and group members themselves. This is again a great example of how a community of practice group could operate with minimal investment and intervention.

As the tagline suggests, most of the discussions were focused on how we can use Big Data to achieve SDGs but there were few notable discussions on other topics as well. Some worthy mentions are:

  • Responsible Data Practices
  • Data Security/Policy
  • Digital Principles (http://digitalprinciples.org/)
  • GIS
  • Weather Information systems
  • Data driven policies
  • Financial Inclusion
  • 3D printing
  • ICT and Gender

At last, I was thrilled to see some representatives from donor agencies like USAID and DFID there in the event discussing various topics and trying to find a common understanding on how #ICT4D community can help everyone achieve our goals and objectives better and in a short span of time.

Have a look at my other tweets during the 2017 ICT4D event here and follow me for more tweets related to #ICT4D and #digital.

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