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"Moving beyond the Mobile Hype"

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 “Moving beyond the Mobile Hype” was a debate organized by Hyvos and IICD in Amsterdam, on April 20th. The event tried to answer the question: Can mobile technology solve the challenges people face in developing countries?

It was clearly a discussion steered from the development angle, but I was hoping that any good example mentioned could be a learning for us, the conflict prevention community.

Unfortunately, this was too optimistic. Some interesting examples were mentioned, but not in detail, so no real implementation insights were shared. The main conclusion of the day was the need to start with the problem we want to solve and then consider the most effective tools to give a solution to the problem. Be solution-driven instead of technology driven! Ups, but this is no so new, any project using technology needs to be aware of this basic premise, so also mobile technologies! I found this main conclusion a bit disappointing.

There was however, a good contribution of Jonathan Gosier ( software developer and co-founder of metaLayer.com).

He pointed that “Everyone these days wants a mobile app – but the question of why and what for is in many cases not asked”. He shared a list of questions that should be asked before considering a new mobile solution. These are:

- Is it a local solution? Is it locally sustainable?
Always consider how to ensure that a solution is sustainable locally – e.g. through investing in local entrepreneurs, finding ways to affect local culture, etc. Do not forget that local ownership can make the difference.

- Which is the context?

Always consider the context offered by the environment within which a solution is implemented: the culture, the resources, etc. For example, what can you achieve with text messages if most of the population is illiterate?

- Are we supporting Producers or only Consumers?
Production is just as important as consumption. There is more focus on pushing content for consumption to the developing world. There is however not enough focus on supporting the local production processes

- What is the relation of the Effects to the Affects?
What are we really accomplishing, both before and after a tool is launched? How are we really affecting society in the long term thanks to the technology that we launch?

The event continued with a discussion panel that introduced an interesting concept: “pilotitis”, the challenge posed by initiating several pilot projects targeting end-users; which are not continued and not coordinated. Creating skepticism among end-users as no results are booked and no problems solved. This is an interesting learning because it is general practice to use pilots before launching any technical solution and there is definitely a major need for coordination of initiatives.

Some interesting insights were shared about how to use mobile phones to provide better health assistance. However, not much was said about its usage in politically sensitive situations like elections, demonstrations or conflicts. None of the difficulties of politically sensitive processes like verification of information of accessibility to the tools were discussed. In my opinion, there is still a lot to say about “moving beyond the mobile hype” and how can we use new tools to solve old issues.

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