To better understand the process of finding effective digital technology tools in transparency and accountability initiatives, researchers interviewed organisations in South Africa and Kenya that had recently chosen tools to use in their work. They were asked why they had chosen a particular tool, how they chose it, and if they were happy with the results.
Less than a quarter of the organisations were happy with the tools they had chosen. They often found technical issues that made the tool hard to use, after they had decided to adopt it, while half the organisations discovered that their intended users did not use the tools to the extent that they had hoped (a trend that was often linked to specific attributes of the tool). Most organisations did very limited research to understand their intended users, the technology options available and the problem the tool was expected to solve.
Six basic rules of thumb for organisations deploying ICT for development stand out:
- Map out what you need to know: At the very least include research on the issue you want to tool to address, the needs to the people you hope will use it and the digital tool options already available
- Think twice before you build: Look for existing tools that can do the job; building new technologies from scratch is complex and risky
- Get a second opinion: Someone else has probably tried a similar approach before you
- Always take it for a test drive: Trial the tool; it highlights problems and raises key questions early on
- Plan for failure: Don’t expect to get it right first time; budget time and money to make adjustments.
- Stop and reflect on what you’re doing: Keep thinking about what is working, and what isn’t.