When thinking about how to use digital technologies in our work, it’s easy to think of devices. We need gadgets. Or to think about stunning visualisations of interactive maps and reports. We need platforms. But what do we need?
In these discussions, it’s always good to remind ourselves of the purpose of the project or activity. I know it may seem trivial and of course everyone knows this, but don’t skip this as, even if everyone knows and agrees, being reminded won’t hurt.
So assuming we are clear on purpose and, by default, the problem we are trying solve, below are a few things to consider. (It is not an exhaustive list by means, but hopefully gets you thinking)
Capabilities – in our assessments to start a project, it is important to embed some critical digital questions. For example, do you have or have access to a phone? Do you know how to make a call, send a SMS, send/receive money? Who helps you when you run stuck? Can you charge your phone? It is important to assess not only the people you plan to work with, but also your frontline staff.
Collection – every project will collect data in some aspect of its work. This is the most obvious place where digital can be used as it is now very easy to collect all types of data and to do it cheaply. There are countless tools available to do this.
Consolidation & Analysis – when data is collected digitally, different aspects of consolidation and analysis can be done automatically if the processes are well designed. There will be a need for humans to assist in parts of the data cleaning and analysis, but a lot of the ‘grunt’ work can easily be done. Now of course, there is greater and greater technical capabilities being developed through machine learning and artificial intelligence, but it is good to proceed with caution for now.
‘Colour‘ – digital visualisations, especially interactive ones, can make our data and analysis come alive and be more accessible. Again there are countless tools available now to do this. If you do the hard work of understanding the audience and creating a human-centred design, then there is a lot of the visualisation that can be automated after the data has been analysed.
Approach – sorry I couldn’t think of a ‘C’ word. By approach I partly mean design of the project implementation. Again it goes back to what is the project about and how could digital help or change our implementation approach. Some rudimentary examples have been giving cash instead of stuff, using remote monitoring tools to know when water pumps are not working or when water levels indicate floods are coming. Answering this is often best done in a diverse group of people thinking about how to achieve the goal of the project.
Lastly, I would be remiss not to add that in any project exploring or using digital must adhere to responsible data and technology principles and practices. Do no harm should be front and centre. And of course, we need to think about data security, data protection, data privacy, data rights, data storage, and so on in our work. We also need to remember the technology is the easy part, doing things differently and ensuring appropriate digital literacy and responsibility is much harder, but essential.