Getting Started – Too Many Questions

If you had asked me 18 (ish) months ago what crowdsourcing was, I would have looked at you with a blank stare. It’s weird to think how far I’ve come in that amount of time. Now, ICT4D and ICT4Peace are my two pet interests which I spend my free time thinking and reading about. So how did I, a self-confessed Luddite decide that technology was my life path?  I’ve been coming back to this question recently as I try to figure out where I want to be going and hopefully this can help point me in the right direction.

The first time I heard the word ‘crowdsource’, I was in the office of my MA adviser discussing what I could focus my thesis on. At that point I knew three things. (1) I was heading to Kenya for two months to work for PeaceNet Kenya (a great organization by many accounts). (2) The Arab Spring was unfolding in Northern Africa and phrases like “Twitter Revolution” were being tossed around like a hot potato. (3) I needed to figure out my thesis topic. And so my Professor and I bounced around some ideas before I settled on it. That one small idea that launched me into this field – I would look at how technology has been and could be used to help build peace.

The process of getting to that idea started off somewhere completely different. Not two days before I thought my thesis would be focused on participation. Participation is a term that is vastly overused in development and peace-building. We all agree – local, community participation is a vital part of successful development. But what does that mean? I have been skeptical of ‘participation’ for a while. How can ‘participation’ be truthfully inclusive in a world where the relationship between donors and NGOs is at the center of most discussions. Programs are designed by NGOs to fit the donors’ requests, and donors look for the NGOs who can best deliver their desired outcomes. Even when participation is built in from the start – what does that actually mean for communities? Especially when we are talking about Conflict Transformation – how can external actors begin the internal process required for communities to work through the underlying causes of conflict? But then my question turned – how can technology help bridge this gap? While I’m not really sure if I ever found an answer, I definitely think it is an important question.

I’ve recently come to have great appreciation for Kentaro Toyama‘s (and many others’) view on all this – that technology enhances human capacities. In this way, technology does enhance participation, providing new channels for engagement, involvement and expression. Listening to the many ICT4D debates, and getting involved in a few of them myself has led my to think hard about the conclusions I’ve reached. There may yet still be some answers out there for me.

In my next post, I am going to look back at my Masters Thesis, as see where my deeper involvement in this world has taken me. I still don’t know much (read: anything) about programming or the technical side of all this, but over the course of the last year I have gained a bit of insight into the social side of technology. Hopefully.

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