Widespread access to the internet and mobile phones, even in the world’s poorest countries, are making the sharing of information easier than ever before and offer varied opportunities for improving development systems.
One way in which information sharing can make development more effective is by enabling cross-fertilisation of ideas between regions, programmes donors and recipients.
“Too often development means reinventing the wheel,” said Jean-Louis Sarbib, Chief Executive Officer of Development Gateway. “Hopefully the web will help to break the silos that we have seen too often – whether it’s in the Commission, the World Bank, or a smaller organisation such as our own. People have a tendency to get really focused on what they do and they ignore that what they do can be leveraged, can be improved, by what others are doing.”
To watch a video interview with Mr Sarbib, click on the icon below:
Like capacity4dev.eu, Development Gateway was set up to share information and best practices for development.
With half the world’s internet users now located in developing countries, according to Development Gateway, the potential for online collaboration is only just beginning. But donors have to be careful that some of the world’s poorest aren’t left behind.
“As we develop these tools it’s also very important that we also help the continent of Africa in particular, which is still lagging behind in connectivity, with massive investments in new technologies,” said Mr Sarbib.
But internet isn’t the only technology that is fuelling this drive for information sharing. Mobile phones are more affordable and therefore more widespread than the internet, especially in the least developed parts of the globe.
Mobile phone take-up on the world’ poorest continent Africa increased by 550% in the five years up to 2008, according to the United Nations. More than a third of the continent’s population own a handset.
What makes this take-up particularly exciting for development practitioners is that mobile phones are being used to share a host of information that can have a positive impact on development.
Here are a few innovative communications projects that we’ve heard about:
In Ghana, farmers can receive information on crop prices via their mobile phone, a service set up by a company called Esoko. The information enables farmers to make informed decisions about when to buy or sell goods.
Frontline SMS is an open-source, or free, software that turns a lap-top and a mobile phone into a communications hub. Just plug the phone into the laptop and messages can be received and sent to groups of people through their mobile phones. The system is being used to run rural health care projects in Malawi and agriculture projects in El Salvador and Cambodia.
Ushahidi, which means ‘testimony’ in Swahili, was set up in response to the violence that followed elections in Kenya in 2008. It is an online crisis mapping platform that was originally used by anyone with access to the internet or a mobile phone to report incidences of violence or peace-building so they could be located on a central database.
But Ushahidi has also been used in crisis situations, like post-quake Haiti. After last year’s devastating tremor, which left nearly a quarter of a million people dead, mobile phone users were able to text-in crisis flash points – perhaps the location of someone buried under the rubble – so that they could be pin-pointed on an Ushahidi Crisis Map of Haiti.
Have you heard of an innovative information sharing tool? If so, the Editorial Team would love to hear about it and perhaps feature it on our site. To contact us, follow this link.
We asked development practitioners and policy makers at the EU Development Days 2010 whether they thought information sharing was important for effective development. To hear some of their responses, start the video by clicking on the icon below: