Monday, December 22, 2008

The Real Story

Here's the truth - this project involves people, rich in character and experience. It's not only about the technology. If I'm interested in the tech fulfilling its potential, I've got to pay attention to the people.

Case in point:

I spent yesterday mulling over text messages sent through FrontlineSMS over the last four months, noting which CHWs had communicated least. I put together a list of a few CHWs I suspected might be having signal issues. Looking at the map, three of six CHWs on this list were clumped together - clearly, they must not have good reception.

I told Alex about my findings, this morning. He took a look at the names and said, "Well, Bernadeta took her phone with her to Zambia, we've discovered that Chrissy is not able to write her own name, and Jereman's phone battery was stolen while it was charging at the local barber shop." My time away from the hospital almost made me forget the multitude of stories swirling around these phones and the hospital they're linked to. With 100 phones in the field, three random problems are to be expected.

Whether or not everyone agrees, I think personal stories convey a project's successes, as well as their failures. Silia, a hospital attendant who runs the hospital's TB program, said yesterday, "The SMS project is very, very good - I can get much more work done, instead of driving the motorbike everywhere. It's very simple - we can expect feedback about patients immediately." I met the new hospital administrator today, and his second sentence was, "You know, it's not only beneficial for communication. The volunteers are now committed to their work, and more will follow."

I'm letting stories from patients, CHWs, and the medical staff at St. Gabriel's drive my exploration into this project's value. I turned to people for the direction of the initiative, and I'm turning back to them to measure part of its impact.

The first batch of solar panels arrives tomorrow.


Maggie Chen said...

I think you're sort of short-changing yourself here. I don't think you forgot about the people aspect of the project while you were away. But I can see how it's difficult to strike the people/tech balance, especially when the people aspect may not be the 'sexy' part. Anyways I think you've always done a good job of staying connected to the people involved in the project.

kiwanja said...

Hi Josh

Whether you realise it or not (and I'm sure you do), you've managed to crack one of the most difficult elements of any ICT4D project - local engagement and local ownership.

The staff are obviously the crucial element in this, and your comments re: it being about the people are key. Remember, of course, that includes you!

Technology is nothing but a bunch of wires, circuit boards and code. It's when it gets into the hands of the users that it comes to life.