Supporting Our Partners in Mobile Tech
Mobile technology has the potential to improve service delivery at the community level and make it easier to share findings across networks. Our partners are currently collecting data in paper form. While over one third are digitizing these forms, and just under half are organizing the digital data in electronic databases, accessing the information they need when they need it is still a big headache. Finding and analyzing past data is a difficult task that requires a lot of staff time with this system.
It’s not a surprise that most of our partners don't access or use previously collected data very often, despite their desire to do so. Mobile methods of data collection have helped some of our partners overcome this obstacle. Now that mobile technology is readily accessible and reliable, we’re helping more of our partners to use it.
We’re not alone. Mobile technology is one of the central topics being discussed and debated within the world of international development today. Some see Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) as a magic bullet, fast tracking development and community empowerment at a global level. Others say that it is just the latest fad being adopted to stay current and attract funding.
Our partners have also recognized that a great opportunity exists, and they feel that using mobile tech will ultimately help them to improve the quality of the services they offer to the communities they work with. But this push for mobile did not come out of the ethers. Zanele Sibanda, our Director of Programs, explains that there has been an ongoing effort to work with partners to improve their overall monitoring and evaluation capacity. Adding mobiles to the mix is the natural next step to improve the efficiency of the data collection process and to ensure that the data being collected is easily accessible by both the partners and Firelight.
She points out that since many of the partners are already collecting lots of data during their ongoing monitoring processes, albeit on paper, it is not the collection process that we need to look at but the gap between collection, aggregation and analysis. So much of the collected data ends up sitting in the main offices and due to the heavy time burden involved in digitizing and analyzing this data, often the process stops there.
The time is right to move into mobile data collection. These are our three guiding principles we’ll follow as we move forward:
- The primary benefits should be felt by the community members being served by partner organizations
- The collected data must serve to inform programming and strengthen the organization's abilities to provide services.
- This process will improve our ability to draw conclusions and learn from the experiences of our partner organizations so that we can share key lessons learned with our peers, contribute to the body of knowledge around capacity building, and improve our programming accordingly.
Peter Laugharn, Firelight's Executive Director, points out that mobile phone penetration in Africa reached 80% by the end of 2013, and this continues to be the fastest growing region in the world. The ubiquity of the mobile phone and the continued reduction in the costs of technology in Africa gives community-based organizations much more reliable and affordable access to stakeholders and information.
Mobile tools and technology offer many opportunities to improve the efficiency of communications, data collection, and knowledge sharing. Working to improve the capacity of partners to take advantage of these new technologies will not only be useful but necessary. Providing the highest quality services to their communities is something our partners are always thinking about. We’re here to help them understand the best use of new technology and ensure that these organizations are not victims of an ever-growing digital divide.