Friday, April 14, 2006
Practical example: the tech forum in Kumasi
Four institutions worked together to organise a tech forum in Kumasi: GINKS, a network on ICT for development, the
Kofi Annan Centre, a center for exellence in ICT, Kwame Nkrumah University for Science and Technology and IICD. The whole idea was to bring people together and reinforce the community of practice of technical ICT people- working from the idea that some informal of a community of practice may exist but is not supported in any way. It originated from the expressed need of technician working in ICT4dev projects in remote areas for more support in their work, as they are sometimes stuck in finding appropriate solutions.
The idea was to advertise via a discussion list and see who's really interested in this - get people who are willing to invest in sharing. This did not really work as it yielded only 3 reactions- possibly because it is a kind of new way of 'recruiting' people for workshops- and the workshop may not have sounded rather vague to people. So the collaboration of the 4 organisation came in handy - we were able to use their networks to spot interested people, making sure all are ICT4D practitioners and aiming for a good balance of people working in urban and rural areas. What was hard again was that you cannot invite people working in large institutions directly, but you pass through the directors, who sometimes may have their own considerations of selecting people for workshops, making it hard to find the people who are interested in a community of practice and who are passionate. From the beginning GINKS had expressed a clear interest to continue facilitating this process as one of their 'nodes', which fits in with their vision of developing the network.
IICD co-facilitated the workshop with a Ghanaian facilitator, in practice IICD's role was to bring in the notion of a community of practice (through a presentation) and (for this group) new methods to get people talking and sharing in a certain way with their practice at the core of the conversation - like tech story telling, open space, and the showcasing sessions. Best appreciated were the story telling and showcasing sessions- open space was considered as too short to get to a meaningfull level of interaction (15 minutes per round). The storytelling worked amazingly well- in groups of 7-8 people, each talked for 10-15 minutes. Even though we had had an introduction session (geek dating), the stories were so telling about the core of the work of the ICT4D technicians, and made it so clear how they worked. It showed some clear connection between people (like all the virus and worm solving stories), but also the variation in jobs- we identified some 6 categories out of it. The methods invoked lively discussions - at some point someone noticed we 'forgot' to do any icebreakers. Some participants mentioned that over the workshop they got some solutions to problems they had been struggling with. The most insightful discussions were generated as a result of the fact of having people from different background- eg. software developers from the private sector and technicians with a development task in an NGO. One of the insights was for instance that NGOs do not have the ideas and purchasing power to commission the development of specific, tailor-made software applications- whereas commercial developers work mainly for the commercial sector- hence the situation where few appropriate applications are generated.
At the end all expressed the interest to continue as a group exhanging both online and face-to-face-and try and enlarge the group. Besides GINKS, who volunteered to take a leaderships role here, 4 people volunteered to place similar roles. GINKS has opened a Dgroup just a week after the event- for online discussion, and it has started up with lots of contributions. This seems to be a group which is very confortable exchanging online and making use of internet groups to get answers to their technical questions.
What I personally learned:
* Though it is hard and complex to organise such an event with 4 institutions, in this case it proved very useful, as all had useful links to offer - for instance the Kofi Annan center brought in the link with the open source community, IICD the link to rural projects, though we could have used more intense communication on the design of the event.
* It seems worthwhile to keep the event short (we had one and a half day) so that the interest is generated but not exhausted.
* It helps to have a common experience during the event like the eclipse :) for bonding.
* It's great to organise this with a group which is not typically workshop-hopping around, but keen on using it to make their work easier.
* For open space to be useful, more time would have to be devoted to it- I have the impression people did not get the chance to find eachother on their passions.
* The chances of success seem higher when you link up with existing initiatives like the Linux groups, the GINKS network- for that it's good to know the field beforehand.
* Finally, I wonder whether we should have identified common projects to work on at this stage. We did not make an effort to pick out a few salient issues or project from all ideas floating around. Let's see what happens.