“Voices 2.0”- Revolutionizing Participation within Development Cooperation

July 12, 2011 | bit-wartung | SDC Experiences |


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Patrick KalasThe “Facebook Revolution” is in everyone’s mouth: How come? What does the power of web 2.0 imply for operational activities aiming to increase participation in socio, economic and political change processes? Patrick Kalas (former ICT4D officer/SDC) illuminates the phenomenon, not without sparking a critical reflection on its side-effects, and shares keyfindings from an upcoming SDC workingpaper on the issue.

“……..I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul”
(Invictus by William Ernest Henley)

The genie is out of the bottle. Scanning the news reveals that Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) such as mobile phones, Internet, Satellite television and social media are having an effect on events in the so-called Arab Spring. The “Facebook Revolution” is becoming a buzzword. Not sure how and why, click here. Does this have any practical significance for our operational activities in projects or programs aiming to increase participation in socio, economic and political change processes? The answer suggested here is Yes. Traditional participation approaches referred to here as “Voices 1.0” are being directly influenced by the witnessed proliferation of ICTs rendering them more interactive “Voices 2.0”. This complimentary shift has direct implications for operational work throughout the project cycle.

Two important caveats on ICTs: First, let’s be clear that people, not technologies, are the driving forces within any transformational processes such as the Arab Spring. This echoes previous guidelines expressed including Gene Sharp’s classic “From Dictatorship to Democracy” . The novelty of ICTs, media and social networks is significant in terms of leveraging, amplifying, accelerating and possibly sustaining these forces of change unleashed by the people. It is this catalyzing role of these tools that is relevant here as this has practical implications for our work to enhance participation in economic, social or political processes. Secondly, there is a “darker side” to ICTs not to be ignored. Environmental and social issues such as electronic waste / and standards on usage of rare minerals  in mobile phones and electronics deserve careful mentioning and monitoring.

 “Voices 2.0”- From “Inclusion” towards “Interactivity”

Participation– in the context of development cooperation and poverty alleviation- is often understood as facilitating increased inclusion of the poor and marginalized people within economic, social and political processes affecting their lives. The significance was demonstrated in the World Bank Report “Voices of the Poor”,  where findings revealed that exclusion from economic, social and political processes rank exceptionally high on the scale of priorities of the poor and marginalized. What followed were intellectual and practical efforts to address this “inclusion deficit” with innovative participatory development approaches such as participatory rural appraisal, empowerment and communication for development emerging (referred to hear the first generation Voices 1.0). 10 years later, there has been an evolution. What I call Voices 2.0 refers to the shift towards increased interactivity directly influenced by the proliferation of ICTs and media. As people, institutions and processes remain at the center as well as the aim (i.e. to enhance inclusion and participation within economic, social and political processes at local, national, regional and global level), the rapid proliferation of ICTs and interactive media presents new opportunities to leverage, amplify, accelerate and sustain the first generation approaches. Thus, combining traditional participation approaches with ICTs-enhanced interaction, participation can be deepened, interactivity fostered and better results achieved.

Links to operational reality examined in new SDC Working Paper
“So what”- Miles Davis

A new SDC Working paper soon to be published titled “Deepening Participation and Enhancing Aid Effectiveness through ICTs and Media” examines why and how development practitioners can adopt ICTs and media for increased participation and better results into their daily practice.  Taking a critical look back over 10 years of SDC program support within ICTs for Development, findings include:

(1)    ICTs and media, if strategically integrated throughout development programs,  can make a significant contribution

(2)    Start thinking about information and communication needs, channels and media throughout the Project Cycle but most importantly in the planning stages for policy and project intervention

(3)    ICT-enhanced “Communication for Development Methodologies” are worth revisiting

(4)    Link ICTs and media to the organizational DNA of donor agencies in their standard operating procedures or instruments (i.e. Project Cycle Management, Sustainable Livelihood approaches)

(5)    Develop the capacity of implementing agencies and partner organizations on “strategically using” ICTs to leverage their programs

A final thought on political transformation, ICTs and media

Returning to the political dimension, ICTs and media have contributed to the events during the Arab Spring through diversifying information and communication channels, facilitating coordination and mobilization of the people. Importantly, people, and processes remain at the center of the change process. To deepen our understanding what has actually happened, the following two dimensions deserve further exploration.  Firstly, through a social network analysis examining the role of so-called “Boundary Spanners” (i.e. selected people acting as key change facilitators), we should learn how they were actually empowered through technology within their respective social structures to bring about a tipping point for change. This could shed light on sharpening future ICT and media intervention to empower citizens accordingly. Secondly, the connection between ICTs, media and democratic institution building is equally critical. It is one thing to facilitating a revolution but how to sustain such democratic change processes is a whole other dimension waiting to be explored.

Key Take Home Points

  • Lessons learned from the “Arab Spring” in terms of the role of ICTs and participation are directly applicable for development practitioners working on social, economic and political projects
  • “Voices 2.0” is an evolved concept in participation characterized through increased interactivity due to the influence of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) and media

Your opinion is desired – I am looking forward to your comments and reactions.


Comments to““Voices 2.0”- Revolutionizing Participation within Development Cooperation”

  1. Hi Patrick, thank you for this through-provoking text which will open many issues, including those beyond the Internet and ICT. Here is the first reflection……

    ‘Inclusion deficit’ is the other side of the coin that is the crisis of the legitimacy of global governance. We need Voices 2.0 for Governance 2.0. Just look at the EU. Even in well-functioning democratic systems, people in the EU – for many reasons – cannot relate to the European Parliament or to the European Commission.

    This gap is even bigger in poor countries. Legitimacy gained through elections is not enough. People want solutions to their problems, which are very often economic, or a matter of respecting their dignity, or simply common sense. With the Internet, our eyes and ears have become bigger, but our voices remain weak. It creates frustration. It’s as if we are sitting on a ticking time-bomb, which may explode – and be managed – in different ways (Compare three squares: Tienanmen – Tahrir – Trafalgar).

    So how do we address this inclusion deficit. First, as the new blockbuster study (Why Nations Fail? – see 1.) re-confirms, inclusion is not just a ‘nice thing to do’ for democratic or ethical reasons, but a practical necessity and the main condition for economic growth.

    In international relations, inclusion (or the lack of it) can be seen through concrete actions. If people are not satisfied with global deals, they ‘vote’ in their own way: they might board boats and sail across the Mediterranean to Europe (migration), or copy copyright materials because they think that the current WIPO copyright regime is not legitimate. Climate change is another area where the implementation of global deals will require a change in individual behavior (e.g. habits, consumer patterns). The list could continue, but the underlying message is that global policy problems can be properly addressed only if people have a sense of ownership of what is agreed. And in order to have sense of ownership, there is a need for wider inclusion in policy processes.

    Previously I mentioned that voices are weak. They are weak in two ways. Traditionally, but increasingly diminishing, voices are suppressed by force and censorship. A new way, which is potentially more dangerous, is the lack of any public response and accountability. For example, in the Balkans, you can say whatever you want but there is no reaction. Paradoxically, by the inflation of information on scandals and crime, people have become inured. A newspaper article on local politicians stealing millions won’t elicit any reaction. The system survives on cacophony. Public space, as the core of democratic politics, is quickly disappearing.

    Here is where Web 2.0 can play a vital role both in developed and developing countries. It is more important in the South, where institutions that should facilitate inclusion are still weak. More reflections in the next posts….

    (1) D. Acemoglu, J. Robinson, Why Nations Fail: Origins of Power, Poverty and Prosperity. Random House, 2011; prezentacija o knjizi se može naći ovde:

  2. Hugo Rämi says:

    Lieber Patrick

    Toni Frisch will einen Vortrag halten über social media und die humanitäre Hilfe. Kannst du bitte Kontakt aufnehmen mit ihm cc an mich. Ich glaube du bist der beste Mann um ihm dabei zu helfen.

    Wie erreicht man dich am besten?
    mail mir bitte an meine eda Adresse bin zurzeit in Kenya



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