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What you missed at the USAID Digital Development Forum 2017

17th July 2017 brought over 180 ICT for development (ICT4D) pioneers together from all over the world into Lusaka at Radisson Blu, thanks to USAID Zambia.

The goal? To discuss innovative and effective digital development solutions in Zambia for improving education, health, and agriculture, as shared by Wayan Vota, Consultant to FHI 360 & USAID.

We’ll go straight into the sessions I attended. (You can see the full agenda and speakers here)

Data for Decision Making – understanding that while development practitioners are creating new data sources, there is need to improve data analysis processes and find innovative ways to leverage both for better decisions at the local, regional and national levels. These were some of the points raised:

  • Data has to be simplified and made user-friendly for even non-data users (most laymen)
  • Research must be purposeful and impact decision-making, not just done for the sake of it!
  • Statistics have to be readily available in time for all users on all types of platforms, on- or offline. Open data is the way to go
  • Application of open data systems can be used in health, education, governance, etc
  • Data cleaning and data quality is time-intensive process so clients should also be aware of that as they request for those services from researchers
  • Greatest challenge in data collection is that with software packages come viruses which are a danger to data, new data tools are exciting but users aren’t immediately drawn to use it for decision-making
  • The simplest definition of the difference between Open Data and Open Source: Open Data is the actual information output. Open Source is the software or source code used to aggregate/collect the data
  • An example  of an open data source in Zambia was named as the Ministry of Information website
  • Central Statistical Office (CSO) should be hub of all data collected in Zambia
  • Smart Zambia will in coming months work hand-in-hand with CSO to make data easier to access by anyone
  • e-Government and e-Health push is there but not yet trickled down to least person in the work chain
  • Most data in Zambia is collected by NGO-funded projects, there’s a need for standard government policy on data collection
  • Data collection using mobile devices is a much more ‘informal‘ way to collect data without overwhelming sample persons with paperwork, depending on what’s being collected and where in the country

Notes from lightning talks on Digital Development Systems in Zambia

  • Kaluba Mataka, Project Director – ZCAHRD spoke on mobile money for healthcare: “It’s no longer about trials but how they’re working well or not where they’re implemented.”  She gave an example of Project Mwana being one of m-health projects that’s been implemented in Zambia.
  • Namate Silishebo of iSchool Zambia explained impact of their product, the ZeduPad in digitizing education – “We’ve digitized content on the ZeduPad and delivered to pupils and teachers. Digital content helps education by enabling peer-to-peer learning, and allows teachers (even the least trained) to deliver engaging lessons to students. We’ve seen teacher tablet sales increase from 40 to 61% as learning modules are easy to use.”
  • Joseph Pakenham, Head of Digital Capability at  shared the organisation’s role in digital development: “Why digital? It’s no longer a new and shiny thing but is now integral to any development. To foster this, DFID held interviews with its own staff first to clear any confusions they may have had on ICTs, and train them on digital issues. After the training, staff are given badges on completion labelling them “Digital Ninjas”. DFID is also working on a new digital strategy that will be shared soon.”
  • Ben Winters, Africa Regional Director, Akros, highlighted the best way to engage traditional leaders and citizens for ICT4D success: “Akros works in Zambia to engage communities and leaders in use of ICTs for development by intervention uptakes that firstly stop the formal nonsense with data collection. Get to know the person whose mindset you’re trying to change, know them by first name.”
  • Matt Sommerville, Chief of Party, Tenure and Global Climate Change Program, on using mobile tools to secure land tenure: “Land is dynamic; people die, move, sell estates, migration. There’s need to build sustainable digital tools to map land changes through partnerships. Digital solutions will help scale data on land tenure in Zambia if executed properly.”

Digital Development Solutions – this was a practical session where participants suggested solutions to the common digital technology challenges in these 3 areas:

  1. Agriculture: : need for increased mobile phone availability for farmers as well as internet access, where suppliers/buyers can go online to trade and gain access to information. Cost of data needs to fall to support that. There should be investments in solar-powered systems to combat load-shedding issues.
  2. SMEs: they too should increase mobile money usage, have access to affordable smartphones and to reliable MNOs/ISP. Financial literacy is also a plus.
  3. Healthcare: Access to the internet vital in health centres, ePayments integrated into their payments systems, cheaper solar power alternatives must also be integrated to lower costs and/or run power when electricity load-shedding hits

Fostering Inclusive Health Services for Everyone – how to make sure that innovative health solutions reach beyond urban and connected populations, and connect rural and marginalized populations with better health services:

Anthony Musaluke, Chief operation Officer at  shared one major healthcare technology challenge: “Our Smart Care initiative requires an internet connection, not available in most health centres. Funding is needed to scale more health sites in Zambia. Pilots indicate this works, but with differences in mobile operator network  or ISP unavailability in most areas in Zambia, it’s not seamless making it hard for our work.”

A point raised was that eHealth allows data by healthcare workers be in central place if another worker needs it if the other is on leave or unavailable.

Gregory Marchand, Director of Avencion, added that his organisation is working on a mechanism to aggregate data on cost differences of healthcare in Zambia.  This is being done by Avencion with support from and FHI360. Data base app was created to work offline, reducing need for pricey data.

For-profit organisations have tight deadlines, not-for-profits have a little more passion w/o concern for money made. Reason for lack of information share is from lack of market-driven solution demand in healthcare.

A Future Vision of a Digital Zambia in 2025 – This was the closing session was by ICT4D expert  of SIDA Zambia on what a digital Zambia could look like in 2025.  She said digital tools are not improving lives of ALL Zambians due to great inequalities on- and offline. GSMA predicts that in 2025 Africans will have about 3 connected devices per person

She took us through the life of a Zambian farmer living in that year when technology (hopefully) is not scarce in rural areas so here is what that year looks like: ‘Many have started to explore the internet via mobile data and reap its benefits, free WiFi spots are popping up, allowing users be online more. There is also mobile content available in more local languages, entertainment on mobile is now easily accessible, and digital literacy is available in schools as part of the curriculum. Social cash transfers in community are now integrated with mobile money. Farmers are sharing information such as market prices in WhatsApp groups, increasing bargaining power.’

Sound too good to be true?

“This is the future we should want and should look forward to in a digital Zambia” – Hannah.

“Multi-stakeholder partnerships are necessary to drive digital agenda forward. Civil society organisations (CSOs) must definitely be included in driving digital agenda. There’s need for open data in Zambia. A lot is collected but not shared.”

She cited research by  on Zambia which found inequalities in ICTs based on gender, education and income status.

“There’s a constant development of technology which raises questions, but there’s need to adapt; we don’t know the next innovations, but there’s need for adaptation practice as this technology disrupts.”

She ended with the launch of the hashtag #Zambia2025, through which you can all express your hopes on social media for the future of a digital Zambia.

For more from the event follow the hashtags  on Twitter.


Tech Blogger & Marketer.