Digital & Non-Digital Media (Bridge)

One communication-related bridge to achieving development goals was using a combination of digital and non-digital communication media. One common communication strategy was using human mediation to supplement digital media:

“If the farmer is educated, he can log in and do this [engage with agricultural experts online]; if he is uneducated, he can go through a coordinator. They would meet together at the franchise office to use the computer there.” (Team member)

“Without mediation, it [a video illustrating how to perform an agricultural technique] is shown to farmers, and they think it is just a movie-- no impact. If it is mediated, we can clarify doubts farmers have. Even now we need clarification, like if we show medicinal prep, he will ask how to dilute it. This clarification needs to be given by a mediator.” (Team member)

The above examples illustrate the value of human mediation for eliminating barriers caused by limited skillsets (the first quote) and the need for customized, relevant information (the second quote). These quotes show how human mediation benefited direct stakeholders (i.e., people directly involved with an ICTD project). In-person communication also supported development goals by extending the reach of information to indirect project stakeholders. Though not directly connected to the project, indirect stakeholders learned from direct project stakeholders who were members of their social network:

“Information [is] passing from one person to another; there are many ways. This is cost effective. Without much effort from the organization, it can be dispersed to many people.” (Team member)

“When they [students who play mobile-based literacy games] interact with other students, they can be a bridge for [project name]: ‘Hey, we have done this great spelling.’” (Member of partner organization)

“Sometimes what happens is when you provide advice to a farmer in the field, then if the neighboring farmer is also doing the same crop, he can always ask the neighboring farmer what to do, so he can simply take that advice, and he becomes a tutor.” (Member of partner organization)

When direct project stakeholders evangelized for a project to members of their social networks, sometimes those indirect stakeholders applied new knowledge without necessarily becoming directly involved with the ICTD project, as indicated in the quotes above, and sometimes they were recruited to direct project involvement. Thus, in-person communication supplemented and supported digital media through recruitment. The success of this strategy corroborates research in distributed teams, which emphasizes the value of initial face-to-face communications to set the stage for successful distributed relationships (Baskerville & Nandhakumar, 2007; Olson & Olson, 2000). Face-to-face communication proved important for recruiting a variety of stakeholder types, including intended beneficiaries and partner organizations:

“Some partners actually came to our location here in [Indian location] to actually see the system in operation for themselves… They came out here largely to interact with our partner so that they could on a partner-to-partner level interact and say, ‘What kind of operations were you guys running before? What kind of value did you see? How well did you guys integrate together?’…Some of it was face-to-face meetings about giving presentations about our research because a lot of the partners were interested in that aspect, about having a clear idea about how this system was set up, what system existed before, and what was the new aspect that was introduced, and what was the inputs provided and what were the outputs.  This could be spelled out relatively clearly; then they were relatively receptive.” (Project leader)

“We are moving into China and Kenya because there were local academics there who saw a [project name] presentation at conferences. And they thought, oh, this would actually work for them in their own respective regions. So that was how they actually contacted me and asked if we could work together.” (Project leader)

“We do have conversations about promoting our services. The farmers have some mobile phones, so promoting services through SMS and voice. Another could be agriculture fairs and promoting at a stall and distributing pamphlets. And if we know friends who are related to farmers, we can promote.” (Team member)

The first two quotes above by leaders of different ICTD projects illustrate the value of in-person presentations for recruiting potential partner organizations like NGOs. The second quote is particularly interesting because it illustrates that, for one project, this outcome (recruiting new partners) was an unanticipated benefit of presenting positive project outcomes at conferences. The third quote identifies a range of ways that another project recruited intended beneficiaries. While voice and SMS messages played a role, in-person communication at public venues like agricultural fairs and through personal connections with farmers played an important role as well. Another common recruiting method that project team members used for recruiting intended beneficiaries was going door to door in apartment complexes, city slums, and rural villages, talking to people about the project.

The above examples show how a combination of digital and non-digital communication can increase the reach of ICTD projects to new stakeholders (whether indirect or newly recruited). Combining new and old communication approaches is also useful for increasing the capacity for information access among existing stakeholders. This strategy creates multiple paths to the same information—for example, SMS messages, paper reports, and human intermediaries. Providing multiple paths to the same information has benefits identified in literature on planning for flexible operations (Suchman, 2007). As Lucy Suchman described, every detail of an interaction—particularly human-machine interaction—cannot be anticipated in enough detail to identify all possible paths and outcomes. Thus, flexible planning which focuses on error recovery is often more beneficial than attempting to anticipate and plan for every possible outcome (Suchman, 2007). This approach to planning is ideal for ICTD environments, which are so dynamic that multiple communication channels are often necessary to provide flexibility in information paths:

“It [agricultural information] goes through SMS. It can go through printout. We are also trying to add the voice connection now.” (Project leader)

“Initially [the primary communication modality] was web, but if we want to get more farmers in, let’s try SMS based on the number of mobiles verses PCs. Then SMS had limitations that we could not address; we could not help that. Then we thought let’s do voice. That is old; let us bring it back.” (Team member)

“I think a combination of Internet, mobile, and offline is best of all worlds.” (Project leader)

The above quotes from stakeholders of three projects illustrate that offering multiple paths to the same information was a common strategy among projects to meet development goals.

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