Risk, expectation and humanitarian technology
Whether you are talking internal or external adoption of new technology, it’s very easy to present a technological solution to people and immediately have them think up additional improvements or new applications. One of the challenges with humanitarian technological tools is getting people to focus attention to what they already have as the starting point to broader use.
In reality, 'adoption' may actually mean that having to change operational practice, rather than a set of software changes. The challenge here is convincing people to be open to changing practices as opposed to buying new tools as a fix.
Beyond this, adoption of technology (like any innovation) requires leadership support and resources. Wider adoption implies wider user needs, training, new capital and so on. All of that needs to be funded. While donors and humanitarian leadership may espouse innovation, there can be de facto hypocrisy at work as the pressures of cost reductions, limited financing and risk controls drive innovation and wider adoption into the ground.
Larger organisations also have a tendency to be more risk adverse. Introducing innovation here requires more analysis of potential benefit versus potential costs, and will also involve more stakeholders. With Last Mile Mobile Solutions (LMMS) – we tried hard at the outset to incubate the innovation so that we could grow the product suite without risk management becoming overly cumbersome. That said, virtually every major stage of deciding whether to proceed or not has involved some degree of calculated assessment.
LMMS is a software solution that takes computer-processing power into field deployments, allowing users to engage in collecting data and leveraging data in actual day-to-day operations. It is not just simple data collection, of which there are numerous private sector and open source products.
The product focuses on collecting detailed data (including biometric information) associated with the registration of people affected by disasters (beneficiaries) and then uses that information to support the delivery of humanitarian services to people affected by disasters. These services range from delivering life-saving materials to people to monitoring health indicators and flagging problems dynamically in the field.
In reading this, I hope people will understand that this means that LMMS models complex interactions and processes that humans perform in the field and not simple data collection/transmission processes.
My particular interest is that we avoid fragmenting the landscape with customised solutions that do the same job. That would be colossal waste of resources in my mind. Imagine the costs in terms of system development and maintenance – is it good use of scare financial resources in our sector if every agency decides to build their own version of an LMMS system? Such moves also reinforce a systemic, perhaps unconscious, preference to practices that do not allow ease of sharing information easily. Its a common complaint in our sector: how can we collaborate together and share information on beneficiaries? Yet I’ve seen agencies performing registrations of beneficiaries, collecting virtually the same information, right after these same people have been registered by another agency at the same camps. I think that practice is inexcusable when we are at a point where new tools and processes, like LMMS, can bring us together.
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