Last Saturday and Sunday (yes, a full weekend!!) Max and I ran the Mobile and Web Technologies for Social and Economic Workshop in Tanzania. The agenda was structured around three themes:
- Voice-based services
- Mobile entrepreneurship
- Data collection
From my perspective, this was very successful. First of all the attendance was great, and we beat our record of the previous instance with more than 60 people in the room. Obviously, this would not have been possible without the support of our sponsors, Spider, Twaweza (gold sponsor), and Comviva (silver sponsor), plus all other donors who supported us on this event (Open Society Institute, Hewlett Foundation through the Multi-Channel Data Collection Tool project, Vodafone group through the Mobile Entrepreneurs in Ghana project, EU FP7 program through the VOICES project). 27 more people were thus able to attend. In the room, we had people coming from 20 different countries, in particular 10 different african countries!
Enabling the knowledge and experience sharing between all these countries and culture is a great achievement in itself. The very different background of people in terms of domain (health, transparency, agriculture, radio, etc) or expertise (practionners in the field, tools providers, etc) created a very good energy in the room.
In terms of output, I will give below my own personal feeling. Max and I are going to write an executive summary report, circulate it among participants and then publish it publicly after review, probably by the end of the month. In the meantime, I’m summarizing here my impressions. I believe that the two sessions on voice technologies were the most successful ones. These sessions raised awareness among those who never heard about it, and enabled different organizations working on the domain to exchange expertise and experience. It is clear that there is a need for actions in the domain. To the best of my knowledge it was a very first attempt to gather practioners using voice technologies, including radio broadcasters, and there is a need for nurturing further this community. There is today almost no place where one can have access to platforms, tools, demo, etc and learn how to apply voices technologies in the field. There is also no place where people can share ideas and challenges. As this is a domain where the Web Foundation is very active, we will consider in the very near future structuring further this community.
Concerning the other sessions, we have a full day about data collection tools. There were very interesting presentations as well as very lively debates. However, at this point, there isn’t quite a clear picture coming out of the event. In fact, for me, the clear output of these discussions is that data collection is not a homogeneous single type of activities. Under this name, there is nothing really comparable between projects that aims at replacing pen and paper data collection activities that are already existing (e.g. censuses, health worker collection, etc) and realized by a small set of people, that are usually educated, and that could be enabled with advanced devices versus crowd-sourced activities that aims at involving as much as people as possible, without heavy training, and with devices that they already have. In that category, it is very clear that there is not that much tools, and particularly voice-based tools. We surely need to debrief further on the topic, and see if there are any relevant actions that we can take in the domain to limit the proliferation of tools but also raise awareness on those who are already freely available.
Finally, the session on mobile entrepreneurship was probably the least active one. While there were very stimulating discussions on the profile of entrepreneurs, and very interesting presentations on different initiatives in different countries, I believe that the audience was probably not the most suited for this debate.
All in all, this was a great event, in my opinion. Each time we organize a new event, we learn how to improve it. This time, we increased discussion time, reduced presentation time and added a speed-demo dating session which was a hit! About 15 people organized demos, and after a lightening talk to present it, each presenter sit on a table and every 10mns, we rotated the group. This was really dynamic and exciting. We will surely go for such sessions next time. (And big thanks for Jonathan Eyler-werve for moderating the session).
That said, we have now asked participants to send us feedback through a questionnaire, and we will see what are opinions from the room!
As always, that was an incredibly intensive week, and we had no way to explore the country and even the town of Dar es Salam. Next time surely.
To finish this blog, I want also to mention that this event was organized as part of Africa Internet Summit, which is a two weeks conference organized by AfNOG and AfriNIC. This event is organized by our big friend, Dr Nii Quaynor, and Prof. Kilnam Chon. They are both doing an incredible job of gathering all the promising geeks from all over the continent and organize training and conferences on network operation mainly. I was impressed by their achievement.A big big big THANK YOU also to Nancy Dotse, who handled all the logistics, and was incredibly efficient and helpful for us.
We are not done yet, and home sweet home is still far away, as Max and I are now flying to Kigali, Rwanda, to explore the potential of a mobile entrepreneurship project in the country, and develop a field assessment similar to the one we did in Ghana last year.