As I sit at home, exhausted after a huge last week and begin (finally) preparing my post for Blog Action Day, I have been contemplating a comment sent to me by my dear friend, Melina Chan recently. Melina is current located in Cambodia, working on an AYAD program around micro-finance lending and community development to alleviate poverty. She is an amazing person, and a true ‘squiggly thinker’ – she’s absolutely amazing at creating organic, win-win, high value relationships with good people to solve complex problems, and someone I have learned a lot from in the time I have known her.
She commented on one of my posts late last week asking for advice on how the many different AYAD participants, who are spread geographically around the Asia-Pacific region, could better communicate and share learning’s across timezones, locations and dodgy-internet. Specifically, she says:
“We are often isolated geographically, with limited internet access (ie. dial up speeds, unreliable connections, downtime in power shortages and thunderstorms), and are often the only native English speakers in our organisations.”
So, on Blog Action Day, I thought what better way to act than post about the problems Mel is having in Cambodia and hopefully, with your comments, provide her with information and possible solutions she can use in the fight against poverty. Please comment with any suggestions, technologies or any other ideas you may have. This is for her! Some of my suggestions are below, which I’ve tried to create based on three key issues Mel will be facing in the field:
1) Limited/sensitive connectivity means the internet can drop out or be unavailable at anytime. Thus, any service used must either be a) mobile web enabled or b) remain intact and accessible even if some people with the AYAD network can’t access it for a time.
2) Remain time-independent. The AYADs often travel in-country, and would often be away from a computer for days/weeks/months on end. Thus, organising time for the whole network to meet will almost certainly be impossible.
3) Whilst it will be tough for the whole network to group together at once, it should be easier to form small groups of conversations/sharing. Even just 2 person conversations are hugely valuable.
Dealing with limited internet access
Obviously, this will be the toughest problem to solve. Tim Costello, in one of our interviews with him for the Learn About Poverty blog, commented that a reportedly better solution to poverty was to buy mobile phones for everyone in need due to the devices ability to connect people for trade, business and political opportunities.
So in this case, I would suggest giving some mobile connectivity devices such as twitter a go. World Vision International were using twitter for a time to communicate to a small internal audience with status reports from the Democratic Republic of Congo. It was an experiment, which was curtailed afterwards because of it’s inability to scale but the technology still worked. Perhaps, you could create a small twitter account which AYADs could update to with links or asks for help. ie: “Does anyone have a strategic planning framework to use when facilitating?”
Creating tacit knowledge ‘sinks’
The other option, if it eventuates that twitter doesn’t work, is actually a tool I posted about on the digital-flexi-tools post, Campfire. Campfire is a relatively low bandwidth program, which opens up a chat and allows you to swap files (hard under the conditions you’re in) and chat with people live. The real beauty of campfire, is that those conversations are recorded, so the history of your conversation remains there for other AYADs to view, creating instant, global access to tacit knowledge. I subject I know you (Mel) are very keen on! You can create a sink of knowledge, but constantly having conversations on your campfire site, and encouraging other AYADs to do the same.
Unlike normal IM programs, Campfire can be organised by emailing a link to people and perhaps organising a time to meet there. Just like a true campfire, it tends to be used as a destination to meet. Once around the campfire, you can chat and discuss issues you need to, and share links etc etc on a low-bandwidth connection. If you had internet connection, I’m certain this would work (let us know how you go).
Utilise Google Docs to create copy-paste content
This is a tougher one. Google docs is a pretty awesome place to share documents without needing to send huge files over email etc. I would suggest that you move any documents you have, which may be valuable to other AYADs, to a google docs account. This way, you can include AYADs on any edits that take place, as well as allow people to copy-paste format independent content into whatever business/program/proposal template they may happen to be writing.
They can then add their own content back, and share it with you when you are ready. This is a key feature. Just like campfire, the content you put into the google docs account stays there, so it doesn’t require large active members, online live, to become a useful service. All you would need is the internet to be working (granted, not a guarantee) and you can access templates and content anytime, without needing to connect with others then. Again, this doesn’t need a huge number of people active within the community to be immensely valuable, and once you have two or three people adding content, the resource suddenly becomes much more powerful and more useful for others to see and add to.
Start small. Don’t expect to get to home base on the first date
Getting every member of the local AYAD network on board at the conception stage of these tools will be really tough. You’ll be better off Mel taking some advice from Ross Hill and just start small, with a simple idea of what you want to achieve.
You might: Get up a campfire, and invite one other person in your time zone to join in. Discuss something of value to both of you, and then once you have that conversation ‘in the sink’ forward another invite and repeat it with someone else, building on the first conversation. Soon, you’ll have a comprehensive, recorded text discussion of how people would approach your topic. People will then flock to the campfire to remember what they discussed, copy-paste any useful content and generally use the service to improve their work. Once you have this in place, you can grow to including full business proposals on Google Docs etc etc, but start simple. You don’t expect to get to home base on the first date, so don’t expect it here 🙂
That’s some of my thoughts. Please, I’m want to hear your thoughts out there about how Melina could keep communication up between AYADs to improve their knowledge and sharing abilities. Hopefully, we can create a great ‘knowledge sink’ ourselves which Melina can use to make things happen and better deal with poverty.