“……..I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul” (Invictus by William Ernest Henley)
The genie is out of the bottle. Scanning the news reveals that Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) such as mobile phones, Internet, Satellite television and social media are having an effect on events in the so-called Arab Spring. The “Facebook Revolution” is becoming a buzzword. Not sure how and why, click here . Does this have any practical significance for our operational activities in projects or programs aiming to increase participation in socio, economic and political change processes? The answer suggested here is Yes. Traditional participation approaches referred to here as “Voices 1.0” are being directly influenced by the witnessed proliferation of ICTs rendering them more interactive “Voices 2.0”. This complimentary shift has direct implications for operational work throughout the project cycle.
Two important caveats on ICTs: First, let’s be clear that people, not technologies, are the driving forces within any transformational processes such as the Arab Spring. This echoes previous guidelines expressed including Gene Sharp’s classic “From Dictatorship to Democracy”  . The novelty of ICTs, media and social networks is significant in terms of leveraging, amplifying, accelerating and possibly sustaining these forces of change unleashed by the people. It is this catalyzing role of these tools that is relevant here as this has practical implications for our work to enhance participation in economic, social or political processes. Secondly, there is a “darker side” to ICTs not to be ignored. Environmental and social issues such as electronic waste  / and standards on usage of rare minerals  in mobile phones and electronics deserve careful mentioning and monitoring.
“Voices 2.0”- From “Inclusion” towards “Interactivity”
Participation- in the context of development cooperation and poverty alleviation- is often understood as facilitating increased inclusion of the poor and marginalized people within economic, social and political processes affecting their lives. The significance was demonstrated in the World Bank Report “Voices of the Poor”, where findings revealed that exclusion from economic, social and political processes rank exceptionally high on the scale of priorities of the poor and marginalized. What followed were intellectual and practical efforts to address this “inclusion deficit” with innovative participatory development approaches such as participatory rural appraisal, empowerment and communication for development emerging (referred to hear the first generation Voices 1.0). 10 years later, there has been an evolution. What I call Voices 2.0 refers to the shift towards increased interactivity directly influenced by the proliferation of ICTs and media. As people, institutions and processes remain at the center as well as the aim (i.e. to enhance inclusion and participation within economic, social and political processes at local, national, regional and global level), the rapid proliferation of ICTs and interactive media presents new opportunities to leverage, amplify, accelerate and sustain the first generation approaches. Thus, combining traditional participation approaches with ICTs-enhanced interaction, participation can be deepened, interactivity fostered and better results achieved.
Links to operational reality examined in new SDC Working Paper
“So what”- Miles Davis
A new SDC Working paper titled “Deepening Participation and Enhancing Aid Effectiveness through ICTs and Media ” examines why and how development practitioners can adopt ICTs and media for increased participation and better results into their daily practice. Taking a critical look back over 10 years of SDC program support within ICTs for Development, findings include:
- ICTs and media, if strategically integrated  throughout development programs, can make a significant contribution
- Start thinking about information and communication needs, channels and media throughout the Project Cycle but most importantly in the planning stages for policy and project intervention
- ICT-enhanced “Communication for Development Methodologies” are worth revisiting
- Link ICTs and media to the organizational DNA of donor agencies in their standard operating procedures or instruments (i.e. Project Cycle Management, Sustainable Livelihood approaches)
- Develop the capacity of implementing agencies and partner organizations on “strategically using” ICTs to leverage their programs
A final thought on political transformation, ICTs and media
Returning to the political dimension, ICTs and media have contributed to the events during the Arab Spring through diversifying information and communication channels, facilitating coordination and mobilization of the people. Importantly, people, and processes remain at the center of the change process. To deepen our understanding what has actually happened, the following two dimensions deserve further exploration. Firstly, through a social network analysis examining the role of so-called “Boundary Spanners” (i.e. selected people acting as key change facilitators), we should learn how they were actually empowered through technology within their respective social structures to bring about a tipping point for change. This could shed light on sharpening future ICT and media intervention to empower citizens accordingly. Secondly, the connection between ICTs, media and democratic institution building is equally critical. It is one thing to facilitating a revolution but how to sustain such democratic change processes is a whole other dimension waiting to be explored.
Key Take Home Points
- Lessons learned from the “Arab Spring” in terms of the role of ICTs and participation are directly applicable for development practitioners working on social, economic and political projects
- “Voices 2.0” is an evolved concept in participation characterized through increased interactivity due to the influence of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) and media
Your opinion is desired – I am looking forward to your comments and reactions.
This blog post was initially posted on the SDC Blog 
Photo Credit: digital democracy