Information Technology and Development: “Know Before you Go”

On February 17th, CRS information technology experts Steve Hellen and Marianna Hensley led a webcast with students as part of the CRS University Faculty Learning Commons. The following are some excerpts from the conversation; you can view the webcast in full at:

Steve Hellen, Director of Global Knowledge and Information Management at CRS, introduced students to the way that ICT4D is integrated across a “gamut of programming” at CRS with vivid examples. Hellen says--

“Use of ICT4D for monitoring and evaluation makes us more accountable to our donors and program participants. It improves the way we share learning within our agency and with other relief and development organizations.”  

“The relief and development sector has historically used data primarily to respond to donor reporting requirements. However, data for analysis is gradually taking precedence.”

ICT4D allows CRS to “reduce the time needed to collect and analyze data in emergencies by 75%. The number of errors in data collection has been reduced by 53%.”

Marianna Hensley, Regional Technical Advisor for Monitoring and Evaluation, Accountability and Learning in East and South Asia at CRS, spoke about leading the ReMiND project on maternal and newborn health, which used mobile devices to improve the quality of community health workers' visits to pregnant and post-partum women and their newborns in rural India. Hensley said --

With the ReMiND project, CRS worked with the government, communities, and community health workers to develop a mobile application to serve as a  “job aid” for the health workers, a project which has been successfully transferred to the government supervisors in these regions.

“Technology is very exciting but because of that we are sometimes tempted to pick a technology and then go in search of a problem to solve.”

To avoid this, Ms. Hensley encouraged students to “know before you go”

  • What problem(s) do you want to address with an ICT4D solution?
  • What is the ICT landscape in the project area? (E.g., mobile network coverage and available electricity)
  • What is the ICT4D landscape in the project area?  (E.g., investigate similar mobile health solutions in other countries including any regulatory issues)
  • Who are the ICT4D users? (E.g., the ones holding the phone – such as the community health workers in the ReMiND project )
  • Who are the ICT4D primary beneficiaries? (E.g., the pregnant mothers in the ReMiND project - pay attention to preferred language, literacy level)
  • Who are the ICT4D implementers? (E.g., technology companies and NGOs)
  • How much time is needed to develop and test a solution?
  • Does the project have money to cover the ICT4D solution?

A student asked, are we at risk of leaving out the poorest of the poor with ICT4D solutions? Ms. Hensley says that the poorest of the poor need not be left out “if the project is well designed.” For example, before starting the ReMiND project, CRS looked at the data on mobile phone ownership. Households in the target area for the ReMiND project had mobile phones but women did not have access to them. Therefore, the ReMiND project placed the mobile phones in the hands of the female community health workers who were able to use the devices to serve the pregnant women they were visiting.

What advice do CRS experts have for students interested in a career in this area?  Hellen encouraged students to develop academic skills in specific areas of interest “then bring [that expertise] to the development sector.” Hellen closed by saying that he “chose to come to CRS because of the principles.” The people CRS serves, said Hellen, “inspire me.”

For more information and resources on information technology and global health, visit the CRS Facuty Learning Commons "course materials" section