Social media for development in the local context

6/19/2008 | Christian Kreutz

Sorry for not having post anything recently, but I have had the opportunity to participate in the Socialcamp and KM4DEV conference, which I will shortly blog about.

Thanks for the interesting comments on my blog post on local knowledge. Meryn Stol wrote a nice comment: "Every person can be a problem solver." The challenge, however, is to succeed in complex projects. Unfortunately, many development projects are still rather planned than developed within the context. Or as William Easterly puts it, "The development field is still dominated by planers." Although the best way to solve this problem is to be a “Seeker” rather than a “Planner” and look for small, sustainable programs. To set up projects in a relevant context is a key and means to include as much expertise (actors?) as possible. But here comes quickly the dilemma of how to find consensus and include all the different aspects and get lost in complexity.

I wonder if the social web can offer ways to potentially bring more transparency, collect more, particularly local, wisdom and gain better ways to cope with complexity and lastly achieve better results. Maybe social media, especially in the local context, open new ways for problem solutions in a collaborative manner such as wikipedia. Peter Ballantyne wrote it nicely in a comment:

"I think the newer social media have a huge potential to strengthen the local basis and focus of much development work, by creating and sustaining demands, maybe even small ones, for information expertise and knowledge that is local, for local purposes, by local people."

However, there is still a lack of knowledge -- the importance of local knowledge for problem solving. Alberto Masetti-Zannini approaches this very appealing on his paper "Web 2.0 and International Development NGOs", in which he argues that "most NGOs still suffer from a deep-seated inability to develop two-way communication systems with those whom they seek to represent, and are still favouring top-down, centralised knowledge-management practices."

He argues that participation mechanisms are key: "NGOs have struggled for a long time to build effective participation mechanisms in the developing world. Relevant and correct information from the bottom of the development pyramid is necessary to make knowledgeable decisions about their work."

And is optimistic: "Indeed, Web 2.0 tools are beginning to change this situation, by generating and disseminating local content and knowledge in an open, shared structure. But are NGOs adopting these new technologies in their knowledge management practices?"

I am also sharing this optimism, but I am also fearing for the wide gap to participate in the social web. Thenmozhi Soundararajan had an interesting example back on a re-publica conference presentation, which underlines my concern: In the USA 25 % out of twelve graders graduate without necessary skills in writing - so 75% have not the capabilities to profoundly write and therefore engage in social media.