Africa: Mobile Innovation and Participatory Development

A merchant in Tanzania shows off his cell phone.

(Editor’s Note: Some students in the International Media program at American University are now researching their final capstone projects. These projects will take the form of either scholarly papers, or professional and creative projects. We are posting proposals and updates on these projects to demonstrate their progress.)

by Allison Terry
Special to Sutradhar’s Market

The rate of mobile penetration is increasing exponentially each year, especially in developing countries. People’s ability to access information and tap into social networking platforms is made possible by the spread of mobile phones. Innovation in this technology is making it cheaper and more accessible to people than ever before. It is also allowing people in remote locations to communicate with governments and aid agencies in regards to the development process.

International development has primarily been a top-down approach, with international agencies and governments setting the agenda for what development looks like and how it should be done. This approach has more often than not excluded the very people whose lives are the intended beneficiaries of development projects. International development theorists argue that in order for development to be more participatory and sustainable, it is vital to involve people on the ground in the process.

Information and communication technologies, including the internet, mobile phones, radio and television, are connecting people to information about development and also allowing them to contribute their views to the public sphere of ideas.  (For more on this, please see:  “Mapping the Global Landscape about Media for Development.”)  In remote areas of sub-Saharan Africa, farmers and health workers are able to access information via Short Message Service (SMS) messages on mobile phones. They use this technology not only to receive information, but also to share it. There are organizations that design these services to make this interaction more accessible.

In my research capstone, my case study will illustrate the capability of mobile-based social media and information to include people in the public sphere of development. The questions my research will address seek to gain a richer understanding of how mobile-based social media increase participation in development processes. Does the ability to access mobile-based information create a more participatory development process? Do SMS services give people a greater voice in development issues? How does SMS connect people to the public sphere and facilitate participation in civil society issues? Through my literature review, I will provide a theoretical framework through which to evaluate a case study of an organization using these technologies. I will draw from literature on topics including the so-called “Development 2.0,” social media, and public sphere/participatory communication. The case study will focus on technological innovations in Kenya, a hub of mobile innovation, through an in-depth case study on one organization. The conclusion will focus on the evaluation of the case study as an example of participatory development.

(For more on such innovations in Africa, please see: “Kuhonga:  Kenya’s Mobile Corruption Reporting” and “Africa & Technology:  From Famine to Facebook.”)

(Photo by Georgia Popplewell — caribbeanfreephoto — of Trinidad & Tobago via Flickr, using a Creative Commons license.)

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2 Responses to Africa: Mobile Innovation and Participatory Development

  1. is a social network for solidarity-based and citizen development.This innovative social network establishes a virtuous decentralized cooperation, including between people here and there, beyond the only State levels. The challenge is twofold:Valuing effective achievements and gradually regain donors’ confidence to acquire more funding.The successes of community development at the grassroots start by taking into account of the needs of the population as early as at the planning phase.

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