Does technology help or hinder?

A different approach: Participatory development rooted in a governance reform …

There are important lessons to be drawn from past failings in ICT4D, as this article from The Wall Street Journal articulates: “Epic Fail: Tech Tricks Are No Fix for Developing-World Problems“. The authors argue, and quite rightly so, that technology can “distract” from addressing basic principles, or root problems, such as “a lack of the right infrastructure and institutions”, and can ultimately complicate, or even exacerbate, the very problems that it (naively?) intends to address.

What does recognition of these shortcomings mean in a broader context for the development of ABALOBI?

Addressing a basic root problem: The governance reform void

Key stakeholders spent several years working on a new governance reform policy to address the root problems in small-scale fisheries management in South Africa. The new Small-Scale Fisheries Policy (SSFP), gazetted in 2012 and signed into effect in 2016, aims to recognise traditional fisher rights and involve fishers in decision-making through a co-management process. Having undergone one of the most participatory development processes in the country to date, with the involvement of fishers and fisher leaders from all representative coastal communities, this policy is regarded among the most progressive small-scale fisheries policies globally. Core ABALOBI team members were intimately involved in the development of the SSFP and continue to drive the implementation thereof. ABALOBI therefore has the advantage of starting off on a strong footing with an enabling policy.

Which begs the further question, how do we approach the development of ABALOBI within this reform context?

Tackling the development of ABALOBI from a different angle

Many developers struggle, due to practical and other constraints, to get their hands dirty in the development process. Many apps are desktop-driven; behind an academic or corporate ‘wall’ and within a particular perception of real world problems and processes. These apps are often static: providing information as output and rarely accepting input; or are unadaptive in nature. Amendments take time, given the complexity of the IT hierarchy, and re-deployment processes are cumbersome, ultimately delaying or preventing uptake, as users lose interest and ‘trust’ in the app.

Development should be participatory; data ownership and use transparent; and ‘ground-truthing’  fundamental, with tangible benefits immediately evident. Accordingly, the development of ABALOBI has been structured ‘from the ground up’: participatory in nature from conception to design. Deconstruction of the recording and reporting in module one is enabling us to co-develop user requirements with the various stakeholders at their respective levels (fishers, fisher leaders, NGOs, co-operatives, managers, researchers, governance institutions) in real time. Only one month into the ABALOBI pilot, version 1 had already undergone significant improvement by updating users’ needs without delay in re-deployment: new and adjusted variables, streamlined processes and practical dashboards for catch and market reporting, to name a few; and invaluable insights were gained for efficient deployment of the fisheries authority’s monitoring programme aligned with the SSFP implementation process. One year on (August 2016), ABALOBI has evolved into an interconnected app suite serving five major stakeholder types in the small-scale fisheries sector: FISHER, MONITOR, MANAGER, CO-OPERATIVE and MARKET.

We are optimistic that this iterative process of co-design and refinement not only renders ABALOBI unique, but also secures the incentives for uptake and applicability of the app suite in general.

As a final point, it is perhaps important to note that ABALOBI is intended to serve as a practical conduit for the SSFP implementation phases, and not a distraction in the form of “glittery new technology”.

Onwards and upwards!