Internews Center for Innovation & Learning

Internews Center for Innovation & Learning
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Challenges of Private Sector Partnerships to Create & Implement New Technologies

[This is a guest-blog post written by Rachel Brown, Internews Project Manager for the WannaKonnect project. Rachel is Founder & CEO of Sisi ni Amani, a local Kenyan peace organization. Rachel has worked as a tenant organizer in Massachusetts, worked on Ushahidi Haiti and Ushahidi Uchaguzi platform, and consulted as project coordinator fpr Ushahidi's monitoring platform of Tanzania 2010 elections]

One important learning opportunity for the mDedications project has been building understandings of how non-profit organizations can partner effectively with private companies. Specifically, the project provided the opportunity to learn about how to best manage relationships between organizations hoping to pilot new technologies and the companies that build these technologies.

One major difficulty in such partnerships is having effective project planning that takes into account on-the-ground needs and technical timelines. Challenges in planning for the creation and implementation of new technologies are tied to their very nature: new technologies are new. This means that the designers and builders of these technologies cannot necessarily predict any bug or challenge that they may encounter in completing the technology because what they're building has never been built before.

While this may seem like a very obvious statement, it has crucial impact on timelines and implementation plans for projects that are dependent on the creation of new technology. When a project is technology-dependent, lags in the tech development timeline and mis-estimates of the time needed to develop certain functionalities can have huge implications for the success of the project. This is a reality of coordinating between tech development and on the ground planning and programming.

In the implementation of the mDedications pilot project, a project of Internews and Mobikash in partnership with local radio stations, this type of time-related issue had serious implications for the success of the project and its ability to fully test and pilot a new concept.

To ensure the success of projects pioneering new technology-based solutions, it is crucial to recognize and analyze this challenge, and to come up with ways to mitigate the negative impact it can have on projects.

Suggestions for the Future:

In the future, I would suggest that two steps to be taken in order to create smoother coordination between tech development and project planning timelines.

First, organizations seeking to work with new technology, and specifically with external companies to create new technologies, can create frameworks and policies to ensure that before any contract is reached with a tech company, there is as thorough as possible a tech development timeline. This can help to ensure that the company building the technology takes into account potential challenges and setbacks, and leaves buffer time in case anything unanticipated goes wrong.

It is important keep in mind that, especially in the developing world, many tech companies are new or relatively young. This is exciting as it shows tremendous potential and growth in a new sector, but it also means that companies may not have much experience in project planning and creating timelines for different types of projects.

An organization that is working with tech companies and tech development can take the time to create forms and paperwork that need to be filled out by any contractor before a contract is signed. These forms can be simple frameworks that force the tech company to think through and detail all steps of development, the predicted time for each step, the challenges that might be encountered for each step, and the buffer time needed for each step. This helps the tech company create a detailed timeline with buffer space, and enables the contracting organizations to ensure that the project and time estimates have been thought through in detail.

For example, a simple framework like this could go a long way in ensuring that careful project planning takes place:

Feature of new Technology

Anticipated Time

Anticipated Challenges

Amount of Buffer time   Allotted for Challenges

Overall

 

 

 

Sub-feature (step that needs to be taken or smaller feature created to complete the larger feature)

 

 

 

Sub-feature

 

 

 

Overall

 

 

 

Secondly, non-profit organizations should allow some extra time in their planning between the predicted completion of tech development and its deployment. If all goes well, the non-profit will be ahead of schedule and have extra time to fix any small details that have arisen. If there is a lag in the tech development timeline, there will be extra time to complete any part of the technology that has not been completed or to plan how to adapt the project to any setbacks on the technology front.

 

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