This December at ACM DEV in London I met Richard Batty from the Good Technology Project. He and his collaborator, Michael Peyton Jones, are interested in using technology in development and seem very interested in going about it the right way.
I skyped with Richard and Michael last month. They just did a writeup over on their blog.
They asked about my general feelings on technology for the developing world (ICTD) as a discipline as well as what I think could be useful things for them to contribute to. The biggest takeaway is something I’ve been arguing for a while now, that it isn’t as much about creating new technologies as figuring out ways that existing technologies can be applied:
Many of the existing problems that global health researchers have are not things that need new applications to solve. It’s more that they don’t have a good sense of what’s possible and what’s an easy way to do things, and even if they had an idea of that they wouldn’t know how to go about doing it.
The Endaga example flies in the face of what is probably my most pessimistic comment in the interview, about prototypes not generally making it to products:
It’s rare to find a project that actually productizes a prototype that a paper was published about. Most people don’t have the resources or time to productize it and it’s really hard to do. It’s hard to release a project that is based on an academic project.
Exceptions to this rule are things like Endaga, Open Data Kit, and Captricity. Compared to the number of papers in the space, however, I still think the comment stands as a general rule, even if there are notable exceptions.
I’d be curious to hear alternative opinions, especially if people think I’m being too negative. There is no question a large role for technology to play in ICTD, but when it comes to real world implementations I would love to see people across the board treat technology as less of an end and more of a means.
The full interview is up on the Good Technology Project’s blog. Take a look!.