South > North: A fishbowl on the transferability of ICTD innovations from income-poor to income-rich countries

Chris Coward and Karen Fisher will be organizing a fishbowl session on the transferability of ICTD innovations from income-poor to income-rich countries at ICTD 2010 on December 16th, from 3:30 to 5:00PM at Royal Holloway College, University of London.

Most low-cost, easily implementable ICTD innovations are designed for developing-country contexts. Examples include mobile money, SMS (e.g. Ushahidi, Frontline SMS), and e-skills training programs. This interactive session focuses on the factors that facilitate or mitigate the transfer of these innovations to communities facing economic and social challenges in richer countries.

Participants will identify innovations, discuss what makes them portable (or not), and explore steps that might encourage replication or uptake outside the developing world. Questions include:

  • To what extent is the proposition that most low-cost, easily implementable ICTD innovations are designed for developing-country contexts correct? What are examples and counter examples?
  • Which ICTD innovations have already spread from the South? Which others could potentially transfer?
  • Do ICTD innovations that have spread from South to North share any common characteristics? Do they only benefit the poor, or have they been more widely adopted by richer segments of society (e.g. mobile money)?
  • Which contextual factors — ranging from determining needs, design/build, implementation, and adoption — influence transferability?
  • How are the methodologies applied to developing ICTD innovations in the North similar to or different from those in the South?
  • What would a more-focused effort to design and implement ICTD innovations in richer countries look like? How would such an effort appeal to or draw on the expertise of the ICTD community?

Another dimension to this topic is that innovations designed for poor communities can end up making valuable contributions to richer communities, which can then create a feedback loop. For example, the technological innovations associated with the One Laptop Per Child project (subject to intense debate as a development project) have contributed to the development of devices used by a broad (and wealthy) constituency — primarily the netbook market and screens viewable in bright sunlight. Thus, innovations that emerge from designing for constraints can benefit a broader population than those initially conceptualized as the primary beneficiaries. This cycle will also be part of the discussion.

The fishbowl format: Encouraging participation

The fishbowl format turns a maximum number of participants into discussants. Sessions open with introductions by three provocateurs. Upon presenting their views regarding the session’s key questions (5-6 minutes each), the fishbowl starts with five chairs occupied by four participants (excluding the organizers) seated in a circle in the middle of the room. Each participant introduces him/herself — a practice continued throughout session — and is asked to comment on the opening statements.

The other attendees sit in concentric circle(s) — the number of circles depend on the number of participants and room layout. When someone wants to join the discussion, s/he takes the empty chair and one of the four participants moves away. This process of someone joining and someone leaving continues until the session ends. The moderators watch for those who would like a turn in the circle, those whose turn it is to leave, and facilitate the conversation. At the end of the session, they summarize the main points, ask participants to reflect on the experience, and suggest next steps.