If you’re interested in learning more about this class, please check out the course page for more details on speakers and course topics or apply now to reserve your seat.

This coming Monday, September 3, class will begin for TC103: Tech Tools and Skills for Emergency Management, which aspires to give a comprehensive introduction of everything a helpful techie needs to know in an emergency: designing a cross-institutional response plan, crowdmapping who needs help, coordinating boots on the ground to save lives, and protecting those who are most vulnerable from any additional harm, let alone yourself from legal liability. Here are just a few thing that we’re really looking forward to in this upcoming course:

As much of the Caribbean braces for the possible effects of Hurricane Isaac, Neil Laslett of the American Red Cross will discuss some of the technical challenges in anticipating and responding to emergencies. From the use of Hurricane App, to easy-to-use SMS donations (provided by mGive), disaster relief worldwide is transforming and being transformed by technology. Looking at how mapping tools can also be used in these types of situations, Robert Soden of the World Bank will talk about GIS issues for disaster response based on years of experience as both a developer and an analyst. Finally, we’ll hear from Vincenzo Bollettino from the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative. Through his work with the Satellite Sentinel Project, he’ll speak to the nexus between technology and human rights.

But the tools are only part of the story, now that disaster responders can tap into networked communities of interest that can help process massive quantities of data in a timely manner. The most obvious example of this is Ushahidi, which rose to the forefront due to its Haiti earthquake response. Ushahidi Trusted Developer John Etherton will talk about how technologists can design and adapt technology to empower crowds to make a difference. But crowdmappers need help and protection too — legal liability expert Ed Robson will talk about how networks like Crisis Mappers and Standby Task Force can protect themselves from legal liability in this developing space.

We at TechChange are truly excited about the current lineup for TC103. The best part of our job is being able to work with a diverse group of students from all around the world, and being able to sharing in the collective learning experience. See you in class!

If you’re interested in mapping in crisis zones, consider taking our course Tech Tools and Skills for Emergency Management that runs from September 3rd – September 28th. 

Cross-posted from Greg Maly’s blog, Multitracked. He is currently working on a mapping based research project run by the University of Denver in New Delhi, India.

This past May we published a blog piece outlining some of the basic lessons learned from TechWeek at Korbel. One of the main takeaways was that technology solutions, though a potentially powerful set of tools, are only 10% tech and 90% people power.

This includes not only putting people in the drivers seat for the use of these tools over time, but also at the onset of any project when considering the need, or gap, they are intended to fill. A few months later, these lessons have become ever more salient as my team from the University of Denver works on the design of a maternal and child health monitoring system for the community of Jasola – a high risk population that borders the Yamuna river in New Delhi, India, and consequently suffers from high child and maternal mortality rates.

Keeping the importance of local ownership in mind from the onset of our project, and working with our local counterparts in the region – a Gender Resource Center (GRC) staffed by women who both live and work in the community – we began by holding a series of focus group discussions with the primary stakeholders in the region: young mothers and pregnant women, doctors who run small health clinics, and community health workers. In each meeting a number of grievances arose, from a lack of resources and shortage of doctors relative to the size of the population in the region, to the difficulties of maintaining effective communication between doctors and patients. As an example of the effectiveness community driven conversations, through these focus group sessions we learned that knowing the location of pregnant mothers was one of the greatest obstacles to routine checkups. This we could work with relatively quickly.

A simple fix was the breakdown of the community into the separate Mohallas, or neighborhoods, which are already well known to community members, but haven’t made it into any form of visual representation. A few afternoons of community mapping using handheld Garmin GPS units and an OSM update quickly fixed the problem and moved the conversation forward a few steps, allowing new ideas to unfold – many of which came from the GRC staff themselves.

Like many health projects around the world, this one has a long way to go. The problems are greater than any solution of this scale can begin to truly address. However, small wins like these slowly begin to even the playing field as communities become empowered to address problems one a time, and with sustainable solutions that do not require a large number of additional resources. In this case, we’re happy to report that community members are on board, including some young mothers who have joined the conversation. Updated maps are being connected with a system that will aim to track mothers from conception through to birth. And though our DU team is set to return home in just two weeks time, I can already tell that the community members see the benefit of this project, and are ready to push it forward with or without us for the long haul. Who knows – there might even be a tablet involved. Stay tuned.



This week will mark the launch of our new eight-week online certificate course on Mobile Money in partnership with the Mobile Solutions team at USAID and The QED Group. Today, we open our doors to over 70 staff from USAID and implementing partners in 10 countries to connect them with leading experts in the mobile money space and share best practices. Building on the materials in our TC105 Mobiles for International Development course, we will focus more specifically on how to implement and operationalize mobile money programs designed for scale.

USAID is the first bilateral donor to establish a dedicated Mobile Solutions team to help lever the power and reach of mobile technology to accelerate development outcomes. It is also an emerging leader in mobile money. Already, USAID’s work in Haiti led to more than 5 million mobile money transactions and a doubling of financial access points. In Afghanistan, USAID worked with the Central Bank to reduce regulatory barriers to entry for mobile network operators to establish mobile money products. And it is working to transfer large payment flows from cash to mobile money–this summer, for example, 110,000 households will have the chance to pay their electricity bills via mobile money. This online course will help inform this work and future programs, as USAID intends to expand its mobile money work to countries like Indonesia, Philippines, Malawi and a host of others.

Participants will explore at issues of regulation and interoperability, as well as strategies for working effectively with MNOs, banks and governments. We’ll consider case studies from countries like Pakistan, Philippines, Haiti, Uganda, Kenya and hear from guest experts such as David Porteous of Bankable Frontiers, Kabir Kumar of CGAP, Nadeem Hussain of Tameer Bank, Tomasz Smilowicz of Citigroup, Jordan Weinstock of Open Revolution, Chrissy Martin of MEDA, and more. Self-paced content including animated and interactive overview videos will complement live discussions.

According to Priya Jaisingani, Director of the Mobile Solutions team at USAID, this type of online facilitated course “will go a long way to ensure USAID’s mobile money work is informed by the best thinking in the field.”

TechChange president Nick Martin said of the partnership: “We often find that the biggest barrier to using mobile phones for international development is bridging the rift between development projects and technologists. We’re hoping this class can do exactly that through sharing best practices and connecting with leading experts.”

If you’re interested in mobile money and other possibilities for mobile phones for your projects, TechChange will also be offering an open-enrollment course TC105: Mobiles for International Development on September 24th.

Image link from USAID IDEA: http://idea.usaid.gov/tags/haiti


Next week we’re excited to offer our first course in Social Media and Tech Tools for Academic Research (TC110). While many of our courses have focused on using technology for organizing, response, conflict prevention, and mobiles, but this course will fill a key gap by focusing on using technology to gain insights into relevant ongoing online conversations and the networks through which they travel.

So far we have over 20 people registered from 7 countries from organizations such as World Vision, InSTEDD, and Plan International. This is shaping up to be an excellent group.

Confirmed guest speakers include:

  • Ryan Budish, Berkman Center at Harvard University
  • John Kelly, Morningside Analytics
  • Sami Ith, US State Department
  • Clayton Fink, Johns Hopkins University.

These speakers will provide insight into the work identifying the value created by digital networks. Our experts are using online communication to understand how new ideas are disseminated and how to maximize audience engagement with an organization’s online content.

Source: Morningside Analytics

Our aim with the course provide academics practitioners and those involved in advocacy work with hands-on practice using tools and strategies for using tech to carry out research. We’ll also explore how to manage the big data sets generated by social media to be able to extract meaningful information. The course will also go over best practices for applying research to advocacy.

Some of the topics and tools we plan to feature:

  • Social media tools for crowdsourcing and social science research (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Zotero)
  • Mapping methods and tools for data collection, visualization, and analysis (Ushahidi, MapBox, ArcGIS)
  • Mobile Survey and Data Collection Tools (FormHub, GeoPoll, EpiSurveyor, Open Data Kit)

We plan to keep this course small and intimate but there are still a few spots left. Register today.


Cross-posted from the TC104: Global Innovations for Digital Organizing course we ran last May. If you are interested in mobile organization and censorship/privacy in the 21st century, consider enrolling in the next round in January. 


Credit: Duncan 2012

Most of you will be familiar with the philosophical thought experiment, “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” Well over recent weeks I’ve been mulling over the much less catchy or succinct question of “If a person tweets/updates their status/sends a text/blogs and no one responds, did they really make a sound?” It probably won’t be making it onto a philosophy syllabus anytime soon, but hear me out…

I recently travelled to Malawi to trial a social accountability approach designed to improve the quality of rural schools. The purpose was to help adolescent girls analyse their problems and provide an opportunity for them to raise these with school management to find collaborative solutions. I found it both sad and hopeful when some of the girls explained that nobody had ever asked for their opinions – they saw this as a chance to finally speak. A voice was incredibly important to these young women and self-expression seemed to have real value in itself. But I wonder if voice is enough. Doesn’t school management also need to value and respond to girls’ opinions? I kept asking: If speaking out doesn’t lead to action, do we just create false expectations and disillusionment?

During TC104 I’ve thought about this a lot. The internet and mobile phones offer so many opportunities for voice and reaching out – to other citizens but also to people in power. But I question what other elements are needed to ensure that voice leads to dialogue, and dialogue leads to responsive actions and tangible development changes.

   Credit: Plan

I came to this course wanting to know about the digital tools/approaches that could support young people’s meaningful participation in social accountability initiatives (for an explanation check out pages 10-11 of Plan’s Governance Learning Guide). I was interested in how technology could leverage their voices and strengthen the interaction and responsiveness between them and their state to create better services, like health and education. As such the expert interviews with Barak Hoffman and Darko Brkan were among the most interesting for me. The Maji Matone project in Tanzania and the accountability and transparency work by Dosta! in Bosnia were excellent examples of digital media’s potential use to increase responsiveness of governments to citizens’ voices.

However, the Tanzanian example acted as a cautionary tale of how projects must recognise wider socio-political contexts in which they seek to work. That project seemed to offer a simple technology-enabled way of directly linking citizens’ voices to government action on water points. However, as this blog post explains the target communities were not used to demanding their rights to services and seemed sceptical of the government’s ability or will to respond. In addition, in a tight-knit local community people were scared of being seen as trouble makers and being critical of those in power. As a result they saw little benefit, and indeed some risk, in exercising their voice through the ICT channels that were offered.

        Credit: Plan

In contrast Darko’s post explains the approaches used by Dosta! to first strengthen a weak Bosnian civil society. What interests me most, though, are Dosta!’s tactics to encourage responsiveness from the supply side through mixing digital and traditional tools for accountabilityThey were able to leverage power over politicians through the tangible threat of removal through democratic elections and in 2006 discredited the Prime Minister by exposing his corruption through the media. It was the media which again played a strong role in promoting the fact-checking website Istinomjer with further impact on election discourse. This active media environment and electoral accountability gives additional power to digital information and can help turn transparency into action.

These examples underline that creating opportunities for voice and participation doesn’t automatically lead to accountability and tangible changes. A whole host of reasons may stop citizens raising their voices or governments from answering – a key one being lack of effective digital and traditional feedback loops. The workshops from Dhairya and Rob provided lots of ideas for integrating technology into our social accountability projects and I’m excited to share these with colleagues and get to work. But the Maji Matone example reminds me not to lose sight of the need to analyse existing communication, political and social environments before getting too carried away with the technology.


Jennifer Doherty is a Governance Programme Officer working in the Programme Support and Impact Unit of Plan UK, an international development charity promoting the rights of children.