Where I Was and What I Was Doing

I know, I know, not a lot of updates this week. Sorry, but it’s been busy and so I thought I would provide you with a nice recap of everything that I did this week, because there are a couple good stories in there.

First things first, I was in Nairobi from Sunday to Wednesday for a Peace Corps assignment. It all started a few months ago when I was asked by PC/Kenya office staff (i.e. my bosses) to write up an assessment of one of the tools Volunteers have access to in the field: an implementation of Microsoft Sharepoint knowledge sharing tool used for sharing documents within the Peace Corps Kenya community of volunteers and staff. For many reasons that I will not get into here this implementation just does not suit our volunteer needs and the staff wanted to know why. Turns out we aren’t the only post suffering from this fate and apparently my comments got forwarded onto Washington and Peace Corps Kenya called me and the other ICT volunteers in to talk with Washington about why this program is not fulfilling our needs.

Cue Nairobi. We had a really good chat with Washington on Tuesday and I left feeling very positive that they truly understood the problems we face as volunteers in the field when it comes to accessing and utilizing ICT in our regular Peace Corps lives (is that an oxymoron?). Nothing is going to change immediately but the path forward seems promising, and though I will most likely never get to see a new system implemented it will be good to know future volunteers will hopefully have better tools available to them in the field.

Because honestly, ICT tools like this are the future of Peace Corps. PCVs scattered across the field find that many times they try to help their community in much the same way as another volunteer. But they only find out after the fact: after the successes, after the failures, after the laughs and after the headaches. Though this usually makes for great bar talk when we all regroup once in a while in Nairobi, it’s also a perfect example of problems endemic to all development work here: many projects are constantly re-inventing the wheel and hitting the same pitfalls as projects in the past but nobody talks about it. It’s not that people intentionally like creating more work for themselves, it’s just that when, “development,” comprises thousands of individuals working for hundreds of organizations representing dozens of nations and interests, it’s easy for ideas and knowledge to get lost, for people to never know the wheel was invented in the first place.

ICT can help mitigate this problem by providing institutions with knowledge sharing platforms. Information gets uploaded to centralized stores; it’s automatically index, becomes fully search-able, tagged and saved. Providing portals to these platforms through the web allows volunteers anywhere to access this same information in a highly cost-effective and time efficient manner. Books are heavy, costly, not conducive to spreading knowledge in the rapidly evolving scene of development. Properly built web sites however are always on always available resources, especially when accessible by computer, netbook, mobile phone, anything with an Internet connection. It is sharing taken to the next level and it is what we need in order to stop re-inventing the wheel. Peace Corps recognizes this and is working on a potential solution, which is good.

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