Information, Communications & Extension

The ICE thematic group contributes to achieving LRD objectives of improving food security and well-being of member countries by promoting innovative extension approaches to communicate information and promote new technologies for the sustainable management of agricultural and forest resources.
 

The rise of ICTs in the Pacific
Friday, 10 May 2013 11:42

SPC submitted an article to CTA ICT Update --- A Pacific-wide online discussion looked at the use of mobile phones and how fast-improving internet access will bring about change in the region.

When international travellers destined for Suva, the capital of Fiji, arrive at Nadi Airport, they may be surprised to learn that they still have a three-hour road journey ahead of them before arriving at their destination. Yet they would be in for an even greater surprise if they planned to travel to another of the more than 300 Fijian islands or to another of the 15 countries in the Pacific Ocean, which takes up more than one-third of the planet's surface.

Travel between or even within Pacific islands is usually by local boat, ferry or small plane. Ferries typically take two days to travel between islands just within one Pacific country and longer in bad weather.

This anecdote provides a useful perspective from which to better understand the opportunities and challenges of ICTs and social media in the Pacific. The opportunities normally provided by modern technology are constrained by an outdated internal infrastructure in dire need of investment and islands scattered across a vast expanse. This seems to hold true for ICTs and for travellers in the Pacific Ocean.

The Pacific Solution Exchange

Change is on the way, however. Supporting the strategic advancement of ICTs is the Pacific Islands Chapter of the Internet Society and many other development partners and programmes, such as the Pacific Solution Exchange (PSE), a knowledge-sharing forum with over 1,300 members.

On 19 September 2012, PSE held an online discussion that lasted about two weeks on the use of ’ICTs and social media’ for community programmes. Practitioners and community members from across the Pacific participated, discussing their ICT challenges and how they are being addressed with existing and planned technology. The Pacific-wide discussion was dominated by comments about the current use of mobile phones but also covered the major changes that fast-improving internet access across Pacific Islands will bring about.

This moderated conversation, hosted by PSE, received feedback from across 15 Pacific countries, and international contributors, on how ICTs and social media may be used in the Pacific to monitor and report on the effectiveness of climate change programmes. While the conversation focused on Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E), the majority of examples provided by respondents related to operational uses for implementing programmes, and how social media is primarily used for promotional and knowledge-sharing uses. The discussion also covered the significant potential to expand operational and promotional uses, and further extend into M&E and more two-way and interactive communications.

The tool of choice

During the PSE discussions, respondents discussed many types of ICTs, with mobile phone opportunities emerging as the most preferred option for use in programmes ahead of social media, email and internet, digital media, e-learning technologies, radio (though radio tops the list during disasters) and others.

The reason for this preference is improved access and capacity. ‘Mobile telephone penetration and coverage in Fiji is very high,’ writes Dionisia Tabureguci in Islands Business, ‘with most rural communities connected or becoming connected.’ An estimated 95% of Fiji has mobile coverage and a similar trend is cited in Vanuatu and other Pacific nations. Alternatively, internet access still lacks the capacity to reach many communities, so the subsequent use of internet-based social media is limited but where available it is growing fast.

Although mobile phones are arguably not the best tool for the job for some programmes, they are the tool of choice given their prevalence (versus a lack of internet capacity, for example, though this is rapidly growing). Compounding this situation is a lack of technical capacity, with many programme teams still navigating through the many ICT and social media options seemingly available but difficult to implement.

In future, a more diverse range of social media and integrated technologies are likely to be used in programmes as internet capacity and peoples’ technical know-how improve. Already, the use of internet-enabled phones, or smartphones, is on the rise. Also, this growth needs to be balanced with guidelines to ensure social media and personal information is used ethically and within accepted organisational strategies.

In terms of resourcing, respondents stressed that ICTs and social media are not ‘set and forget’ solutions, but rather tools used to adapt and improve existing systems and processes. For this reason planning phases should determine the best ICT tool for the programme by first clarifying the desired data and outcomes. And these phases should provide longer-term planning to support the system’s sustainability. Part of this resource commitment should include training, in the form of ongoing IT support, teaching staff the basics of how to use ICTs, ‘training the trainers’ and e-learning. ICTs are an additional way of reaching communities, and not a replacement for human interaction.

Mostly operational

The PSE discussion provided many case studies and examples. They essentially fell into three categories, with some crossover: M&E, operational and promotional. Although respondents’ case studies had limited M&E and ‘community report back’, they did illustrate that a clear future pathway is being forged starting with the use of mobile phone SMS for M&E.

This technology is expanding to link with portals and databases either indirectly, via manual data entry, or directly, via e-forms. These approaches are usually two-way communications, though some are more interactive than others. Examples include:

    Vodafone and other organisations working with the Fiji Ministry of Health to have health agency staff provide daily ‘text ins’ by completing a short SMS questionnaire.
    Similarly, in Vanuatu a pilot project is using award-winning FrontlineSMS software to share daily data across a network of community health workers at 10 project sites.
    In Samoa mobiles are being used as an information transfer modem – from and to farmers.
    Fishers in Timor Leste benefit from a knowledge-sharing portal updated daily. And where there is no internet access local officers print the updates for display on noticeboards.
    Facebook groups are being used in Vanuatu for M&E purposes via the Vanuatu Rainfall and Agro-Meteorology Outlook and Climate Change Vanuatu groups.

ICTs seem to be used mostly in the Pacific for ‘operational’ purposes (see box), i.e. to enable the implementation and facilitation of programmes, and for this reason many approaches are not yet two-way.

Two-way and multi-way communications come to the fore via the use of social media, though in the Pacific this is used mainly for ‘promotional’ and engagement purposes, more so than for M&E. Successful examples of social media multi-way communications in the Pacific include the revamped UNICEF Pacific Facebook site, the Pacific Climate Change online game, the Facebook ‘Fan of the Week’ application that is driving visitors to Project Survival Pacific, and the Facebook groups for Vanuatu Rainfall and Agro-Meteorology Outlook and Climate Change Vanuatu. These are just a few of many examples in the Pacific and do not include Twitter and other social media linkages.

While much is happening in terms of current and planned use of ICTs and social media, their use in M&E programmes in the Pacific is limited. Indeed, the current focus is more on operational and to a lesser extent promotional purposes. Thus, there is significant use of mobile phone technology to operationalise initiatives such as mHealth and Fiji Makete – and there is great potential to shift this mobile capacity more into M&E.

Social media use is still restricted by a lack of internet access, particularly in rural areas, and its use is primarily promotional – though there appears to be a phenomenal cultural propensity in the Pacific to adopt social media such as Facebook and Skype, and so this is likely to be a significant growth opportunity for programmes as internet access improves (and a means to improve interactive and two-communications within programmes).

Finally, while modern ICTs and social media are fast expanding in their use within programmes, it is the old-fashioned radio, particularly community radio, that remains most critical and most used in disaster situations, and a highly effective everyday medium to transfer information to rural communities. There are also exciting opportunities where old and new technologies can be combined, for example radio broadcasts on instant news combined with instant feedback – including photos and data – on social media like Twitter.

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Anju Mangal is working at the Secretariat of the Pacific Community

Jacqui Berrell is facilitator at Pacific Solution Exchange

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Operationalising programmes

Mobile phone ICT technology is used primarily as a tool to operationalise programmes. Examples include mobile banking via M-PAiSA and Mobile Money (in Kenya 20% of the country’s GDP is exchanged via this format); Smart Dial texting of codes to access information; the proposed e-ticketing system for buses; web portals and email-based knowledge-sharing exchanges. In particular, those striving for two-way communications include the Fiji Makete ‘farm to supplier’ direct sales systems, mHealth comprehensive ‘smart dial’ system, and the Organic Matters Foundation’s approach to integrate mobile phone technology into agri-training during and after the training.

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Full details about the conversation, including recommended resources and the ‘responses in full’ are available on the Pacific Solution Exchange website (click on the link: ‘Issues Addressed’): www.solutionexchange-un.net/pacific

(Consolidated Reply: http://www.solutionexchange-un.net/repository/pc/ccd/cr13-en-20122012-1.pdf

 
ICELRD’s core business is to improve the food and nutritional security of the Pacific Community through the sustainable management and development of land, agriculture and forestry resources. This is accomplished through the delivery of technical support, training and advice to our member country governments in the areas of plant protection, conservation and use of plant genetic resources, animal health and production, agroforestry, sustainable systems for agriculture, forestry and land management, and biosecurity and trade facilitation.

The Heads of Agriculture and Forestry Services (HOAFS) is the leading regional body providing guidance to LRD work plans. The biannual HOAFS Meeting endorses LRD work plans and budget. The office of the LRD Executive acts as the Secretariat for HOAFS.